Sometimes, unexpected difficulties thrust us into confronting some of our fears. It can be terrifying, painful and even, cause damage, but, we can also learn about ourselves. The piece below was first published on Cherry Northern’s site, Affliction Hunter, where he writes about his life in the USA.
I was outdoors where I planned to vacuum and clean the interior of my car. The orange cat, the one that had been clearly comfortable with its new territory, approached me that morning. All seemed okay. It was friendly. It meowed. And like so many cats, it wanted to go in my house. It followed me everywhere, hoping to get inside. The thing is, I’m fine with stray cats so long as they leave me alone if they’re unfriendly. And if they’re friendly, well, I don’t mind petting them or giving them a cat treat. We’ve had a few cats come to the house in the past, so I had some snacks at the ready.
But as you know, no good deed goes unpunished.
I enjoyed the cat’s company for the most part. That is, until I walked by it and felt pinpricks on my leg. The cat bit me! I was in shock. What had I done wrong? I was just walking! I put a stop to my chores because I had a decision to make. Was it a big deal? Should I just carry on? I had no idea who owned the cat or if it was a stray. It was just a cat that sometimes strolled through my backyard and sometimes visited my neighbor’s front porch.
Well, what was I supposed to do? I know this story may be silly, and trust me, I can look back and laugh now. But I’m going to be dead serious for just a moment. Animal bites shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you get bit, you need to get it checked out. And it’s not just about rabies. Animal bites can contain nasty bacteria. You could get an infection. I don’t say this to make you fear your pets if you have any, but I just want to put it out there.
So, I debated what to do. Let it slide? Nope. That would be foolish. I had to conjure up the courage to call a doctor and sheepishly explain that a cat bit me. Maybe I made the day entertaining for that doctor. Needless to say, that one cat–that one little mischief-maker–derailed my entire day and shredded my plans to bits. But like a path of dominoes, the effects of that one incident would be far-reaching.
The doctor prescribed antibiotics, which made sense. But not one mention of rabies, which was my primary concern. I, the patient, had to be the one to bring it up. Again, conjuring up some courage to broach the subject that should have been an obvious discussion topic. The doctor was composed–maybe a little too composed. It was as if the suggestion of getting the rabies vaccine was nothing but an afterthought. Good thing I advocated for myself.
The urgent care didn’t have the rabies vaccine on hand. Of course they didn’t. It’s not like they’re a medical facility . . . Uh, but yeah. I had to go to the emergency room in order to get my shots. Which, fortunately, wasn’t far away. It’s just, the idea of going to a hospital fills me with dread. Like most people, I don’t like hospitals. I’m not exactly clamoring to sit in a sterile room with pale walls and listen to the beeps from the vitals monitor. Ugh. I hate it.
I had four shots that first day. One on the arm. Another on my thigh. Two others on either cheek. And I’m not talking about my face.
Looking back, I realize that I’ve made progress. Just calling the doctor was a step in the right direction. The thing is, I am not a person accustomed to admitting that something is wrong. I could break my ankle and still pretend that I’m okay all in the name of not inconveniencing people. Also, there’s certain types of attention I’m okay with and other types of attention I can’t stand. Basically, I wanted to just get through this whole thing without anyone in my family knowing. It would be my dirty little secret.
After the shots, I had to go pick up my prescription of antibiotics. I eventually called my mom because, well, the truth has a way of coming out anyway. I mean, I could hide my bandages from the shots. I could even keep my prescription out of sight. It wouldn’t matter, though. How would I be able to explain my future visits to the ER for the remainder of my shots? For the next three Saturdays, I’d have to come in and get the final doses. But I work on Saturday until 5 PM. So, if I’m late in coming back home, I figured someone would notice. I might as well just come clean.
So, I did. It was difficult, but I just had to rip that bandage off. I know some of you may think, Why is he making a big deal of telling his own mom? It’s because I’m still struggling to open up to the people who care about me. There’s many things I could discuss with my parents that I keep below the surface because I fear those difficult conversations will change our dynamic forever. I just can’t handle that. So trust me when I say that telling my mom about the cat bite and ensuing shots was a piece of cake compared to the deeper things I’ve been keeping in.
Okay. So, I got my antibiotics. Later on, I’d receive a call from the state health department regarding my case. At the hospital, I had to fill out paperwork that involved giving a description of the cat. The health department was informed and a representative that I’d keep in touch with asked me a few questions. Great. So the cat also forced me to talk to people on the phone.
Later on, I had dinner at my parents’ house and we discussed all that happened. I guess it was good to be able to talk about it and let it go. Except, I wasn’t out of the woods yet. One of the reasons why I keep things from my parents is because they tend to either make something into a bigger deal than it is or they try to tell me what I should do without any perceived regard for the fact that I’m an autonomous adult with the added ability of decision-making. I love my parents, but these are things I can’t stand.
The antibiotic regimen attacked me hard. It was supposed to help me fight off bacteria–and maybe it did–but it also wrecked my gut. Even now, I’m still trying to pump myself with probiotics and bland foods. To make matters worse, I had to keep my eyes open for the cat. If I saw the cat, then I would have to call the health department. Ugh. More calling. Really? Eventually, the animal control department would also give me a call. Again, I’d have to keep my eyes open for them. They wanted to capture the cat in order to observe it. That needed to happen, but I hated being the cat-spotter who’d have to call.
The Sunday after the bite was pretty bad. I had heart palpitations that I describe as “flutters.” This symptom was persistent and fueled my anxiety. And then, my guess is that the anxiety propagated the symptom. This was the day when my parents came over to the house where my brother and I live and helped us install the new fridge and stove we received earlier in the week. It seemed so chaotic. Everyone seemed normal, but I was spiraling. The anxiety was severe.
The next few days saw me a wreck. No matter where I went, anxiety followed. At home, at work–anywhere! I decided that I wasn’t going to drown in it. Instead, I practiced some techniques to help me. In my opinion, anxiety’s biggest enemy is distraction. For instance, the Fourth of July fireworks actually weren’t triggers for more anxiety. Instead, the sights and sounds took me out of the future and back to the present. So, I just powered through my anxiety and its symptoms for the next few days. I tried to focus on breathing. On taking it easy. On forgiving myself. I also watched videos on anxiety (one TED talk was pretty useful).
I also had the support of my best friend, who recommended I seek out help. See, this is where I hit a wall. I’ve always had the thought in the back of my head to seek professional help. The problem is, I don’t believe I experience severe anxiety every day, or consistently. It seems like my anxiety is situational. I have no doubt in my mind the events that started with the cat bite shook me up and put me in a vulnerable state. A state that allowed anxiety to thrive.
Between health concerns, visits to the ER, correspondence with law enforcement & the health department, keeping my eyes open for the cat, and my parents’ suggestions on how to deal with aspects of this whole situation, I was in bad shape. I decided that I needed an emergency “cool down.” I wasn’t going to work myself thin at work. I wasn’t in any position to go above and beyond. I allowed myself to be “mediocre.” Also, in addition, I gave myself permission to live my life as if anxiety played no role. So when I felt the familiar feelings or experienced physical symptoms, I tried to make a conscious decision to continue whatever it was I was doing no matter how I felt.
Toward the end of the following week after the bite, I noticed that my legs felt stiff. Whenever I would reach down, I felt a stiffness and pain behind my knees. It felt like a tight hamstring. I couldn’t even come close to touching my toes without bending my knees. A part of me thought that it was an age thing. Maybe I was just getting old and less flexible. But . . . something didn’t register. Something seemed off about it. Because even in doing some of the simplest movements, I felt the tug on my legs and the pain along with it.
I had anxiety on all fronts: physical, mental, social, and general. There were times where, quite honestly, I wondered if I was going to die. I even thought to myself, Well, you’ve done some of the things you’ve always wanted to do in life. I got to that point because of anxiety. Again, anxiety was taking me out of the present so that I could only focus on what might happen.
Sunday, July 12, was an important date to me. My parents, brother, and grandparents went on a mini vacation. I elected to stay behind. It would have been too much for me. I went to church that morning and I prayed like hell for things to go back to normal. Sadly, though, I felt odd in church. I know it was anxiety rearing its ugly head. After mass, I had the entire house and the entire day to myself. Anxiety would creep up at times, but for the most part, I noticed a shift.
Was it time? Was it that I had changed my frame of mind? Maybe consuming less caffeine helped? Either way, I felt more relaxed that Sunday. I felt that I could attempt to try and enjoy life again. I did a lot of fun things at home–instruments, writing, games. It was a blast. Later on, I noticed that my leg issue had simply gone away. I could bend down normally again! Weird. My anxiety also faded to a point where it didn’t bother me as much.
I went to get carry-out Chinese food in order to celebrate. It was so delicious. It was the taste of feeling better. It was the first glimmer of good news. As time went on, the physical symptoms of my anxiety started to weaken and fade. I noticed stability. I felt better. The world was much different.
The cat was captured and the health department observed it for ten days. It had no rabies, thankfully. Turns out that the cat was actually not a stray–it was a pet! My mom wanted me to ask the health department what would happen with the cat. Would it be forced to remain an indoor cat since it bit me? Again, this is an example of the divergent paths I have from myself and my parents. So long as the cat didn’t have rabies, I was fine with whatever the owners decided. My mom wanted me to ask, and I played along for a bit, but I felt it wasn’t my place to inquire what the owners would do. If the cat didn’t have rabies, then what would it matter to me? I don’t fear the cat, and if I see it again, I’ll just stay inside.
Next, my parents kinda hinted that I should somehow receive compensation for my medical expenses from the cat owners. Once again, this is more parental meddling that made me angry. First of all, I don’t even know what my expenses are since I haven’t received a bill yet. Secondly, I am not pursuing a lawsuit because it’s more paperwork and more stress than I have the capacity to handle. I don’t care about compensation. I’m not even angry at the owners! It was an outdoor cat in the first place. I don’t know why it bit me, but as far as I’m concerned, this whole thing is done. I am not going to add another chapter to this.
I. Am. Done.
So, maybe I need to thank that cat. Because without the bite, I wouldn’t have been able to see how much I could handle under pressure. Turns out, I can do a lot when the logic part of my brain overcomes the anxious part. In addition, I also realized that I might need to seek help. Because while it’s true my anxiety may be more situational, it’s still pretty distressing when it happens. Finally, I’ve realized that I need to start making my own decisions and I need to be honest with my parents when I disagree with them. Struggling to be truly autonomous and not caving under pressure are things that I should also bring up in therapy if I ever do get to that point.
Anyway, this shook me up and made me think about things. I don’t want anxiety to win every single time. I want to live a full, rich life. Maybe I’ll get there someday. There’s still so much I need to work on. I am flawed and imperfect. I am a work in progress. Who knows how far I’ll get? All I know is that I need to take it at my own pace and maybe I’ll improve one step at a time.
By Cherry Northern, Affliction Hunter