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Grief and Wallowing

Today one of my sheep came down with some pretty nasty scours, and after driving myself crazy for a few hours researching, asking opinions, and making no headway with a diagnosis, I decided to take in a fecal sample. For such a simple transaction, it was an awful long wait at the vet clinic due to a 4-H club tour and the usual handful of Friday afternoon emergencies.

I hadn't come prepared for a wait, and the 4-H parents and their tubs of brownies were taking up all the chairs. Standing in a corner meditating felt a bit creepy, public yoga is always weird, and contemplating the corny art prints seemed awkward. So I worked my way through all the flyers and thank you notes on the bulletin board, then the rack of pamphlets on equine health - annoyingly uninformative. Out of reading materials, I noticed a stack of gloss cardstock handouts with info on the new vet recently added to the practice.

Today was the first time I'd met the new doctor, and I'd been impressed by how easy she was to talk to and how well she knew the latest research and alternative treatment options. She was young and energetic, and seemed like the kind of person I'd love to grab a coffee with.

I had a moment of hesitation as my fingers impulsively straightened the stack of handouts, but I picked one up anyway. It explained how she graduated my same year from a Midwestern liberal arts college, then gone on to Colorado State, my dream vet school.

I definitely should've stopped reading right there. It had been a down week for me with symptoms flaring and energy flagging and hormones in disarray, and I really didn't need any more fodder for the looming self-pity party. But I kept reading.

She'd grown up on her father's horse farm and had competed in eventing. After vet school, she'd gone on to pursue an internship in chiropractic and a residency in small ruminant medicine. By the end of the bio, my throat was spring loaded and my face was tingling.

At 31 she is a respected expert in the community, responsible for life-saving decisions and quickly building an appreciative client base. At 32, my life-long veterinary aspirations have petered out into some under the table dog sitting and doing an apparently shit job keeping my tiny sheep flock healthy.

I'd like to take a quick break from this wallowing to acknowledge the pressure that we - the mindful, self-reflective types - face to hide and suppress such dark and dramatic sentiments. Because right now my instincts are throwing up red flags, telling me to reverse course and maybe blind-side you with some high-minded gratitude. This right here was originally a 300-word paragraph brimming with apologetic perspective, because I don't feel like I'm allowed to be sad and angry.

Danielle Hines expressed the struggle well in an essay in the Mighty - "They say that when you are diagnosed with a chronic illness, it is not uncommon to go through a grieving process in which you mourn the loss of your old self. I think there is truth to this, but my experience has been that this process never really ends. Maybe some people reach a level of lasting acceptance where they are finally at peace with their life as it is now, but I don’t think that’s the case for many of us."

So I'm going to stay the course with my wallowing, because you've likely heard more than enough about privilege and positive thinking and blessings in disguise. Gratitude and perspective are marvelous, but they have their place, and that place is not in making us feel we aren't entitled to our grief.

We're allowed to be astronomically sad about the things we've lost, even if they're things that most people aren't lucky enough to have in the first place. 15 years ago a catastrophic head injury and resulting illness obliterated my two biggest ambitions of being a vet and a competitive rider. I still have vivid dreams about both, and I feel a little heartbroken each time I wake up remembering.

We're allowed to acknowledge how bloody hard things are sometimes, even knowing full well that they could be ten times harder. I can't begin to pay my medical bills, my brain fog has been unremitting all month, and I'm way too exhausted for the daily wrestling matches I need to have with this sheep to medicate her. It sucks. Of course, focusing all our attention on our hardships is a recipe for misery, but now and again allowing and honoring our wounds is the only safe way to quiet down the howling.

We're also allowed to have moments when we compare ourselves to someone like that horrible young vet who didn't even have a single pimple, the bitch, and we're allowed to wallow in self pity for a while. Simply because we're human, and being a little tragic and irrational is our birthright.