Farewell to my dear three-legged friend

Panic disorder is a very debilitating condition, in many different senses. While it’s not that much physically crippling, it certainly alters and eats up numerous aspects of your personality – your psychological strength, your belief in your own abilities, your self-image and your social life, to name just a few. It builds up a rock solid, invisible prison walls around your existence, cutting you off from so many things ordinary human life consists of.

The stronger the disorder hits, the more your social contacts are doomed to be at risk. There is always a chance for good odds in life, and somewhere among us there are certainly great people who can accept us without question exactly the way we are, but we were not all equally dealt fortunate cards to run into such individuals in this both amazing and horrible life. It’s been almost 7 years since my last, extremely dramatic PD relapse from which I’ve never recovered. Although my condition is much more stable now than it was 7 years ago, there are some consequences that I’ll probably have to deal with for the rest of my life. Lack of human friendship is certainly one of them. Not because all other people are bad or mean or ill-willing, absolutely not. And definitely not because I’m some very bad person myself, but simply because a true friendship needs nurturing, physical presence and tangible support at both good and bad times, a shift of focus from your own feelings to other people and their needs. This seems to imply that one simply needs to be healthy, strong and above all mentally stable in order to be a true friend for others, at least this is my experience.

There are less than 5% of people on this planet who developed this condition to such a bad extent as it happened to me and unfortunately, with all do respect, those who never experienced it will never be truly able to understand how I feel, no matter how hard they might try to do it.  It’s almost impossible to explain to a human friend why I, fully physically functional person, can’t go with them to a concert, cinema, restaurant, bars… People don’t understand why I can’t meet them somewhere far enough from my home and why they have to come to visit me instead within the limits of my comfort zone. It’s virtually impossible to give a reason why I can’t travel anywhere, even though I would really love to. People like me deeply suffer when we get mocked because of our inability to drive, attend big family reunions, celebrations, weddings or funerals. Sometimes we even get despised because of not being able to be physically there for others. We do our best to explain, we suffer a lot, fight to please, swallow hurtful words… but at some point, it gets too much. And we simply retreat, so that we don’t have to explain anything anymore. We’ll anyhow either end up being considered totally crazy which we are not, or even worse, lying bastards who just pretend for some reason, because looking from the outside, it usually seems that there is nothing wrong with us. Not good at all either way. However, the moment we retreat, others retreat as well. And this distance inevitably grows with each new day, until we become aware that our phones haven’t rung for several days in a row. Loneliness creeps in slowly but steadily, and loneliness is a very sad and heavy burden for anybody’s soul.

This massive panic attack 7 years ago that turned the course of my life in a completely unpredictable direction wasn’t the first one for me. It didn’t catch me unprepared or ignorant of what was happening. I knew I had to fight, in spite of my body that was rebelling against me in the worst possible way. It was either the fight or sinking down to the bottom of the life pit, and I chose not to give up. I was paying a fortune from my modest savings to taxi drivers, but I continued to move around, trying to pretend that nothing had changed. I forced my rubbery legs to carry me around, even though I had to lean on walls and clench to tables and chairs with sweaty hands in order not to run away and save myself from some seemingly inevitable non-existent doom.

On one beautiful, sunny morning two months after this life changing attack I gave up. I had an appointment with my dentist whose office is less than a mile from my home, and I was literally shaking at the thought of having to drag myself over there. As I was reluctantly waiting for yet another taxi to come and pick me up, there was a sudden growling sound followed by continuous dreadful barking that was coming my way at an incredible speed from behind the angle of my building. I remember shouting: “Hey, what’s the matter with you??!” An enormous, dangerous jaw with revealed teeth stopped at an inch away from my leg and the barking almost instantly turned into whining of recognition, as though the dog wanted to apologize for not recognizing me sooner. It was Žuća, a three-legged yellowish bastard stray dog who lived in our little woods and in our neighborhood. I knew that our neighbor took care of him, he was regularly fed and taken care of every single day, I knew who he was and he knew who I was, yet our roads had never seriously crossed till that unusual, crucial morning. We made peace, I went to the appointment and came back home, never to leave it again till some 18 months later.

Many mornings, months and years have passed since that day. I got to know Žuća very well and started sharing the best and the worst moments of my life with him and his two little companions, Maza and Laza, mom and son, stray dogs just like him. I got to know the best that there is in dogs’ soul, all that immense, beautiful, magic, unconditional canine love for me in spite of my disorder and being who I am on one side, and the worst that can dwell in human soul when it comes to attitude towards animals on the other side. I learnt about Žuća’s terrible destiny, about how he used to be a normal, four-legged dog until one night when he was shot by mistake by a mad policeman who was chasing a thief in our woods. The policeman though he had shot the thief hiding behind a bush, disappointed to find out that it was “just a dog”. He didn’t even apologize for shooting the dog. On the contrary, he said that he was glad. And that all dogs should be shot. Žuća’s surgery lasted whole night and there was blood all over my neighbor’s flat as the vet was trying to save his life. Žuća made it, but unfortunately lost a leg. That was 8 years ago, when I knew nothing about this drama. I was well and full of energy, oblivious of the fact that it was only a remission and that my no-PD days were counted. I knew nothing of his battle to learn to walk again on three legs, go potty, guard himself from all other now much faster and stronger dogs. It didn’t seem he could survive with his handicap in this ruthless life, but he fought like a true warrior. He grew to become a mascot of our building, an inspiration, a great and even pretty fast dog in spite of what happened to him.

While he continued to fight his personal battles, my agoraphobia grew worse and worse to finally limit me only to the boundaries of my little room. My life lost much of its meaning and there was no purpose why I should resist the dreadful panic to force myself to come out of my flat. My muscles lost their tone, my face lost color, my cheerful nature vanished and got reduced to an occasional, fake smile when I had to mask my “insanity” in front of others. My mother who never understood my condition and who has always been an improper but my only support in all these gloomy years, started making me try to go out to feed Žuća’ s companions Maza and Laza who at the time lived outside as well. It took me so much pain, so many steps forward and backward, so many days of trial and error to reach at first just the front stairs of my building, then the street and finally the woods across the street, carrying little bowls of food and water for Maza and her little puppy Laza. My mother didn’t allow dogs in house and the pressure of imagining them hungry if I don’t go out was stronger even than the mighty panic dread. For me, this was literally the process of relearning how to trust my nerves and move in life from the scratch, as though I was recovering from some sort of serious brain damage that brought me back to the first year of my life when I made my first steps. Slowly, as our routes in the woods expanded with time, Žuća started joining us in our walks, fighting for his portion of food and cuddling and constantly murmuring in his own unique and unforgettable way, trying to tell us some incomprehensible story. As Laza was growing up, Žuća was keeping him company day by day, teaching him all he knew and getting his protection in return because several years ago Laza was absolutely the fastest dog I had ever seen. If he had been born human, I’m almost certain that he would compete side by side with the amazing Usain Bolt.

Years went by, we survived both crises and happy days, Žuća’s and Laza’s illnesses, Laza’s ordeal when he ended up in an animal shelter by mistake where he was kept in completely inhumane conditions, anger of dog haters, me and Laza fighting against dog poisoning in the neighborhood, painful changes of city policies for dogs… Those were the days filled with massive waves of unlimited love of beings to whom I never had to explain anything in order to be accepted, intertwined with immense worry and uncertainty, but nevertheless I wouldn’t change them for anything in the world. I learnt so much about life and all those things I would have continued to take for granted if things had been different.

We did survive a lot, but unfortunately Žuća grew older and older, losing first his eyesight and then hearing as well, depending more and more on constant care and vigilance. Laza and Maza started living in my flat and slowly lost that previous constant touch with Žuća, with occasional exceptions when they would happily great each other in the woods and take walks together as they used to.  Žuća fought the best he could in spite of his old age, this year’s winter and ice, lack of time of his caregivers for him, walking courageously on his three legs, surviving against all odds. Until March 12th, 2014.

In my opinion, he could have definitely went on for at least a bit longer, but it was estimated that he should be put to sleep, even though he still wasn’t in a completely bad shape. It was a decision that can be questioned and it is still not comprehensible to me why he had to be prematurely killed, but nothing can reverse time and change the fact that he’s gone forever. The only thing that remains to me now is to say the last goodbye, farewell to my dear, poor, amazing, unique, special and above all extraordinarily brave three-legged friend. I’m very grateful for his company during these dark years of my life. I’ll never forget his constant greetings he had for me whenever he would see me and all those times when I would let him into the building and walk down the stairs leading him to the flat where he lived, mastering at the same time the path of my own recovery.

There is no Žuća anymore, there is only silence and emptiness in the woods. In the meantime my comfort zone has expanded to some 5 miles away from my home and I’m occasionally able to move around that much. Maybe that seems a very little progress in 7 long years, but it means a whole world to me. I’m not sure if I had made it if it weren’t for Žuća, Laza and Maza, and I do hope that I managed to do something good for them and that I’ll continue doing it in return for the good they did to me. It may sound dramatic, but they probably saved my life, because I’m not sure that I would still be here today if I remained closed in my room.

Farewell my dear friend, you who never questioned if I were capable or sane enough to be your friend. Thank you for everything and rest in peace.

Žukice, volimo te i mislimo na tebe…

Ja, Maza i Laza


7 thoughts on “Farewell to my dear three-legged friend

  1. Hello from a fellow panic disorder/agoraphobic. I can relate to many, many of your words on here. Sorry to hear of your dog, I know how attached we can get to our animals, more so than most.

    1. Thank you very much for your comment, it’s always great to hear the words of support from someone who can truly relate to how we feel. And it’s always good to know that people out there are coping with the same thing and going on, because it makes you feel less lonely, especially in sad moments. Take care!

  2. Sorry to hear about the loss of your dear 3 legged friend. As an animal lover myself, and the owner of a 4 legged, white little fluff ball, being sick and isolated, she’s often the only one here for me. I can’t even imagine not having her here with me anymore. Don’t stay sad for too long, try to remember all the good memories you and your 3 legged friend made together. I’m not saying not to grieve, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Remembering all the good times will surely bring many smiles to your face. Take care.

    1. Dear Tammy, thank you very much for your words of support, it is indeed very hard to lose such a valuable friend especially when we are forced to live a life in isolation. What I think makes the situation even harder is the fact that animals for us animal lovers are somewhat similar to cute little babies, and it is somehow hard to grasp that they can’t live a very long life. You know that rationally, you try to prepare yourself for it somehow, but nothing can really ease the pain. However, we have to go on, together with all those who are still with us and still need us here in this life. I read some of your blogs and I am very sorry that you have to deal with such an intense and constant pain – I think that you’re very brave and special person and that you’re doing your best to hang in there. I’m always here for friendly support and I wish you all the best!

      1. tamellu,
        No problem, that’s what I’m here for. I think pets are great for the sick and those of us that are sick and in isolation. They just bring so much joy. They don’t talk back, all you can do is love them, even when they do get in the trash. LOL 🙂 You know, we know they have short lives and we know it’s gonna hurt like hell, once again, be we just keep on doing it and I always will. I can’t even imagine to not ever have a dog in my life. I will always have one. I would actually like to have 2, but my beautiful little Molly is Miss Alpha Female and she owns this territory and isn’t happen when any other critters invade her space. I always thought it would be fun for her to have a playmate. My family memembers like my mom, and my brother and the same kind of dog, bichons, and they’ve been over and oh my God Molly runs as fast as she can around them while they just sit in the middle of the floor looking scared out of their minds and then Molly stops and puts her front two paws on them. It’s just the funniest thing. Next time, hopefully that will be a long time because these dogs can live to be 15-20 and she is 9, but God forbid when that time comes, I think we’ll just have to get 2 at the same time. I’ve had and lost several other dogs and I was just so sad, people that aren’t animal lovers or own pets are just like, hell just go get another one. NO, another one is not ever going to take the place of the previous dog. We need to grieve however long or short that is, different for everyone and then of course we go get another one and fall in love all over again, knowing all the while we’ll have to go through all that pain all over again some day.
        Thank you for your kind comments. I’m a hot mess. So many invisible chronic illnesses and then the lovely mental illnesses to go along with it really sucks. Right now I’m on that damn Prednisone and getting no sleep. Last week I went 41 hours with no sleep and now for today, I haven’t been to sleep since yesterday at 11:00 a.m. So, I’ve been awake now for 32 hours straight and I’m just about to snap. Have you ever had to take Prednisone? If so, you know what I mean and if not count your blessings and I pray you never have to take this evil stuff.
        I’ll take you up on that friendly support. No one can ever have too much support. I will get back to your blog as soon as I can and read more about you and I would like to stay in touch, to be here for each other. The more support, the better. I now consider you my new friend and remember I’m always here if you just want to talk or need to vent or whatever you need to do. I never judge and I’m a really good listener.
        Going out of town tomorrow for just one night to a B & B, just to get away and relax. We can only afford to go like once every other month. Eventually we’ll be able to maybe go once a month. It’s just good for me to get out, as most of my life is spent in this damn bed. I just can’t do all the things I used to do, but I can sure go to a B & B and relax, of which I’m going to do. We don’t spend money on going out on proper dates because I always feel like shit, so we aren’t spending money doing that of which would add up to more than one night away. So, I won’t be on tomorrow, but I’ll be back on here on Friday when we get back if I’m not too tired and then I’ll be on her on Saturday for sure. I’ll be looking forward to talking to you then. In the mean time, behave yourself. LOL and I’ll be back on in just a few days. Have a good night. Take care.
        peace and hugs,

      2. Hey Tammy!

        Thanks a lot for this wonderful and long reply! :)Pets are definitely great companions and in these life circumstances when you happen to lack friends around you, you end up talking to them… sometimes I can swear they understand me, but as you said they never have nasty comments! :)) You mentioned that you have mental issues as well, I don’t know if you had panic attacks (really hope not) – when those start their evil dance in your brain, you end up watching people you talk with and trying to figure out if they can see that you surely about to snap and never come back… horrible. In the worst moments that are for now gone, I was even afraid that my dogs would recognize that I’m a total lunatic :)) if they would give me some strange look or tilt their heads… and when you calm down, you just see that there is only that pure affection and bond to you that goes beyond any human bond. My Laza is an Alpha Male, so I know very well what you’re talking about… the problem is that he considers the whole area around my building his territory and shows constant desire to expand it, so the party never ends with him. 🙂 It would be easier to have a calmer dog, but he is totally unique. People who don’t have or like animals don’t have a clue really, like 3 years ago when my neighbor lost his dog and was virtually falling apart, his relative came and was like – oh come on, it was just a dog… I’ll go now and bring another one! I also had a totally inappropriate comment from a vet once when Laza was really sick, I just asked the man – will he make it? And he goes – well you know, people die too! I was like oh really, I didn’t know… idiot. A vet that seems not to care if an animal will survive because it happens even to humans who are “better” than animals is even worse than animal haters, he should love them if he chose that profession.
        I just pray everyday for the strength to overcome losses, that is just plain horrible and hurts more than hell.

        I also have different illnesses / symptoms apart from mental issues which makes things worse, stuff like bad allergies, large thyroid nodule, insulin resistance, chronic fatigue, IBS and constant stomach problems… weather changes start a lot of pains in my body so I really understand how you feel. I don’t take prednisone, the only corticosteroid I ever took is nasal one, Flixonase, I use it every day and I do have reaction even to that, let alone something that goes through the whole system, I hope doctors can find something more tolerable for you. I suffer from insomnia though, this year is horrible, sometimes the only fix is a double dose of my night benzo which is the only thing that helps with panic as I can’t tolerate antidepressants anymore.

        I’m always here to be your friend, I’m just really new to blogging and places where to write things like replies and everything, plus mood swings and depression can make me less functional/present online for several days in a row, but I hope you’ll have patience with me. It’s great that you can go out, even one single night far away from routine would be so special and surreal for me, like a dream. Enjoy yourself, have a really great time and I’ll try to behave till you get back! :)) Thank you once again for being there!
        Hugs and best wishes, Tanja

  3. Hi Tanja, I survived and made it there and back. I told you to behave yourself while I was away, but guess who was busy misbehaving? LOL We got so drunk, it wasn’t even funny. We had the whole mansion to ourselves, except the owners were there in their own room on a different floor. So, we were drunk as hell and we go wandering around the mansion in the middle of the night because I’m always hoping that it’s haunted and we’ll see something. Too damn drunk to see a thing. LOL anyway, we snuck down into the basement and then when we noticed that’s where they had their office all set up and some other shit, we got out of there real quick. We had a great night, lots of fun, but ruined the next day because we were so hungover. We very seldom drink because of my stomach issues and all my meds, but every once in awhile I trade in my meds for alcohol for a night, not often, and trust me, after this stunt it’s going to be a long, long time before I ever have the desire to drink again. Needless to say, we have to go back another time to the same town so we can do all the other things we were wanting to do the following day, like walk around town and go into all the neat little shops, go to the park and walk on the walking trail, just stuff like that. We got into the truck after we checked out and looked at each other and I said, please take me home and he said, OKAY!
    Mental illnesses include depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, BPD. Then there are way too many invisible chronic physical illnesses to list, but just to name a few IBS, gastroparesis, esophageal motility disorder, interstitial cystitis, asthma, factor V Leiden, hemachromatosis, hiatal hernia, fibromyalgia, CFS, insomnia and more…………………………..
    I’m sorry that you have to be so sick, too. It really sucks. Most of my time is spent in bed. I’m now permanently disabled. I miss working so much. I know, I’m a real weirdo, but I loved working and being around all the people all the time. As you probably know, once you get sick you find out who your true friends are, a lot of people that you thought were true friends are now no longer around. I would never desert a friend because they were sick, but that’s what a lot of people do and it really hurts. Are you able to still work? Sorry, with this ADHD, I might ask some questions more than once, just ignore me when I do that, can’t help it. Hard for me to focus and remember everything. I have to write everything down. After feeling so shitty yesterday, my day today started out so good, I was in such a good mood, feeling really positive and then all of a sudden it went straight to shit in a matter of seconds. Now, I just feel like laying down, throwing in the towel, and quitting, just giving up. That’s what living life this way does to a person and I hate it and I’m sick of it. Just been sitting here in my damn bed all day, just like always, while everyone else around me has a life. Some days life just really, really sucks. I don’t know if I’ve had what you would call a panic attack, I sure get anxiety attacks and I have snapped more than once, trust me. LOL I go to a lot of therapy trying to learn how to cope with living life this way. I have one therapist for pain, one for anything and everything, and one for DBT group. Yep, I go 3 times a week, 3 different therapists. I call that my job. I take my bag of journals, workbooks, paperwork and say I’m going to work. That and doctors appointments is about all I do. I do have friends, true friends that didn’t vanish on me and I go and sit on their couches sometimes and sometimes they come sit in my room with me and we can talk for hours because I’ve been blessed with the gift of gab. I’m never at a loss for words. On that note, I’m going to shut up before I write a book and I hope to hear back from you soon. I hope all is well with you. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I’m going to try not to snap and lose control because that’s about what I feel like doing. Take care, my friend.
    Peace and hugs,

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