Happy Holidays… but why its ok if they’re not.

Autumn is a magical time of year. Everything turns golden, the heating comes on. People don’t look at you strangely for wearing big chunky boots with your pretty dresses… the best mornings are full of blue sky and steam that rises from inside your lungs when you breathe. You get to smell woodsmoke in the air, cook stews and casseroles to come home to. Leaves crunch under your feet or the mud squishes underneath your wellington boots as you meander through woodlands that smell of damp and earth and allow you to feel completely grounded and at one with nature.

It is also the prelude to December… I was born a week before Christmas and I normally look forward to that special week – full of family and friends, twinkling lights, good music (Smith & Burrows’s Christmas album will always be a favourite), amazing food and of course the presents, although I’ve always been much more of a giver in that respect. It’s wonderful…

Until it isn’t.

Until the tiredness snakes its way into your bones, or the kitchen gets too hot whilst you are cooking what feels like your eleventh thousand Christmas dinner. Your bank account is looking sorry for itself, you’ve forgotten to buy your husbands aunties cat a Christmas present (true story), you need to write a heap of cards for the neighbours or people at work, you need to have dinner with your extended family and you know that the noise of eating, the amount of food, the anxiety around getting it ‘just right’ and the feeling of being too full are all triggers to your own issues with food. Maybe you count on work as a distraction and routine to keep you sane and the thought of an enforced holiday scares you more than you would like to admit. Perhaps you are breaking bread with people that don’t understand your sexuality, maybe you would love to be spending your day with a loved one but can’t because you need to spend it with family who don’t understand. There is alcohol, so – much – alcohol, and that can be incredibly hard for so many reasons. It’s not an easy time. Last year I wrote on another platform about how we can never fully understand how hard Christmas can be for each other and this year I’m feeling the truth of that even more so. It could be the first Christmas without someone, or the last Christmas we know we’ll have someone with us. And it’s merry and jolly and bright because it’s Christmas… but in reality, it’s not at all jolly and bright… it’s hard, and it’s a struggle and that is ok.

It’s ok because it is ok not to be ok. It’s ok to find all of this too much – all of this preparation and buying stuff and thinking about food and making arrangements with people you haven’t spoken to for the last 11 months. It’s alright to go to a quiet place and just sit and do nothing, or to cry, or to scream into a pillow. It’s healthy to get the lead on the dog and whisk him out of the door faster than his paws can touch the ground because you just need to get out and away and breathe the fresh, cool air into your lungs for 10 minutes, by yourself, for yourself.

These few weeks are stressful. They are stressful for people who seem to have everything together and they are stressful for people that let us all know about it when they don’t. Most of us still have to do the everyday stuff – going to work, keeping ourselves healthy, care giving, paying bills, looking after kids – and then we have this big day looming on the horizon which everything has to be perfect for, which we need to be perfect for.

But we don’t. Not really.

Because it’s a day.

Just a day.

Take it hour by hour, remember to breathe. Meditate, go for a walk, sleep. Look after yourself and be considerate to those around you.

The season of goodwill to all men.

That includes yourself

Main image credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Thank you for reading.

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All The Dogs I Have Loved Before…

I have been a little quiet over the last few weeks. This has been for a number of reasons – sometimes I can find spending time online to be quite tiring and draining for my little introvert brain and so I have been trying to recognise when that occurs and try and relax with a hot bath and some music or a book instead (I’m currently reading Elmet by Fiona Mozely, which is brilliant!).

It’s also been because my mental health hasn’t been so great. Therapy has been bringing to the surface a lot of feelings and emotions regarding my school years – this has led to me, in-between sessions, feeling very low and quite dissociative as I try to come to terms with some memories that are gradually starting to come back and the implications of them on my self-esteem and how I view myself, even twenty years after the events that took place. Yesterday my therapist asked me to try and write about it all – so I don’t know if that will be one for the blog or something more private, but I do know that I need to keep writing, and not let any of this slide. Writing for me is a way of getting some of the thoughts that bounce around my head out so that I can feel a little freer of them; it’s very cathartic, even if sometimes it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

However, today is a gloriously sunny day and I am, for the first time in a few weeks, feeling pretty chirpy! I know I do have to write about some of the harder stuff, but today I am going to give myself a little break and write about something wonderful, something that always brings a smile to my face and that keeps me going, even on the hardest of days.

I’m going to write about my dog.

Or rather, dogs, plural – my life in a history of dogs, of wonderful friends and companions.

My first dog was a Belgian collie called Mollie – she was beautiful, and she knew it! When I was struggling at school, I found it very hard on occasions to leave the house and so my parents thought that if I had a dog then it would help me with routine and getting outside, that sort of thing. I remember going to the Dogs Trust with my mum and brother to try and choose a dog and I think we all knew, straight away, that Mollie was the one for us. She had been rescued from the side of the road up near Evesham and I wanted to bring her home with us that very day – on the way home I tried to decide between the names Eva and Mollie, I still love the name Eva, but Mollie was definitely a Mollie!

She settled in so well and loved being within our family. My memories of some of those years are sketchy, but I know we had happy times with her. We kept her on the lead for quite a while and I know that it was on a camping trip down in Cornwall that my Dad tied a long length of washing line cord to a stake in the ground and let her have, pretty much, free roam of the field we were in. After that, she was let off of the lead for short periods of time and had wonderful recall.

She had some little quirks – as all rescues are bound to. She had a thing about men in white trainers and there was one time when we had a visitor to our house that she bolted out of the front door and my brother found her, trembling at the end of our road. We don’t know what happened to her prior to being rehomed with us and it is horrible to think that someone could ever have been cruel to her.

When I left home to move to Somerset, my parents kept Mollie. She adored my Dad (as most dogs seem to!) and my mum walked her miles every day. She would come and stay with us occasionally and there was one time where she had hurt her paw the week before – she was a little actress though, one evening she came bounding towards the living room, saw my husband was sat on the sofa and then slowed right down and started to limp – very pitifully – around the coffee table, only, it was the other leg! Around 2012/13, she developed a cancerous lump on one of her front paws and had to go to Cambridge for radiotherapy – she was becoming and old lady by then, but still with that collie energy and so my parents took her for treatment and she made a full recovery.

As she got older, she slowed down, but very gracefully. What once was jet black fur around her nose, turned grey and she loved her daily walks with my mum up until the very end. We were all devastated when she left us – she had become such a wonderful (and entertaining) member of our family, but we knew she had a wonderful life, filled with love.

When I moved in with my (now) husband, back in 2004, he had a mixed breed dog called Buster. Buster had been his dog from childhood (along with Toby, who lived with my mother-in-law) and Buster was the grumpiest, most stubborn dog that I have ever met! He was stocky and short haired – a complete contrast to Mollie, but lovely all the same. I have heard tales of Buster in his younger days and the scrapes that he and my husband would get into, but I only knew him for his final year or so. He was like a stoic, proud old man – partially and selectively deaf and he used his voice, loud and often! Usually when we were eating our dinner…

Buster – In his younger days

After we lost Buster to old age, we knew that we needed another dog. Both of us had grown up with dogs around and I think that when you are so used to their company, the house can feel very empty without them. We both worked full time – but I did shifts, so it was manageable although we knew that a puppy was out of the question. We visited some rehoming centres local to us and one day, we found Benji at the National Animal Welfare Trust. He was very uncomfortable where he was – where the other dogs bounded up to the front of their stalls, Benji sat at the back of his, looking at us with his beautiful brown eyes. I think we both instantly felt that we needed to bring him home and give him the love that he so desperately needed – we weren’t aware then how much, and how wonderfully that love would be returned.

We had eight wonderful years with Benji. He wasn’t a young dog when we got him – the rehoming centre told us they thought he was around 8, but our vet, after examining his teeth felt he was closer to 5, so we never really knew. But he was a wonderful boy regardless of his age. He settled in straight away – we knew he had come from a family home where there had been children, and so he was fully housetrained and good with any kids that we had visiting. He and Mollie became like a little middle aged couple when she used to come and stay – he would wander off and plod around on walks and she would dart around like a mad thing, but they would both always find each other and come back to us together. When she left to go home, he would mope about for days and I remember making a ‘get well soon’ card using pawprints and paint when Mollie was taking her regular trips to Cambridge.

Mollie & Benji

He was like a bear – the biggest dog that I, up to that point, had ever had. But he was so gentle – when I was first unwell in 2010, he would just come and lie next to me, offering his quiet comfort and then when my husband got in from work, he would give him a look as if to say ‘it’s your turn now’. It was around this time that ‘bear’ became a very affectionate term in our house hold – we were like the proverbial three, even though Benji tended to feel like a wise old protector more than a baby!

Benji and I – off on an adventure!

He loved the TV – whenever we had it on, he would watch avidly and it took us a little while to realise that he was watching out for other animals, but specifically horses! He was a huge fan of the Lloyds TSB advert, and he knew from the very first note of the music that there would be a horse at the end – he would dart off and find a toy, a shoe… anything, and bring it back to the TV and excitedly bark whilst trying to keep it in his mouth. If he saw a horse in real life however, no reaction at all! Another thing that drove him wild was the song I’ve Got The Power by Snap!  Exactly the same reaction as he would have with the horses on TV. No idea why, but now that song will always make us smile

We lost him to cancer, again, a tumour on the front paw that was inoperable. He was also getting very unsteady on his back legs and we knew that it was time to say goodbye. Whenever we come across a picture of him, or hear Snap! Or see a Lloyds TSB advert, it’s with a feeling of love and gratitude – he was very special, the first dog that we had as a couple and the first dog that made us feel like a little family.

After Benji, we adopted Clyde. My husband has a thing for big dogs – and Clyde was big! He was a Malamute and to look at him, you would think he was a wolf. When we adopted him, we knew from the start that he wasn’t like Benji, or Mollie, or even Buster – he was his own man, no human was going to get in the way of that! But he was gentle, and sweet and had some very, very entertaining quirks…

Handsome Clyde

During the first week, we found that he had hidden potatoes around the house. When we started to store the potatoes in a shut cupboard, he would then leave us gifts of avocados, or apples in the bed. He had been found by a farmer who had watched as he was dumped out the back of a van – and I dread to think what his life had been like up until that point, but it seemed like the only way he knew to get food, was to scavenge for it. Nothing could be left out – and he would eat anything he could lay his paws on – food or not!

He specifically had a thing for leather, and for socks. We became incredibly tidy in the short time that we had Clyde, making sure that we left nothing out that he could munch on…

Clyde and I on one of our many woodland adventures

He was a sweetheart though, his passion was for potatoes and he would stop at nothing to get them! But we had some lovely holidays with him as our companion – the most memorable one was when we visited the Lake District for the first time and walked so much, that even our pack leader, our fearless mountain climber who was bread for snow and ice was looking at us as if to say ‘how much further humans?!’. We have fond memories of his first encounter with a pig on a blisteringly hot summers day in Devon – we think he had found his friend for life…

Unfortunately, it was a life that was cut too short. He passed away very young, at only 7 years old. His illness was fast, but unforgiving. It is thought that he had a tumour in his stomach which burst – we comfort ourselves that up until the end, he had a few years with us that were filled with love and adventure and that he wasn’t in pain for long, but even thinking of it four years on, my heart still breaks.

Which brings us to now, to our current dog – Niko. Niko, to put it plainly, is a weirdo. An absolute enigma and fruit loop. He brightens our days in immeasurable ways but he is a tough nut to crack…

Niko -the not so little weirdo

Niko is an Akita; we adopted him from Ferne Animal Sanctuary back in 2016. We had lost Clyde in the October and we decided, after the shock and heartbreak of his death to give ourselves a bit of a breather. But, by the New Year, we both knew that we needed to get another dog.

I had been wary of adopting an Akita – I had read various things online and I knew that they were big (even bigger than Clyde was!) and strong. But my husband convinced me to come and see Niko with him, and he was beautiful. The rehoming centre was absolutely wonderful and they let us take him out for walks to make sure that I could handle him on the lead – and he was a dream! Clyde had always been very pull-y, but Niko was calm and laid back and was a pleasure to walk. We knew and were advised that because of the breed and also with consideration to his history, letting him off the lead was probably not going to be likely, so it was imperative that I could walk him and I could manage him if he started to pull.

We were in love… he was not only gorgeous, but also a little on the grumpy and shy side. However, that was still that nagging doubt in the back of my mind that he was very big. Ferne let us ‘foster’ him for a couple of weeks – he had been in the rehoming centre for quite a while and none of us really knew how he would adapt to a home environment. But he did amazingly, he was very vocal! But my husband recorded him whilst we were out at work and he soon quietened down once he got used to our routine and he settled really, really well.

He is typical of his breed though – we are his ‘pack’ and he is the most gentle, soppiest, loving dog you could imagine, with us. Anyone else though and he is wary. This is something that we and our friends and family have had to adapt to as we have always been pretty used to having dogs that like a fuss and attention. Niko though, is accepting of it on his terms and we have to recognise and respect those boundaries. We have no idea what he went through before coming to us at around 7 years old and just like humans, dogs experience trauma.

He has a space in our house where he sometimes goes (usually just before we go out) and that is ‘his’ space. We have learnt that when he goes there he doesn’t want company; he doesn’t want to be bothered or talked to. He just wants quiet – and that’s cool, we know that. But most of the time he is quietly with us – chilling out or following me around from room to room like a lost little puppy.

I think with Niko, he is the one dog that we have had that I feel incredibly ‘motherly’ towards. He is affectionate and he will come up on the sofa for snuggles (when invited and if he wants to) but he has also been plagued with health issues since we adopted him and I think that this has awoken a very protective, nurturing, mama bear role within me.

He has a very sensitive stomach (he’s the only dog I have ever know that is allergic to chicken and dislikes peanut butter!) But he loves his veg – carrots, broccoli, peppers, courgette, cucumber – he goes crazy for them. Last summer when I was growing tomatoes, he kept asking to go out into the garden and it didn’t take me long to realise that he was going to out ‘check’ if any had fallen onto the ground! (He’s very polite, but not daft).

He also has issues with his skin and his fur. He started losing fur a couple of years ago and we took him to the vets and then onto numerous specialist appointments where they ran tests, gave him tablets and creams and… reached a dead end. However, his skin wasn’t itchy and the constant travelling and having to see various vets and ‘strange’ people was stressing him, so we decided to leave it and see how he got on. He’s like a well-loved, threadbare teddy and sometimes it is sad when you see Akitas with their wonderful coats, and then you see our wonderful but straggly boy – but he’s still beautiful, he still my little munchkin boy and he is still very much loved.

Niko and I last month

We have recently had to take him for some more tests as he was starting to get little blister type things on his bare stomach. We are awaiting blood test results and so we start again on a whole new set of appointments – but, he’s still a happy boy. Vocal and daft and a little bugger at times, he’s like a mountain goat once we get out walking through and so long as he is happy and content within himself then I am one happy and proud mama bear.

And so, those have been my dogs up until this point in my life. I hope that we have Niko with us for many years to come and that we have lots more adventures together- but Clyde taught me to cherish each and every day, because you never know what is around the corner. Dogs are wonderful, they are our trusty and noble companions and I feel that when you have rescue dogs they can bring their own magic – they have their own stories that they will tell you, through their quirks and their affection. We have been truly blessed with the dogs we have been able to share parts of our lives with and I cannot ever see us being without a dog, they make a home – they make a pack, and once you start to think like that, you realise how special that bond can be.

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