I’ve written a million times…. OK maybe a thousand… about how horrible it feels when a writer cannot write. It’s the same as when a painter can no longer paint, a farmer can no longer farm (yes I realize these are all references to things I do) but you get my point.
My passions and arts are heavily affected by life, my emotions, my health. Sometimes you have unlimited inspiration, sometimes you have zero. I have had plenty of inspiration. But the words just won’t come out or come easily – and because of that, sometimes I just give up. Sometimes I tell myself poor writing is better than nothing, with blogging – because obviously it’s still an update and this isn’t a novel. Well.. it kind of is, but it’s a different format, and a different tool. And here, I try to write about my entire life, including the animals a lot, so it changes the level of inspiration I need in order to sit and blog.
But only a little bit. This period in my life has been a great example and reminder to me, that while I still don’t think poor writing is better than NOT writing, I do realize that not pushing when the words don’t come easily is bad. Push, and push, until the words come back or come out. When I’m sickest, I isolate. From everyone and everything, or I focus on one project, or 40. It depends on what I need to mentally get myself through the flare. I am sick all the time, but an actual flare up, and one of all of my diseases – because one sets off the other with auto immune diseases almost every time… it’s horrifying. Every single time. I think that’s why we forget just how bad it can be or is – it’s a coping mechanism from our brains so that we don’t live in constant fear of when we will flare so badly again… because with auto immune disease you will.
So many famous writers have said “write every single day” whether it’s good or not. Not all of your writing is to be shared, and a lot of it is going to be shit. But you keep what’s good. Since my health has begun to affect me in neurological ways, making me instantly forget what I was doing, or why, or thinking – and caused me to forget words, and not be able to find them or at times saying them without slurring or stuttering… it’s been terrifying to me. Of course my medications contribute, but my doctors let me know that this is also part of the disease process, and while highly unpleasant and scary… it’s reality.
It scares me more than the pain, or the complications, or even dying. And when I say I forget, I don’t mean the usual forgetfulness we all have like, where did I put my keys, or even those odd moments of “where did I put the grain scoop?” meanwhile it’s in your hand. I’m talking about forgetting where you are for a minute in your own kitchen, or forgetting someones name that you’ve known for 20 years. Or a basic words. My thinking process is so easily broken, it’s hard to write. The words, the stories, the messages, they are all in there, but at the same time, I feel like I am asleep but walking around through life. My eyes are open but the rest of me is just asleep. Especially in a flare.
And the words swirl around inside of me, with no rhyme or reason, and often no way to escape.
Anytime the old & real Donna makes an appearance, it makes me very happy. It makes me feel passionate and alive again when she pops up and inspiration hits me to write, to paint, to sew, whatever. As my physical limitations become more and more, it hurts me. But more than anything I don’t want to loose my words. My ability to express myself, to write. And while I try not to live in a place of fear, as we all should – it’s a place just like all of them we have to visit sometimes.
Another problem is there are many parts of my life that I keep private – like any normal person, but there are a lot of parts that I’d like to share, because I always have. When I wrote at Our Forest Haven, I became more and more open, and while that terrified me, it helped a lot of people when I opened up about several issues, and for that, I am most grateful. When I get messages from some of you thanking me for a certain piece of writing, or for blogging, it means a lot… a whole lot. And it’s my motivation to continue to do so.
Soon I’ll be free to be more open however, or at least, I’ll feel it, and I know that will allow me to write more – and, better. Whether I choose to share a lot, or a little, I feel like for some time now, that I cannot share whatever I want (because of circumstances) and knowing it’s my choice how open I am and what I share – and not someone else’s? That makes a huge difference.
I’ve probably mentioned this before and I use it as an example all the time… I remember when Jon Katz (the writer, Bedlam Farm owner) started to write more on his blog about things other than just his dogs and sheep. He started into pieces about animal rights, farming, politics (gasp!) aging, his wonderful relationship with his wife, which I always love his writing about… and what else… oh! SEX as you age! People went insane. He wasn’t writing an explicit novel – he wasn’t crossing any lines, he barely said a thing but a lot of people just lost it. I didn’t expect any different, but I am proud he stuck to writing what he wants, it’s his forum, and as he said, and I’ve always said, take what you want, leave the rest. And when you can do that with someone’s writing –
They are doing a really good job of it.
Now on to our scheduled programming…
I have been in a non stop full on flare for over two weeks and it’s been a vicious cycle. I had two obstructions (crohn’s disease is so much fun) and then everything else flared, so my lymph nodes, glands, joints, skin. When I get that sick, I cannot move my fingers, toes, sometimes I’m completely unable to walk – my back and legs lock up from pain, stiffness, and swelling, and I know a lot of people know what feels like. It also feels like someone is chiseling my bones away with a hand chisel. On top of the acute abdominal pain, distention that makes me look 6 months pregnant… Let’s see…. also my eyes go blurry, my neurological symptoms flare so I slur, stutter, cannot move my jaw to form words (Sjogrens syndrome) I can’t eat, can’t drink, swallow, sleep. I could go on.
Because of the methotrexate medication symptoms this past week I also vomited violently and non stop for two days without anything in my system… I couldn’t even keep water down and that’s with strong anti nausea meds and even (ganna get really real here) “not oral” meds. You get my drift. Nothing worked. I have ended up increasing my prednisone to 80 mg again which is torture for me physically and mentally. You stop sleeping. Nothing will put you to sleep on higher doses of pred, not even horse tranquilizers. I am small and I take medications prescribed to help and nothing. I think you could whack me with a baseball bat in the head and it wouldn’t even slow me down. Well slow my brain down. I usually have a lot of false physical energy too (from the high prednisone) but because I haven’t been able to eat, even ensure (the meal replacement drink) that’s not happening this time… my body is very weak. But my mind is raring to go, for part of the day anyway.
Methtrexate sucks. The hair loss, the mouth sores, the vomiting. I’m getting a lot of the main side effects from the drug. Sometimes they go away in time, sometimes they do not, and sometimes people need to stop it. But there are some people who do suffer from the side effects and worse than me but still choose to take it because they get one or two good days a week from it (One lady said she couldn’t get out of bed except two days a week from the medication, the rest of the time she was horrifically sick, so she stopped it. But she has kept taking it because those two days were better than zero better days! She took the extra suffering on top of her diseases to get that short reprieve for those days.) All medications used for autoimmune disease are a mixed bag. Prednisone is at the top. Sometimes the “cure” is worse than the disease. That’s true.
But in my case, I take the meds because I know what happens if I don’t. I’ve been there a couple times and not even by choice, by Doctors orders. It’s a miserable feeling being trapped inside a body that’s attacking you from every angle. It’s like being in an abusive relationship you can never leave… with yourself. And not just physical, mental. The mental toll it takes can never be underestimated yet is constantly by Doctors.
It’s a rollercoaster and a struggle, and as I’ve said repeatedly, I wouldn’t wish this on my greatest enemy for even one day. (Well… maybe that one guy.…. )
In my case I’m stubborn as hell. It’s a bad thing sometimes. I push way too hard, all the time. I never know when to quit. I’m terrified of people seeing me truly sick because to me, even though all these people that see me are people I know, and friends… them seeing me at my worst, feels like I’m failing. Yes, I’m failing to hide my illnesses and how weak they can make me. I hate when my young body resists basic things, like carrying a load of laundry because it physically hurts me or is impossible some days. Some days I can’t lift the milk jug from the fridge.
Not every day. Thankfully. But trust me, I have my coping skills, and I have my struggles of acceptance too. Some of my coping skills are excellent, some, not as healthy, but it’s a process, and a journey. My stubbornness has also kept me alive many times. Balance is a huge issue for me, and for most people with chronic illness. And I am not used to asking for help, or having someone help me and I resist it still most of the time. But I’m working on it.
My flare rages on, with small improvements however, so I’ll take them.
I spent many nights on the bathroom floor, and Douglas has been right there with me, as he always is. All my animals are, but Doug never leaves my side, ever… but especially when I am sickest.
Ed has been away… he will be traveling for work for the next few months – with some breaks in between to come home, but he’ll be gone a lot.
Some huge, HUGE, things are happening here I wish I could share but I cannot yet. Hopefully soon.
Then there are the puppies…
My niece came to visit me with her boyfriend the first week Ed was gone. I love seeing her any time but the timing was great – especially because I flared so badly. She was a great help – they both were.
I think it was only the second day she was here though, when I had just come inside the house from morning chores and sat down with my coffee (which I couldn’t drink anyway but still made) when I heard a goat cry. They talk a lot but I knew this was a “mama help” cry. And it was. The puppies had Klaus own and were attacking him. I ran out – which I can’t do but I did, and then handled the situation and got him in the house.
The puppies are growing rapidly and don’t know their own strength – OR that every one else is not also a puppy.
However – they went for his neck.
He was bleeding and I was beyond upset but first I had to make sure he didn’t go into shock.
And then me. I have heart complications from my illnesses so I had to take care of me before I had an actual heart attack. We all joke about that at times of stress, but that’s one thing I know is not a joke with my health anymore.
So I got him stable and then Emily (my niece) stayed with him after she woke up, not even remotely surprised to see a goat walking around the house.
He was happy to be inside since it’s every goats (and sheep’s) dream to live inside the house… Once everyone was calm, then I looked closer at his wounds. They were not good but all superficial and no bites on his actual neck. However the grabbing of the neck did not sit well with me.
It took 3 years for Max to become the best guardian dog I’ve ever had. Obviously during those three years he did amazing things and it wasn’t him constantly doing bad things…. but after that age he just suddenly matured and blossomed into more than I could ever even ask for. But it takes work. Max also went through a phase of nipping butts, pulling wool from sheep, and chasing. He played way too aggressively with the sheep for a while. We got over all of those hurdles.
The thing about Maremma’s is – they are not like Great Pyrenees, or Spanish Mastiffs, or any of the other Livestock Guardian breeds (Lgd’s). All Lgd breeds have instincts to guard, and to protect, and do their job. It’s as ingrained in them as pulling and running is in a husky, or sniffing and chasing scents is in a hound. But they still need training, and they also have different quirks and behaviors, both as a breed, and also just because every creature has their own unique personality and behaviors. I have found Great Pyrenees to be easier to work with on that front – I had zero issues with Flavious doing bad things. But he also wasn’t 1/2 the guardian of the animals that Max is (I’m not saying any one breed is above the others, I just happen to love Maremma’s most.) He was a wonderful, sweet, goofy, boy, and he did guard… but it was very different.
Also Maremma’s are sheepdogs. Some of their instincts are Border Collie like. They do herd. Not like a Collie herds but in the morning they herd everyone to the hay when they come out of the barn and in the evening, they herd everyone else back to the barn. When I was researching and learning about Lgd breeds 11 years ago, mostly I just read about Great Pyrenees and I read that herding is a huge no-no, and that your Pyr should absolutely never do that. I assumed this went for Max too and was starting to blame it on the fact he was for raised his first 5 months off farm in a subdivision house.
But then I read more about Maremma’s specifically when I noticed Max doing interesting things like barking at hawks flying over the barnyard. Flavious never looked up?
Flavious also loved me, but he never once guarded me.
Max also herded and nipped butts.
The Maremma – is called the Maremma sheepdog, for a reason. They do have an instinct to move their stock at certain times of day, when there is a predator or threat near, they herd them and move them somewhere safe. In my case here – to the barn.
Once Klaus was safe, I fell apart. I was terribly sick and had hurt myself so I had to deal with that first. But my main concern was, why. Why did the puppies do this and what started it.
It was too aggressive for my liking, but I never saw what started it.
Nymeria as a female is very submissive. Ghost is submissive too but when he is repremanded he sits and he looks at me very intensley thinking – anyone who has worked with ANY working breed knows that they are intense. My Chihuahua’s are not intense like my Maremma’s or a German Shepherd or a Border Collie. My Chihuahua’s are smart, they think, they learn, but working dogs… it’s a whole other level of intelligence and thought. It’s deep.
So after starring at me, he’ll slowly wander off and he drops it. We move on. Nymeria feels very guilty even if you just use her name in a certain voice, and after a time (because you never tell a dog no then immediately reassure them) I reassure her she’s still loved and we move on, but she needs the reassurance. She’s made of pure sugar.
Back to training. I needed to recover so I kept the pups away from the stock for a couple of days because I could not stand constant watch to wait to correct them if they started this up again. I also did not want anyone to be hurt. The puppies hated it, they wanted their sheep and goats.
So I put them all back together. I watched constantly. The first two days I had to correct them dozens of times through the day but for very minor things – I was on them constantly. But I watched too… and I saw.
There was no kill instinct and even though they had put Klaus on the ground and bit his ears and everything – he was not afraid of them. No one was. And they were all sleeping together as if nothing happened.
At night when I walk with the herd to the barn, I see all the puppy play come out of the pups. They sleep most of the day with Max – because they are up all night guarding (or most of it) and of course even though they are asleep they are guarding, but they are quiet. Around 3 PM ish they get wound up. Every one does. It’s getting closer to dinner time (to them. It’s like the dogs who start getting ready for dinner 2 hours early every single day.) and that was when the chasing/nipping started every day. And I noticed as I walked with the stock – the puppies were nipping my butt. I actually assumed it was a height thing – and they are not breaking the skin, all puppies go through a biting/nipping phase and also they think, like most puppies think, everyone else is a puppy too, and they play with them, and me, as they would each other. That’s all part of life with a dog, any kind, and training.
But it is crucial that it is handled right with working dogs. You can ruin them quicker than you think, or you can feed their instincts. And their instinct is to guard and it also is to please, and they are strong instincts from birth.
Since I have been working with them more – we have had zero incidents. Everyone has been happy and fine, and Fern was actually sleeping ON TOP of Nymeria yesterday! Both dogs are good, but Ghost is the instigator and the male. Nymeria is calm, and a follower. He’s a leader already. But they are both very smart – Ghost especially. I know I can have a similar relationship with him as with Max. Nymeria will be easy. Ghost will be the project. But he’s got all the tools and he’s eager to do the right thing and please.
I never want anyone here to be hurt, or sick, but it happens all the time. It’s a farm, and if you keep any kind of animals, even just two Chihuahua’s you know things are going to happen. In this case, I knew too, and you have to be prepared.
I have seen these beautiful and intelligent dogs ruined mentally from people handling them wrong behavior wise. I don’t mean beating them in this case, I mean completely in the verbal training and handling. And also doing things to try and fix problems like tying them up. That is not a solution, it’s cruel to the dog, and you’ll never have a working dog EVER if you do that. Even if a pup comes to you partially trained – which rarely is going to happen anyway, you need to have a knowledge base of the breed in order to properly intigrate them into your flock/herd. Or you need someone who can help you. And once mature, you’ll never ask for a more loyal friend, or a better lgd.
But it takes constant work. Not just once and a while work. And the more knowledge you have the quicker you can “nip” problems and behaviors “in the butt.” Like the puppies idea of handling things! 🙂
I want to say “bad” behaviors, which they are – but actually they are really not meant to be (don’t get me wrong in some cases even certain individual Lgd breeds are not meant to be lgds) they are just, behaviors. Puppy behaviors and they don’t know any better. Like a baby, you need to show them.
I took this picture a couple of days ago.
Back to harmony.
Since Flavious has passed, the puppies are bonding to Max and he has accepted them. That’s a huge win. He will teach them well and it’s starting to show.
However so is Max’s age, he’s slowing down a whole lot real quick – and I expected him to which is why I wanted to get the pups now, while he still had some energy left. It was good timing. I notice he’s starting to let them do more, let them bring the sheep to the barn, let them bark, unless it’s really important. Part of me knows he will leave me when he knows the pups can take over. I can sense it. I’ve always known that but I sense it strongly now that it might be sooner than I’d like. Maybe not – I hope he gets a few years of semi retirement (a lgd will never fully retire) but I can hear him. I understand.
Weather wise we have had colder than usual temperatures, then, thaws, that turned into straight ice…. Then snow. Then cold. Now it’s melting again.
It doesn’t quit with the weird weather. And this is the first time EVER in 15 years I’ve had worms in the winter. Well, not me personally – but the sheep. Even during warm winters when I was worried about it, it never happened. Until this winter. It’s surprising because it’s been so cold. And the goats are totally fine. But the sheep are wormy on me… which I’ll knock out and get fixed up. But it’s still quite interesting and I’m curious if others are dealing with that this year. I’ll probably never know the exact reason but I love detective work like that, and when I can find the cause. I find it fascinating. I don’t want them sick, but I do love learning and using my knowledge of medications and stock to problem solve. It also helps a lot to have an extra set of eyes and another brain – like my friend Tina’s. I’m not used to having friends who also raise animals or keep livestock even. Not close by, so that is a breath of fresh air to be able to talk about it and trouble shoot.
Not too many people like listening to me banter on about animal medications, and health, and etc. And I can go on for hours. Just like I can about any of the animals.
If I could just change my thought process to take care of myself as I would one of the animals if they were sick – it would be easier for me to rest, and allow myself that rest peacefully. I do a lot of “resting” now, probably not enough but it also feels like too much. I also feel guilty the entire time and like, not only am I failing at things – that I’ll never be able to do them again.
In the worst flare, it feels like you can’t possibly survive the amount of sickness and pain you are in. Despite how many times you tell yourself you can. Self talk through my acute pain moments has saved my life many times over. I cry, I fall apart, but being tough with myself, walking myself through the steps, even breathing, helps. You need determination to live your life with a body dead set on killing you. You need determination and to never loose passion for the things you love.
Some day, I might not be able to walk. I might not be able to hold a paint brush. I might not be able to write. Some day. I don’t live for someday. I live for today. Because I have to.
And even if you are not sick – you should too. I don’t mean don’t prepare for the future or keep your dreams alive and keep working towards whatever goals you have set for yourself – but don’t loose sight of now by focusing on what might happen or what might come down the road – because now is all any of us have. Sick or not.
I read this recently and it’s perfectly said:
“The future is a concept, it doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as tomorrow, there never will be, because time is always now. That’s one of the things we discover when we stop talking to ourselves and thinking. We find there is only present, only an eternal now.” – Alan Watts.
It’s true for all of us.
I learned it young because people around me died so early, early in my life, and early in their lives. And with my health now, I hope to live a long happy life. But, I am not being morbid or desperate when I say, I might not have as much time as others. I might, and trust me I don’t think of this in a bad way. I learned a long time ago quality over quantity, especially with chronic pain and illness. Be grateful for every tiny thing you have because there will be huge hurdles, huge set backs. But please keep plowing forward. Always. No matter what.
I say that as much to you, as I do to myself. Focus on what’s left. Not what’s gone.
It’s easier said than done. And you won’t be able to do it every day. Some days you need to fall apart, you need be sad, grieve, be afraid. Just as long as you don’t stay in those places. Make the visits as short as you can. Maybe one day they’ll be so quick, you won’t even notice them.
For now, I paint, and try to continue to heal.
And to move forward.
I am about to end one adventure and begin another. Well, it’s already begun, it began a long time ago. But its speeding up. In bad ways, in painful ones, and in very exciting ones. I look forward to sharing all sides of that.
And I’m also looking forward to this flare backing off, because I am ready for just a little relief again. I’ll take whatever I can get!