Today I was meant to make a blog post containing my module guides for this term, but I can’t. As it turns out, I don’t deal very well with grief. And by don’t deal very well, I mean I ate half my daily recommended calorie intake worth of Pop-Tarts today.
I tend to react to things as an academic should- with cold logic. When I get bad news, I tend to take it like a kernel of knowledge and scurry away to my emotional tree-fort and think long and hard about what the appropriate reaction is. The death of a pet brought conflicting resolutions. “I feel bad” was met with “Its just an animal- you eat meat. Do you get worked up every time you eat a fajita? No, of course not, so don’t get so worked up about this”. But there’s something more going on. There’s something about my relationship with Molly the (now dead) cat that is very different to my relationship with chunks of white meat in a vacuum-sealed package.
Death might be biologically defined as the cessation of life-sustaining processes, but sociologically it is much more than that. Death is loss. It is the loss of social contact, of networks, of future plans, of identity. When a child dies, are you still a parent? When a parent dies, are you still a child? So much uncomfortable ambiguity surrounding death leaves us grasping for answers. Looking for anything to make us feel whole again, to have our rung on the social ladder make sense.
But for me, Molly the cat’s death raises more questions than “Am I still a pet-owner?” I mean, of course I’m not. And it doesn’t matter anyway. For people like me, the death of a pet represents much, much more than the loss of a mostly mute companion animal. It represents the death of a creature who was there and didn’t care. Look, I am under absolutely no pretenses that that cat gave a toss about anything other than a full food bowl and a clean litter tray. She was a cat, after all. But she was a great support to me. Having her warm fuzz-butt near me was a great comfort because she didn’t understand or care what the situation was.
People aren’t like that. People are nosy, people ask questions, people make assumptions, people judge. People want to feel righteous indignation on your behalf, or they want to cast social actors as angels or devils in a grand drama which is both inappropriate and unnecessary. Humans want to use logic and rationality to make sense of the scattered jigsaw puzzle life becomes with something bad happens. Animals lack those faculties and are happy to just physically be present. They don’t ask questions because they can’t. They don’t care because they can’t. There’s no agenda with animals.
For anyone who’s suffered mental health issues, sitting with an animal is a refuge from the barrage of everyday life. Molly never once asked me, “What do you have to be sad about? Why can’t you just be happy?” Molly never gave me unsolicited advice like, “Well, maybe if you had tried harder the relationship wouldn’t have ended” or “If you weren’t so career-obsessed maybe you’d be happier.” I never had to be on the defensive with Molly. I never had to provide justification or explanation for my sometimes erratic behaviour- which, by the way, is completely exhausting. If I could just ‘stop thinking sad thoughts’ or ‘act normal’ or any of the numerous helpful pieces of criticism which have been passed my way by family or friends then I wouldn’t have a mental illness. Which, in case people are still confused about, isn’t a choice. No one chooses to have a chemical imbalance of serotonin or dopamine (or whatever monoamines is neuropsychology’s flavour of the month because there’s still some debate over cause vs. symptom). It just happens to some people, okay? And yes, I am being safe and proactive about getting treatment. I’ll be fine. Don’t worry. I don’t need worry right now, I need to vent.
You see, that’s the funny thing about depression and mental health disorders. Sometimes good intentions have a sour reception because sometimes all the depressed person wants is someone to be present. Not to comment, not to pass judgement, not to offer advice, not to be helpful. Okay, I shouldn’t generalise. I don’t mean to claim I speak for all people who experience depression, far from it. I just find it difficult to speak about myself openly- namely for the reasons above- I fear judgement and rejection. People often mistake my lack of personal engagement, my lack of ‘I’ statements as a lack of emotion or lack of personal engagement. I am a deeply emotional person, I just don’t like to show it because I am afraid. To share emotions, to share grief- especially over a stupid cat- is to open myself to judgement and ridicule which I have meticulously avoided thorough most of my life through a labyrinthine network of carefully crafted defense mechanisms. I didn’t have to place archers along my crenelations when I was with Molly, and although we lived apart because of unpleasant circumstances for the better part of a year, knowing she was with her dad and looked after was a comfort in and of itself.
That’s gone now. That simple comfort has evaporated. I feel alone now, more alone than ever before in my life. I realise as I write it that this is the grief talking through my fingers, but this grief is so palpable and the loss so stomach-turningly real that I cannot help but believe in it. I miss that stupid cat for my own stupid, nonsensical, selfish reasons. And I blogged about it. Ffffffff-
RIP Miss Molly Doombringer- You meant more to me than your feline brain ever knew, and that’s why I loved you, and that’s why I miss you so much.