If you follow my social media accounts, (particularly my Twitter: https://twitter.com/aimes_wilson) this post probably seemed inevitable and just a matter of time before it was written and published! I guess it’s fairly obvious that I find blogging soothing and therapeutic so it’s probably a given that I was going to use it as a coping skill in the death of my beloved lop-eared Lionhead bunny, Pixie.
“I said that I had a bad feeling!”
For a long time, my poor mental health meant that I was really out of touch with having accurate and fair instincts around my physical health. I think this largely stemmed from the abuse and how much pain I experienced from it because I found myself cutting myself off from that harsh, painful reality. It meant that once my mental health started to improve through hospitalisation, medication, and therapy, I found that actually; I could be in tune with my body and not fall apart in doing so.
Becoming more aware of my health, also meant that I found myself to develop very good instincts where my pets were concerned too. One key example of this was with Pixie. It was only early afternoon one day a few years ago so Pixie had only really been exhibiting symptoms (no appetite and no passing of poop) for the morning, but I had a bad feeling, so I called the Vets. The Vet was reluctant to give me an appointment for Pixie because she believed she should be given longer at home to check if she really was poorly. I remember telling her that I knew my bunny better than anyone and I knew something was wrong. Fortunately the Vet agreed to do an examination and within five minutes of it, she said it had been very lucky I’d insisted on the check-up because Pixie had Gut Stasis; which can be fatal for rabbits.
Being warned that once she’d had it, she was vulnerable and susceptible to it happening again, I was sort of torn between feeling sceptical that would happen and accepting that there was a very real possibility it would. I guess the part of me who had come to really favour disassociating from difficult and upsetting situations, won and I was sadly surprised and hugely disappointed when Pixie was hospitalised for the exact same illness again a while later.
Having two or three episodes of hospitalisation for Gut Stasis over her four years, meant that I was much more knowledgeable about it so that as soon as she didn’t eat breakfast on Saturday (April 17th) and became lethargic I called the Vets. When I had put a bag together and went to put Pixie into the travel carrier, she was lying on the floor of her two-storey hutch. Even when I opened the door to the room she was in, shut it behind me, and walked toward her she didn’t move and for one second I absolutely and entirely believed she was dead. I stared at her body willing it to twitch just a tiny bit and finally, I saw her side move up and down with her breath. I breathed the biggest sigh of relief I have ever remembered taking and very quickly gathered her in my arms to put her in the straw-filled carrier and rush her to the Vets.
I was waiting for the taxi to take us there when my neighbour popped out and looked in the carrier before confirming to me that Pixie definitely didn’t look herself. My reply? “I know; I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
After being hospitalised for the entire weekend, when the Vet called me on Monday (April 19th) to say they thought Pixie could come home, it felt as though my heart – not my chest – had been so tight and it just seemed to very suddenly let go and expand. I think it happened so quickly that my excitement to bring her home took over my body and I was so excited on the bus to get her that I missed my stop and ended up three motorways away from the Vets!
It also all seemed to happen so quickly that I didn’t even realise part of my heart had stayed behind during that expansion. A piece of my heart was still tight with worry and with the persistent notion that there wasn’t going to be a happy ending. I had this dark feeling in my tummy and in my heart that there wasn’t going to be a happy outcome. Saying that, it didn’t really mean I was any more prepared or even expecting of the Vet recommending euthanasia. It definitely didn’t mean that I didn’t feel the floor shift below me, and my mouth drop open with a dramatic gasp.
Unlike most instances where you have a feeling as to how something is going to go, I very obviously wasn’t happy and definitely didn’t feel in any way vindicated when I turned out to be ‘right.’ If anything, I went through a phase of feeling terrible. As though how could Pixie have been expected to recover when it seemed that I didn’t have any hope or faith in her doing so? But of course, it wasn’t as though I hadn’t – with all my power – willed Pixie to survive and to recover.
“You have to make the best decision for your pet not yourself.”
Having spent (in my opinion) the best part of ten years mentally ill, I’d say that near the entirety of that was spent with so many people around me making decisions purely on the basis of how it may affect my mental health. And then when I began recovering and found my passion for life and my determination not to end up self-harming or being back in a psychiatric hospital, I started to make those decisions for myself.
Through therapy and medication, I finally started actually wanting to be safe and found myself confronting options and choices with a healthy and positive attitude which definitely contributed to me maintaining my safety. And in doing this, I made the decision to add Pixie to the family.
The visual hallucinations (of rabbits) had just returned in September 2017 and I was finding it so hard to stay in the present and in reality. I couldn’t seem to ground myself – no matter how many Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) skills I used! Recognising this, led to me asking if I could hold one of the bunnies in my local Pets at Home store. Out of all the ones there, I chose Pixie and after being a bit feisty with the staff, she was put into my arms and she immediately stayed still and all of a sudden, I found myself crying (you can read more about the beginning of my time with Pixie here: http://www.imnotdisordered.co.uk/2017/09/why-i-now-own-animal-i-used-to.html).
Those tears were from feelings of pure content, peace, and happiness. It was like holding this lop-eared Lionhead bunny suddenly felt like the answer to all the hurt, all the upset, and all the unsettled elements around having a life revolving around hallucinations. She seemed to calm me, and I felt instantly grounded in holding her and feeling her fluffy ears on my hands (since that, she’s always loved having her ears stroked!). Obviously, I told the staff that I would 100% be back for her the next day when finances were sorted and whilst they warned me that they couldn’t reserve her, I actually wasn’t surprised she was still there when I returned because I’d already come to recognise that she was my destiny. That adding her to my family was completely the right thing to do. I had no doubt in my mind that I was bringing Pixie home for all the right reasons. I didn’t even hesitate when people asked what I thought my cat (Dolly) would do seeing a bunny in ‘her’ home. I was just confident that I was making the right decision.
Pixie helped me to tell the difference between the hallucinations and reality because I could feel her fur when I moved to touch her, and because she was so much clearer than the slightly blurred hallucinations. So, over the almost four years of having Pixie, I’ve always felt passionate about showering her with the love and kindness that more than equalled the help and support she had proven to be for me, my life, and my mental health.
Having added Pixie to the family for so many positive reasons, I think it’s fairly obvious that I would make an equally kind and rational decision in her passing. When the Vet said he’d recommend euthanasia, my first thoughts were ‘oh my God, I can’t live without her!’ and ‘what if that means the hallucinations will come back?’ But then the Vet explained that the chance of recurrence of the Gut Stasis was one factor in the recommendation and decision to euthanise Pixie. The Vet explained that if she were to pull through this ‘bout’ of it, there was such a high chance it would happen again and that the more often it did, the harder it would be for her to bounce back from it; and what quality of life would that give her?
I knew then that I couldn’t make this decision based on how I would feel without her and the impact the loss of her might have on me, I had to focus on Pixie and what was best for her. She was most definitely the priority and her life mattered so much more than considering how much I’d cry!
So many people tell you that you made the ‘right decision’ when deciding to have a pet put to sleep and now my response is usually either “I know” or, if I’m really not in the mood: “that doesn’t make it any easier or less difficult.” I mean, knowing that you’re putting the pet out of any pain – or even preventing it from experiencing any pain – can, in some ways, be a nudge in you making that decision and for some, I think it can be a comfort. It can give you a bit of a reassurance. But sometimes, when it’s a really bad/hard day, it can stop feeling at all comforting or reassuring. And that’s ok.
“What do I tell Emmy?”
As upset and heartbroken as I was, one of my first thoughts after making the decision and the vet taking Pixie away, was about concern for my calico rescue cat; Emmy.
Adding Pixie to a household which already had a cat (Dolly), some people warned me that they’d never be able to meet, and others advised on gradual introductions in swapping possessions of each of them to sniff the other’s scent. But getting Pixie home and having Dolly sniff the box she was in, I just seemed to know that neither approach were true for them. So, I allowed them to mix straight away and never looked back!
For some people it might sound silly, but their immediate bond gave me the feeling that they knew they were both important to me and that them having a lovely relationship would mean so much. And it really did – mean a lot. But I think that I was so caught up in that lovely, warm relationship that I didn’t think ahead as to what would happen to one if the other one passed away. After just one year of them together, Dolly had to be put to sleep because of kidney failure and almost instantly Pixie seemed to know.
I obviously don’t know if it was about a really conscious understanding of the situation, I think it was more about her noticing that the other presence in the house was gone and seeing me be so upset and heartbroken. She began following me all around the house and was constantly jumping up on the bed or settee for cuddles and would sit for ages while I stroked her. Of course, that was so sad, and, in a way, it really made the loss twice as bad because there were two of us grieving.
Going through that together really cemented our relationship and it really seemed to bond us in a way I have never experienced with any other pet. And it wasn’t about loving Pixie any more than other pets; just that we had a special relationship which I couldn’t imagine I would ever experience again.
That grief we were both struggling to cope with, proved a massive motivation to add Emmy to the family. Of course, I did have the worry that Pixie might not take well to a whole new cat and equally, would a slightly older kitten be able to adapt to living with an animal she’d likely never met before? If I’m honest, I didn’t have that certain feeling that I’d had when introducing Pixie and Dolly, but that didn’t seem to matter because they bonded so quickly and so thoroughly that my hesitations and worries really didn’t amount to much.
One of my favourite ways to spend my time ended up being in watching Emmy and Pixie ‘play’ together. Emmy loved to literally jump onto Pixie and straddle her whilst licking her ears and Pixie seemed to enjoy it just as much because she’d just sit there and the sometimes, when Emmy was finished, she’d go hopping after her and Emmy would have this look on her face like ‘what have I started?!’
They loved being in the garden together too. Pixie would usually sit eating the grass and Emmy would come along every so often and tap her on the head as if to say, ‘are you ok?’ or ‘just checking you’re still here!’ It was as though Emmy thought of herself as the Big Sister and would always be looking out for Pixie – once, a stray cat attempted to catch Pixie and Emmy literally body blocked her and then chased the cat out of our garden! It was honestly so heart-warming.
This special relationship was a huge reason for my upset at the thought of coming home to Emmy without Pixie. And it might sound silly, but I honestly wondered what on earth I was going to say to Emmy. As though saying “your sister has passed away” would distress her more than if I were to phrase it differently! Instead, I became very conscious of my own thoughts and feelings and the gravity of them to the level where I assumed Emmy might be able to ‘sense’ them and be upset by them.
I do wonder though, whether similarly to Pixie and I after losing Dolly, Emmy and I will grow a uniquely lovely bond… Of course, I love her so much and believe we have an amazing relationship… I just think that – like any human relationship – it changes when you’ve gone through something difficult together.
“I don’t regret getting Pixie though!”
I’ve had a few comments from people about how a pet’s death should be deemed as something which goes along with having a pet. As though before you add a pet to your family, you should consider how upset you’ll be if they were to die! Is that the right or fair attitude to have when buying or adopting an animal though?
I mean, considering your mental health and any safety concerns is very obviously something I’d support, but I think that’s a whole different ball game. In buying Pixie, I’m the first person to say that I bought her in a very impulsive way and without having done absolutely no research nor even having a basic amount of knowledge about rabbits and everything owning one would entail. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend anyone do that, I definitely don’t regret the fact that I did! If I had done the research about how high maintenance they can be and all the possible health risks etc, what were the chances that I’d have gone ahead and bought a rabbit?
I think that the thing with Pixie was that everything about her just felt ‘right.’ I mean, from crying when I first held her, to introducing her to Dolly (and then Emmy)! She just seemed to be the perfect fit for my life, my home, and my family.
When Dolly was put to sleep, I told everyone that if I hadn’t had Pixie, I would’ve been out buying a hamster or a fish – some other type of presence in the house and as company for me. I think that during that time, I became reliant upon Pixie to really maintain a healthy mental health and my safety in general. Recognising that, I was very aware of the concern as to how I would cope if anything happened to her. And I honestly feel (and I don’t think that I’m the only person to believe this) that if losing Pixie had happened even just a year ago (I’ve been stable and safe for over 240 days), I would’ve been really at risk of hurting myself – or worse.
Some might say that really goes back to the start of this part in that maybe you shouldn’t have a pet if there’s such a huge risk to yourself if you were to lose them. So, I think it’s about recognising that I really can’t imagine – and would never want to – a life in which I had never had Pixie.
“Pixie will be so proud of you!”
This final comment has been said a ton of times by a lot of different people and is mostly used when I’ve voiced my upset, had a cry, or done something positive.
When I first lost Dolly, I spent a lot of moments on the floor of the bathroom hurting myself either convinced that I deserved it, or with the hope that I would join her. It took me a good few weeks – maybe almost a few months – to realise that what I was doing was exactly what Dolly wouldn’t want me to. I mean, so many people told me that A LOT(!) but it was one of those things where I really had to see it for myself before I could believe it and use it as motivation to do the opposite and really work on keeping myself safe.
I think that going through that process in grieving for Dolly, I fell into that new mindset so much more easily when losing Pixie. I mean, it has probably really helped that my mental health was already so stable…
Honestly though? Having a happy, healthy, stable mental health meant that I actually also worried that it wasn’t going to end up stable enough to cope safely with losing Pixie. It wasn’t that I had suicidal or self-harm thoughts, just that I worried they would come back. And I think that worry is quite natural, understandable, and healthy. I mean, when you think about it; I’ve experienced some very horrible moments and very unsafe thoughts and feelings… So, why on earth would I not worry about them coming back?!
And maybe some people will think that means I’m not totally in recovery or that my mental health maybe isn’t as stable as I claim it is. As though if I were at 100% then I’d be fully confident that nothing would change. I don’t think that’s true… I think it’d be like falling over when you’re walking down a street and then going down that street a few weeks later and worrying it will happen again. You’ve had that bad experience, and even though your balance feels good and you have sensible shoes on, you’re still afraid you’ll fall in that same place and have the exact same injuries.
So, I fight those worries and that panic with the thought of Pixie and everything she would want for my life. How happy she’d want me to be. That’d she want me to stay safe. That she’d want so much success and so many achievements for me. She’d want me to keep working hard. To stay passionate in all that I do. To be kind. To take time for myself. To be happy and content with my life.
I get that sometimes this can be difficult; the idea and the inclination to make someone proud because you – very understandably – might worry that if anything were to change or ‘go wrong,’ you’ll be letting them down and disappointing them. It can sometimes come across as pressure which can become unhealthy and leave you feeling like a failure. So, you have to find a balance between using them as a drive to be well, and not allowing them the power to stop you from being sad, crying, or needing to take a break in any commitments.
I hope that this blog post makes Pixie proud and that I’ve done justice to her importance, the love I hold toward her, and the heartbreak I’m experiencing without her little fluffy face.