The last year


A year ago today, a friend texted me to let me know one of our mutual friends had killed herself. For a long time, she’d been struggling but also deflecting any attempts friends made to find out what was wrong or if they could help. I suppose I wasn’t surprised, but I remember noting to myself that there was something to that cliché about needing to sit down for bad news after all.

Texting was safest for such a conversation: I didn’t trust my voice and I imagine my friend didn’t trust hers either. We typed all the things we needed to about what we might have done differently, if we’d ever get that close to the abyss ourselves, that sometimes mental illness is a fatal illness.

As I sat in my living room texting about the shape and feel and results of unmitigated despair, my cat Columbo crawled up beside me and it was immediately obvious that something was going very, very wrong with him at that moment. He died the next day.

In April, our cat Jones came down with a stomach ailment that was alleviated but never diagnosed. Right now, she is with an internal medicine specialist; her symptoms came back, much worse, about a month ago; we’re looking at irritable bowel disorder, cancer, an infection or some combination of these.

My beautiful goofball on a happier day
My beautiful goofball, on a happier day

Also last April, our gorgeous, silver-black bunny, Sophie, almost died. She almost succumbed to an unexplained bout of GI stasis. My husband was away when she fell ill, so I spent days alone with her trying to tempt her to begin eating again, going out only to get medicine or more treats she might want.

Those ears!

Lyra-cat was diagnosed with bad back arthritis, Jeoffy-cat with hyperthyroidism and Aoki-cat with kidney disease.

I didn’t get as much freelance work as I would have liked last summer, so was frustrated and bored. My back exploded at the end of August and I was almost simultaneously offered a lot of work, work I wanted, that I had to turn down.

My back got so bad last Fall that I stopped sleeping almost entirely. I learned firsthand that describing sleep deprivation as torture that leads to madness is not hyperbole. Everything, literally everything, became unbearable and unmanageable; on very bad days, I couldn’t even read just to pass the time.

I learned that the only way, sometimes, to get medical help is to be an aggressive asshole (or have a proxy asshole working for you), and that you’re most likely to need to be rude and unforgivably forceful when you’re no longer capable of doing so.

I could continue; but this is all more than enough, I think.

And great joy

I learned that there are some good people in the medical system who need only to see your face to know you’re in serious trouble, people who will then break every rule to get you to the front of the line.

I was confirmed in my belief that I have five truly steadfast and lovely friends, one of whom is my husband; this is more than a lifetime’s worth; they are everything.

In December, I celebrated 11 years of wedded love, like, respect and hilarity with my Brook.

Selfie madness on the way to a posh restaurant

Sophie-bunny is still with us and loving life. And even though she is very much a stately old dame now, she still sometimes jumps for joy (yes, literally!) when I come home from running errands or crushing it at the gym. She is 9 years old; she was supposed to have 6-8 years at most.

Our other cats, Jeoffy, Aoki and Lyra, while aging and not entirely well, love the hell out of us every day.

Jeoffy will heal the world just by agreeing to be photographed

I rode my bicycle a lot and every time I did, it punched the despair arising from ongoing physical pain dead in its hideous face.

I wrote very little, but kind of like what I did manage to produce.

In spite of days during which I couldn’t read at all, I still read a lot of excellent books. Of particular note:

  • Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians
  • Virginia Woolf’s The Common Reader: First Series
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me
  • Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
  • Elizabeth Taylor’s Angel
  • Gillian Rose’s Love’s Work
  • P.G. Wodehouse’s Psmith, Journalist
  • Han Kang’s The Vegetarian
  • Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth
  • Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn

I bought a lot of books, which is always a cozy and reassuring thing to do–almost as good as reading itself.

I am working again. I am seeing people again. I am smiling again, all the time. I still love to eat.

The 1940s (it might actually be 1840s) medical technology that is knitting my pelvis back together really works.

And we had Columbo with us for 1 month and 9 days last year.

Love, so much love.

Aoki in the cold winter sunshine


Lyra acting as though she doesn’t have arthritis in her back


11 Comments Add yours

  1. heidenkind says:

    (((Hugs))) What a horrible, terrible year. I’m glad you’re back to smiling and laughing and able to write. And that Sophie bunny’s still hopping!

    1. Colleen says:

      Thank you for the hugs! Hugs right back to you. Sophie and I are both feeling pretty good today. 🙂 Jones is also perking up, but we still don’t have the test results back.

  2. Rohan says:

    That’s quite a year. I’m glad there was some joy to even things out a bit – and I’m even more glad that you are working and smiling and writing again.

    1. Colleen says:

      Thanks, me too. I am really happy to be writing again–and glad to get the sad stuff out of the way, hopefully for quite a while.

  3. Gubbinal says:

    I am so sorry. What a year! So much loss and so much to digest. Those years when the emotional geography and population of life becomes so disarranged are painful. I am so sorry.

    1. Colleen says:

      It’s okay! The fact that I was able to write about it is a sure sign I’m doing mostly alright. It’s made me grateful for what I have, and has changed my priorities–in very good ways, I think. 🙂

  4. Sorry I missed reading this at the time, Colleen. What a darn-awful year. I’m so sorry about your friend. I lost my sister to suicide 29 years ago. The intensity of the pain was something I hope to never feel again.

    Anyhow, I’m glad things are looking up and that you are working again.

    Oh, and I read Strachey, Brittain and and Pym- those three books – yonks ago. Enjoyed them all. I also read Strachey on Queen Victoria too. Also a good read.

    1. Colleen says:

      Thanks. 🙂 Pym is really very comforting, I think. And I’ve got Strachey’s Queen Victoria, which I’m very much looking forward to.

      1. Colleen says:

        Uggh, I hit send too soon.

        I’m sorry about your sister; that’s a lot to carry. Thank you for sharing it with me; it must be hard even now to even mention.

Leave a Reply to Colleen Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s