“How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives.”
I honestly can’t believe it’s been an entire six weeks since my bunny; Pixie, was put to sleep (you can read more about her death here). When I told my Mum, she took the words right out of my mouth when she said, “it feels like yesterday.” Although, it is definitely one of those stereotypical – but still totally understandable – scenarios where it feels like it happened so recently and yet, in a way, it feels as though Pixie has been gone forever. However, either way, immediately after losing Pixie, I was aware that the decision I’m blogging about was going to be something I would struggle with; do I get another bunny?
Won’t the hallucinations come back?
It’s very well known (or at least to long-term readers) that I originally bought Pixie (you can read about her joining the family here) because my mental health had relapsed and my visual hallucinations of rabbits had come back…
When I was younger, I had two rabbits they killed their babies. Professionals have said that it was a trauma which contributed to the fact that I started hallucinating rabbits two years after my mental health began to deteriorate and the auditory hallucinations began. It was all well and good having those psychiatric staff recognise the connection, but me being the one who was actually experiencing it; I was unable to appreciate that common thread, and the hallucinations continued to make very little sense to me.
Even though all those professionals thought they understood the hallucinations, they didn’t agree with one another on how to help and support me with them. I remember actually overhearing a support worker and psychiatric nurse have a heated discussion about me and my hallucinations. The support worker had just run round my hospital room ‘chasing’ the rabbits out and then using a net to ‘catch’ them all and take them away so that I felt able to go back in the room. The nurse however, believed that doing what the support worker had, was ‘playing into’ the hallucinations and that psychiatric staff should really be persistently telling me that the rabbits weren’t real.
Looking back and being in recovery, I can totally appreciate the two opposing thoughts and beliefs. On the one hand, ‘playing into’ the hallucinations was somewhat comforting for me because it seemed to be a recognition that the staff believed that I could see them. That the rabbits were real to me. On the other hand, would it help me to comply with medication and therapy? Because surely, I’d believe that there was no need to do either thing because nothing was wrong. The rabbits were there – I mean, the staff could see them to get rid of them for me so how could they then say I needed to take tablets or be in a psychiatric hospital? In the alternative response, would encouraging me to recognise that the rabbits were hallucinations and that I needed help for them, leave me feeling completely unvalidated?
With the professional’s uncertainty in treating the hallucinations, I was sort of forced to search for ways to cope with the rabbits myself, and it was in doing this, that I found Pixie. My Mum and I were in our local Pets at Home and I saw the rabbits in their hutch, and for some reason – and out of nowhere – I had the urge or the instinct to ask the staff if I could hold one. Amongst the five or six rabbits which were in the hutch, I chose the fluffy, lop-eared one – Pixie. And when she was put into my arms, I had this overwhelming, special, warm love and peace which seemed to fill my entire body and took transformed into tears trickling down my cheeks.
In holding Pixie, it was as though something ‘clicked’ and I looked to the staff and promised I would be back the following day to collect her. I think it was the healthiest impulsive decision I have ever made because in taking her home, I quickly discovered that she was so helpful and comforting when the hallucinations were there… I would look at them – slightly blurry and covered in mud, and then to Pixie who was clean, fluffy, and completely detailed. It wasn’t just about that though, I could stroke Pixie and run her fur through my fingers, yet as I moved to touch the hallucinations, they would either move further away or seemingly evaporate. Pixie was my very happy reality, and eventually, the professionals discovered the right medication and the right dose (Aripiprazole 10mg) for me to be completely free of the hallucinations!
Not experiencing the hallucinations for so long, meant that one of my most immediate worries in losing Pixie was that no longer having her in my life would make space for the hallucinations to once again turn my life upside down and bend it all out of shape. I don’t want people to think it’s selfish of me for considering it almost immediately after losing Pixie, and I don’t want for people to think I was questioning my strength in my mental health recovery. I’d like to think that the impact the hallucinations have had on my life – that they almost ended my life – make this worry completely rational and understandable.
Doesn’t Emmy need a furry companion?
I think that immediately after worrying about my mental health, this was my next concern – the thought of Emmy now being alone. Mostly because having lost my first cat Dolly (you can read about her death here), after almost a year with Pixie being a part of the family, it meant that bringing Emmy home, Pixie was already here. And it was this – the fact that Emmy had been brought up having a companion – which made me worried that Emmy needed one. That she wouldn’t be happy without one.
This worry was particularly strong in the early days of losing Pixie because Emmy was so very notably distressed. I had thrown out all of the rabbit-oriented items in the house e.g., the hutch, her treats, the sawdust etc in the hope that it might prevent Emmy being frustrated with smelling Pixie but her not being there. Despite this, she was apparently still very eager to be in the large cupboard/room in my home where the hay and sawdust had been stored, and very regularly pawed and meowed at the door.
Also during those early days, Emmy was generally quite unsettled and would walk from room to room meowing and seeming to search everywhere, as well as frequently sniffing at and lying in, the area of the kitchen where Pixie’s hutch had been (you can read more about Emmy’s grief and advice on how to support a grieving pet, in my collaboration post with Cats Protection here).
Her upset and distress was so upsetting for me and it became a cycle because her grief upset me and then my upset added to hers. Realising this, was – I think – the turning point for both of us because it made me very conscious that it was time to take steps to help us both. So I took solace, comfort, and reassurance from talks with my GP and the Crisis Team, and I began looking into ways to help Emmy. Honestly? My first cat Dolly was diagnosed with a cat form of Anxiety after going through a bit of a trauma, and she had to take medication so I wondered if that would be the answer for Emmy too. But in telling the Vets about her upset, they advised I buy Feliway – a diffuser of a type of pheromone used to enhance serenity in cats. It was something I had tried with Dolly and it hadn’t been good enough, but I recognised that this was a completely different situation and Emmy is a totally different cat so I figured there was no harm in trying (one tip: I found it cheaper on Amazon than through my Vets – you can buy the starter pack here). And I am so glad I tried! The Vet recommended plugging the diffuser as close as possible to the room Emmy is most distressed about and luckily there’s a socket literally right next to the door to the room the sawdust had been in. Within two days of plugging, it in, Emmy stopped bothering with the door and we’re on just over one month later and she just walks past it – even if the door is open! But it wasn’t just the door! She seemed more at peace just in general.
Seeing this incredible improvement in her, felt like such a relief for my grief too. From the beginning of losing Pixie, I’ve appreciated Emmy and her grief because I recognise that she’s the only other one to have lived with Pixie and to really understand what I was going through in losing our little family member. And as comforting and reassuring that it is to feel that I wasn’t alone in this, I also very obviously hated the thought of Emmy going through it too. So, seeing her calmer and happier, made me so much more content and it was really rewarding to realise that I had made a decision that had really helped her.
As the days and weeks have gone by, I’ve become less convinced that Emmy really needs a furry companion in her life to be happy again. This isn’t just about her grief becoming less intense and more manageable, it’s also about the fact that in the meantime, she and I have built such an incredible relationship since losing Pixie.
Do I have to consider the practical drawbacks to getting another bunny?
When I went to the Vets with my Mum to collect Pixie’s ashes, we were talking to one of the staff about my thoughts to get another bunny and she warned me that gut stasis (which is what killed Pixie) can be very common in bunnies and there was potential for me to end up going through all of this again with a new bunny.
That warning actually left me wondering whether if someone had told me this before buying Pixie, would I have still got her? I think it’s probably a ‘yes’ because being told it now is most likely only effective because I do actually now know what that would be like. But, in asking myself this, I became even more aware that I had really bought Pixie on a total whim and without any planning or research. Did that make me regret adding her to the family? Of course not! I can’t imagine – and don’t want to – living a life without ever having had Pixie. It did, however, leave me very certain that if I were to buy another rabbit, I would definitely do a lot more research because I’d want a different breed to Pixie.
Alongside research, a connected practical element I considered when decided whether to get another rabbit was financial cost. It was another aspect I’d learnt through getting Pixie spontaneously but the exact same in terms of the fact that I wouldn’t wish I hadn’t gotten her when I found out how much having a rabbit cost. Pixie was worth every penny… and more! However, money is almost always – sometimes unfortunately – quite an important aspect to consider for a lot of decisions you might have to make in life. I think this is especially difficult where there’s already money concerns and challenges.
In considering these practical drawbacks to getting a bunny, I also questioned whether I should even be doing that! I mean, surely if I really, genuinely wanted to get a bunny then no number of consequences would make a difference. No number of worries over the price of hutches would matter. No concerns over the medical care of a specific breed would change my decision… So, I guess the fact that these things matter is a sign that I’m not 100% sure on it…
The final make or break deciding factor:
The improvement in our relationship wasn’t surprising because when Dolly was put to sleep and it was just Pixie and I, we built a special connection because we were going through our grief together. It meant that even when we added Emmy to the family, Pixie and I had a very unique and important relationship and as much as I very obviously loved Emmy and cared for her, that special bond was always there with Pixie.
Building this new, important relationship with Emmy has really convinced me that actually, we would be perfectly fine just the two of us! I mean, I can’t speak for Emmy but for me, our connection is a huge comfort and reassurance that all we need is each other.
“I love you not only for today and tomorrow, but forever.”