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Sick With Loss


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I had to put my 17-year-old dog Chela to sleep on March 19 and I have been literally battling illness ever since. Every morning I wake up fighting the urge to vomit, I don't sleep well at night even when I medicate myself. I feel stressed out and anxious throughout the entire day. I'm rarely hungry but I force myself to eat and then battle not to throw up afterwards. I know this is all part of the grief process but I don't know how to cope with it very well. I sometimes feel like I'm going out of my head. If the physical ailments would calm down, I could actually allow myself to process the loss but with the physical so powerful and in the forefront of my existence I'm not sure how to get to a point where I can properly mourn the loss of my best friend. I can't even take a nap during the day because right as I'm drifting off to sleep, I wake up in a total panic. Any advice on how I can regain my health? I've had losses in my life before but nothing has ever hit me this profoundly for this long.

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Elizabeth, I am so so sorry for your loss. I lost my beautiful rottweiler (Hammer) 3 years ago and my husband and I mourned him as though we had lost a child. Don't let anyone demean this because "it's just a dog" - but be warned, not everyone understands. I have pasted below a piece from NOVA which I feel may help you. It saved me! When I lost my darling husband in January this year, my best friend from school emailed it to me (and she had found it helpful when she lost her two year old son back in 2000). Please read through it and know this ... you are not losing your sanity xx

Stress and Trauma

Your Day-to-Day Life

Individuals exist in a normal state of "equilibrium" or balance. That emotional balance involves everyday stress, both positive and negative - like being late to work, getting a promotion, having a flat tire, getting ready for a date, or putting the children to bed.

Occasionally, stress will be severe enough to move an individual out of his or her normal state of equilibrium, and into a state of depression or anxiety, as examples.

But most people most of the time stay in a familiar range of equilibrium.

When Trauma Occurs

Trauma throws people so far out of their range of equilibrium that it is difficult for them to restore a sense of balance in life. Both "acute" and "chronic" trauma may be precipitated by stress:

1. Acute stress is usually caused by a sudden, arbitrary, often random event.

2. Chronic stress is one that occurs over and over again - each time pushing the individual

toward the edge of his state of equilibrium, or beyond.

Trauma can come from acute, unexpected stressors such as violent crime, natural disasters, accidents or acts of war. But it can also be caused by quite predictable stressors such as the chronic abuse of a child, spouse or elder.

The Crisis Reaction

The normal human response to trauma follows a similar pattern called the crisis reaction. It

occurs in all of us.

Physical Response

The physical response to trauma is based on our animal instincts. It includes:

1. Physical shock, disorientation, immobilization and numbness: "Frozen Fright."

2. "Fight-or-Flight" reaction (when the body begins to mobilize):

· Adrenaline begins to pump through the body: heart beat increases, perspiration starts, hyperventilation and hyper-alertness

· Increased sensory perception

3. Exhaustion: physical arousal associated with fight-or-flight cannot be prolonged

indefinitely. Eventually, it will result in exhaustion.

Emotional Reaction

Our emotional reactions are heightened by our physical responses.

1. Shock, disbelief, denial accompanies by regression

2. Cataclysm of emotions

· anger, rage or outrage

· fear, terror or horror

· confusion and frustration

· guilt or self-blame

· shame and humiliation

· grief and sorrow

3. Reconstruction of equilibrium - emotional roller-coaster that eventually becomes balanced,

but never goes back to what it was before the crisis - a new sense of equilibrium will be


Trauma and Loss

Trauma is accompanied by a multitude of losses:

1. Loss of control over one's life

2. Loss of faith in one's God or other people

3. Loss of a sense of fairness or justice

4. Loss of personally-significant property, self or loved ones

5. Loss of a sense of immortality and invulnerability

6. Loss of future

Because of the losses, trauma response involves grief and bereavement. One can grieve over

the loss of loved things as well as loved people.

Trauma and Regression

Trauma is often accompanied by regression - mentally and physically.

1. Individuals may do things that seem childish later. Examples include:

· Singing nursery rhymes

· Assuming a fetal position or crawling instead of walking

· Calling a law enforcement officer or other authority figure "mommy" or "daddy" – or at least thinking of them that way


2. Individuals may feel childish. Examples include:

· Feeling "little"

· Wanting "mommy" or "daddy" to come and take care of you

· Feeling "weak"

· Feeling like you did when you were a child and something went terribly wrong

Recovery from Immediate Trauma

Many people live through a trauma and are able to reconstruct their lives without outside

help. Most people find some type of benign outside intervention useful in dealing with


Recovery from immediate trauma is often affected by:

1. Severity of crisis reaction

2. Ability to understand what happened

3. Stability of victim's/survivor's equilibrium after event

4. Supportive environment

5. Validation of experience

Reconstruction issues for survivors include:

1. Getting control of the event in the victim's/survivor's mind

2. Working out an understanding of the event and, as needed, a redefinition of values

3. Re-establishing a new equilibrium/life

4. Re-establishing trust

5. Re-establishing a future

6. Re-establishing meaning

Long-Term Crisis Reactions

Not all victims/survivors suffer from long-term stress reactions. Many victims continue to re-experience crisis reactions over long periods of time. Such crisis reactions are normally in

response to "trigger events" that remind the victim of the trauma. "Trigger events" will vary

with different victims/survivors, but may include:

  • Sensing (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting) something similar to something
that one was acutely aware of during the trauma

  • "Remembrance dates" of the event
  • Holidays or significant "life events"
  • News reports about a similar event
  • When recounting one’s story (e.g. to a therapist, social worker or judge)

Long-term stress or crisis reactions may be made better or worse by the actions of others.

When such reactions are sensed to be negative (whether or not they were intentional), the

actions of others are called the "second assault" and the feelings are often described as a

"second injury." Sources of the second assault may include:

· the criminal or civil justice system

· the media

· family, friends, acquaintances

· health and mental health professionals

· social service workers

· clergy

The intensity of long-term stress reactions usually decreases over time, as does the frequency

of the re-experienced crisis. However, the effects of a catastrophic trauma cannot be "cured."

Even survivors of trauma who reconstruct new lives and who have achieved a degree of

normality and happiness in their lives - and who can honestly say they prefer the new,

"sadder-but-wiser" person they have become - will find that new life events will trigger the

memories and reactions to the trauma in the future.

Long-Term Traumatic Stress Reaction

When someone survives a catastrophe, they often experience stress reactions for years. Long-term stress reactions are natural responses of people who have survived a traumatic event. Long-term stress reactions are most often a result of imprinted sensory perceptions and

reactions in the brain and body. The most common types of long-term stress reactions


1. Re-experiencing the event both psychologically and with physiological reactivity.

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Nightmares and distressing dreams
  • Flashbacks

2. Numbing, avoidance, and isolation

  • avoidance of thoughts or activities that remind one of the event
  • avoidance of previous habits or pleasurable activities that the individual engaged in
before the event

  • estrangement and isolation
  • reduced affect or feelings of "emotional anesthesia"
  • partial amnesia
  • a sense of foreshortened future

3. Behavioral arousal

  • inability to concentrate
  • insomnia or interrupted sleep patterns
  • flashes of anger or irritability
  • startle reactions or hyper alertness

It is not important to know all the symptoms for the stress reactions mentioned above. If you

become concerned about your reactions or how long they last, it is useful to talk to a mental

health professional who is a specialist in working with people who have experienced

traumatic events.

© 2002 National Organization for Victim Assistance, Washington, D.C., USA.

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Guest Jacksin's Mom


I too lost a long-lived dog recently. I'm sorry you are having such difficulty, it's good you are looking for assistance with your own health. If you are employed (or if you are married and your partner has a job) you might have a benefit that can assist you, it's EAP employee assistance program. It would be free, but you would have to find out what your/your partner's employer has purchased. It could be very beneficial to talk with an EAP counselor about how you are doing, I would imagine that person could give you good tips, plus a safe place to talk freely about how you are doing. You might find that a temporary prescription from your MD would be helpful, your health is important.

If you are normally active, e.g. work out, walk, run, bike for exercise, you know keeping that part of your life is important for both health and stress reduction. You might consider taking a yoga class, I find it so very helpful for focus, and stress reduction.

Take good care.

Jacksin's Mom

Jacksin Pawlick, our 14.5 yr old Pembroke Welsh Corgi sent to the Rainbow Bridge May 30, 2009

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Thank you Boo and Jackson's Mom for the information. It helps a little knowing it's normal but I'm going nuts trying to find some equilibrium again. I don't know if I"m having bad dreams but going to bed stresses me out. Then, waking up in the morning, I wake up stressed and anxious still. I'm hyper sensitive to medications so I try to avoid those but I have been taking OTC sleep aids to help me sleep. I don't know if they could be the cause of my morning anxiety or not. It's all just so weird. My medical doctor told me that I'm physiciologically reacting to the death of my dog just as others react to the death of a child. It's a physical response to the psychological trauma of the loss. It's been so hard to cope. I work at a university and we have a health center with therapists. I've been going once a week for two weeks now. It's still too soon to tell if it's going to help or not.

My biggest issue I think is that my health went down hill so rapidly following Chela's passing. It's like I'm dealing with the loss of my health as well as my baby and it's been really hard. If my sleep would improve, I'm sure my health would too but it's been a very delicate balance that's easily upset. I don't have family, so it's been a rather lonely process for me. My friends understand to an extent but it's just not the same as someone being there with you to hold your hand while you cry. I was doing so-so until I took my other dog to the vet and overheard the vet telling another patient's mom that her cat had cancer and there was nothing that could be done. It broke my heart. It was like reliving the event all over again and I've been a mess since then. I just need a break from it all. I feel mentally and physically exhausted but sleep just causes me more anxiety and stress than it should. My one respite should be sleep and it's not so I'm struggling to find that balance again.

Anyway, thank you for taking the time to respond. I come to places like this I guess to get validation that I"m not going nuts. Thanks for letting me share.

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Thank you Marty. My doctor has given me a sleeping pill but after I woke up from taking it I didn't feel rested at all. I did sleep but I felt just as tired as when I went to bed. I will try those suggestions on the link you sent. THANK YOU for trying to help. I need something before my nerves go nuts.

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  • 7 months later...

So much has happened since I last posted here. I was smack in the middle of mourning the loss of my dog Chela. I was at the park walking my remaining dog Casper. I was knocked over by an off leash dog and ended up breaking my leg. After 8 weeks on crutches, my back couldn't handle it anymore and I've been spending the past 5 months trying to nurse it back to health. In Nov. I found a lump on my dog Casper. She'd just celebrated her 13th birthday. At first I thought it was a welt but when it didn't go down or appear to heal, I had my vet look at it. Casper had surgery the Monday before Thanksgiving to have it removed. She wasn't bouncing back very well from the surgery - not wanting to eat much. I took her back in on Dec. 7th and the vet gave her a steroid shot to help boost her appetite. She then went over the lab results. My dear precious baby had cancer. The vet wanted to do a biopsy to see if it had spread but I wanted to wait a week so Casper would be stronger from having a better appetite. The second surgery was Dec. 14th. Bless my little girl, she didn't bounce back from this surgery. She almost completely stopped eating and she was having pain in her back legs and couldn't really walk very well. I took her to the vet on the 21st for another steroid shot and some pain medication. The vet did blood work which showed her liver wasn't functioning and filtering out the toxins. So, she showed me how to insert an IV needle and sent me home with fluids and sedatives. Monday was a rough night, Tuesday I went back and my regular vet was out of town but the sub vet gave me pain medication and tried that all day. I took her in that evening and he was so cold and unsympathetic. He gave her a pain shot and told me to increase her pain meds. That night she was in so much pain. Nothing I did seemed to help for very long. I gave her sedatives and pain meds alternately every few hours but they weren't strong enough to help her. Every time she'd try to get up, she'd cry out. She was trying to crawl away from her back legs. Her breathing was so labored. All night I laid on the floor next to her bed trying to comfort her and telling her it was OK for her to go be with Chela. I so wanted her to die at home where there'd be no fear. There were a few times when her breathing got really shallow and I thought she was maybe going but then she'd sit up like something had startled her. She'd lay back and lick my hand or my face and she'd go back to sleep again breathing really labored. I couldn't stand to see her suffering so much, so the next morning, Dec. 23, I took her in and said goodbye to her. Her euthanisia wasn't the peaceful event it should have been. The vet was a stranger, he was cold and heartless, and she was scared to be there. Had my regular vet not been out of town, it would have been a more peaceful experience for both of us but it was traumatic and painful and it breaks my heart that her end was like it was. Had I been able to manage her pain and eat for her, I would have done it so that she could have had a more comforting end. But, I couldn't manage her pain and I couldn't let her starve. I feel so sick inside. Both of my girls gone within 9 months of each other. I'm so heartbroken I can barely function. I do get some comfort in my belief that they are now together and no longer in any pain but it's so hard for me to be here without them with me. Combine my emotional pain with my physical pain (I'm in pain from my back and knee 24/7 but can't take pain meds as they make me ill) and I'm barely hanging on here. I miss both my girls so much I can barely breathe. I've since been able to speak to my regular vet and she assures me that I did the right thing but I still feel like I completely failed both my girls. If I hadn't agreed to that second surgery, maybe Casper would still be here and able to enjoy life. Cancer in the innocent just seems so wrong. I'm feeling completely lost and alone and I don't know how to get through this. I try and take it a day at a time but it's so hard. Sometimes, I can't imagine one more minute of this hell I'm in. It's just too overwhelming. post-12978-126332758948_thumb.jpg

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Oh Elizabeth. How horrible for you. I'm so, so sorry to learn this awful news. I don't know where you're located, but I hope you will make every effort to find an in-person pet loss support group or a grief counselor who is sensitive to this particular kind of loss. Please go to my Pet Loss Counseling page for listings, or to Moira Anderson's Pet Loss Support page for a state-by-state listing of groups and counselors. See also my Helplines, Message Boards, Chats page. This is too much for you to bear all by yourself; I think it's essential for you to find an understanding listener who will accompany you on this journey and help you come to terms with each of these losses. You will get through this, I promise, but you don't have to do it alone, without the compassion and support of others.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I am so sorry for your 2 losses. I can't imagine all the suffering that you've gone through over the past year.

I just had to put my beloved cat to sleep last night. I went in thinking they could help her, but in the end, they told me euthenasia would be best. I was so unprepared for that. I knew I would cry, but I never knew the extent to which it would affect me emotionally/physiologically. I'm a basket case. All I can do is think about her. I have no appetite. Can't sleep, although I'm exhausted. I just took a Xanax which helped a little, but I feel so traumatized I don't know what to do.

Please know that you are not alone.

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Maggie's Mon - I'm so sorry for your loss. It's so heart breaking to have to put one of our angels down. It's such a difficult decision and so painful - but it's the kindest thing we can do for them. We do it out of our love for them. I know that daze you walk around in. It is still very hard for me. When Chela died in March, by July, I'd lost 50 lbs. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, I was so sick to my stomach all the time. The trauma has just been horrible. Then when Casper had to go, it just devastated me. I'm still walking around in a daze - just existing, not living much. My home was so empty, every time I'd go home from work I'd sit out in my car and just cry my head off because I knew there'd be no excited girl to greet me. I ended up fostering a dog and her puppies just to take away the empty feeling of my home. It hasn't eliminated the grief, but it's taken out some of the sting to have something living to occupy my time. It's so devastating when our babies die. Some people do understand and are supportive but at the same time, we each have to go through the grief in our own way. Whatever it takes to numb some of that pain. I'm exhausted too but can't sleep without medication. I've been having anxiety/panic attacks since June and can't seem to make it through a night without medication. It's been hell. I pray we all get through it the best way we can and that we can find some peace somewhere. You're not alone either. People do understand your pain and your grief. Please hang in there.


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