Coping strategies for the evening blues
March 13, 2007 4:04 AM   Subscribe

My cat died in October, and I fell headlong into depression. I'm better now, but I'm still struggling with a bluesy feeling in the evening. Coping strategies, including mindfulness techniques?

Naysayers believe what you want, but loosing a pet can be crushingly painful. My depression started on the day after his death, and continued for two months. I fought it off with the usual suspects -- exercise, immersion in work, veggies, and meditation. No pills (scared of them) or pet-loss groups (none in the hood). Lest you think I'm a saint, I also indulged in sci-fi movies and weed on a few tough nights.

I'm happy now, but once the clock hits the bedtime hour, the blues return, and I'm prone to teary, introspective periods as I lie in bed and recall our times together. Are evening blues part of grieving and depression? How might I cope? Ideally, I'd like to extend mindfulness meditation techniques into this area, perhaps by enhancing my awareness of the evening blues in some way or other. But I'm a relative newbie when it comes to mindfulness, and unsure how to proceed.

Any hints, mindfulness related or not, invited.
posted by Gordion Knott to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Get a new cat?

(There's probably a reason why you haven't done this, but it does seem like the obvious solution)
posted by Leon at 4:11 AM on March 13, 2007

I don't know what "mindfulness" means, but I agree with the new cat suggestion. Or maybe a plant would be a better idea. An unkillable plant.
posted by DU at 4:31 AM on March 13, 2007

The new cat's out for the next few years (we have travel plans). But I'm going to volunteer at an animal sanctuary soon.
posted by Gordion Knott at 4:32 AM on March 13, 2007

Just to say I'm sorry. My ancient cat died seven years ago and I still miss her, though I have another cat now. For a long time I didn't want another cat - they have different personalities and I wanted _my_ cat back. Volunteering sounds like a good idea. This website has a few other ideas, such as a memorial.
posted by paduasoy at 4:46 AM on March 13, 2007

First of all, good for you for recognizing that pet loss is an entirely valid reason to grieve. Second, you seem to be doing all the right things.

One thing that might make you feel better is making a donation in kitty's name to an animal organization (your local humane society, the ASPCA, etc). Volunteering also sounds like a good idea.
posted by radioamy at 4:48 AM on March 13, 2007

Gordion Knott: "Naysayers believe what you want, but loosing a pet can be crushingly painful. "

This is indeed true, and I forewarn any potential naysayers not to... um.. say nay. Fact; depression is depression, and anyone who says "my depression is worse than your depression because of factors x, y and z" is, and I say this now, an idiot.

Now, with that said, may I suggest meditation? I had depression once, and am now well clear of it because I decided to look into and consequently practice meditation. Not a single mood altering pill needed! It's a long road to recovery, and not for everyone, but it worked for me so I say give it a go! But keep in mind, YMMV.
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:01 AM on March 13, 2007

I very much agree that losing a pet is a valid reason to be sad.

I think also that the best strategy is a new cat. I understand that with travel plans, you don't want the commitment of adopting a new cat. However, what about becoming a foster care provider for adoptable cats for a local animal rescue group?

Where I live, there are two animal rescue/adoption groups, both of which desperately need people to foster animals. Sometimes it is animals that won't do well in a shelter -- a litter of brand new kittens, or an old cat that needs medication -- and other times it is animals that have behavioral issues, and the hope is that with time in a foster house they will become adoptable rather than euthanized. But mostly it is just that there are too many animals coming into the shelters, and putting some temporarily into foster care means that more can be kept alive long enough to be adopted.

Chances are pretty good that someone near you has a similar program. Call the Humane Society, look on google for animal rescue groups, etc. But I think that this would get you that kitty contact you are missing, without compromising your plans for the future. I guess I just don't think that any amount of "mindfulness" can really compensate for what is a genuine loss in your life, compared to actually filling that loss.

(And I also liked the suggestion above of giving a donation in your kitty's name.)
posted by Forktine at 5:02 AM on March 13, 2007

Oh yes, I forgot to say I fostered a cat for a local animal rescue group after mine died. Do be careful though - I took a very old, disabled and brain-damaged cat, and when she then died I found it a bit tough. If you go for this, try to ensure that the group has some safeguards in place - that they don't place animals that really are too ill to get much out of life and that you get some support with animals' health and behavourial problems.
posted by paduasoy at 5:08 AM on March 13, 2007

I know losing a pet can be hard, but usually the worst pain subsides rather quickly. This makes me suspect maybe other things in your life causes the depression, clinical or otherwise. Maybe the death of your cat was just the catalyst or the trigger?

That being said, I hope you will get better soon.
posted by Harald74 at 5:19 AM on March 13, 2007

I guess losing a pet is hard because, well, to admit to passing through a 'grief process' is likely to be met with sniggers in some corners. I wonder, have you properly mourned your cat's death? (you refer to him as 'your cat', but I'm sure he had a name) Funerals, momentoes, laying flowers on a grave - all of these things we do with humans who have passed on are also ways of helping us come to terms with our loss. Is there something you can do as a means of both saying goodbye, and also as a way of ensuring your loving memories are honoured and preserved?
posted by RokkitNite at 5:27 AM on March 13, 2007

I strongly disagree, Harald74. There are people whose pets are, basically, furniture to them, and for them, grief is minimal to non-existent. There are people whose pets are more like children or family members, and those people can grieve every bit as much as they would for a family member. When you're used to seeing a face, hearing a voice and suddenly, it's not there, it can really throw you.

I lost a cat that I had held and bonded with from the moment he was born. He was with me for 15 1/2 years. I was much more connected to him than I am to my siblings, with whom I have only minimal contact.
posted by clarkstonian at 5:32 AM on March 13, 2007

I'm sorry about your cat. We lost our older cat a few weeks ago. We were utterly miserable, and are still getting used to him being gone.

One way I found to redirect my thoughts about my cat is to gather up pictures of him on Flickr and to put together a little photo book. I'd spend five or ten minutes writing out happy little captions for some of my favorite pictures when I missed him. This redirected my brain toward "Wow, what a great cat" thoughts instead of more melancholy things.

I'd be more than happy to send you a link if you'd like to see it.
posted by divka at 5:57 AM on March 13, 2007

I second the suggestions of either fostering or volunteering at a shelter; or if those would be precluded by your plans, even sponsoring a cat or two through a rescue group (maybe the fosters can send you pictures or periodical updates).

I think this sort of thing might help because interacting with cats would remind you of all the things you liked about your cat -- in other words, it sort of forces you to focus on the positive rather than the negative. And doing something to help other cats is a pretty great way to honor the memory of yours.

I'm very sorry for your loss; losing a pet is a very difficult thing to go through. I wish you the best.
posted by AV at 5:57 AM on March 13, 2007

I'm sorry for your loss. I just lost my cat in November and it was devistating. He was the most amazing cat. I still have his brother and my dog, but the emptiness in the house was deafening. He had a huge personality. I agree 100% with Forktine. Become a foster parent for a shelter. It will help to keep you thinking positive. And in your down time try this site.

I spent a lot of time on here when my cat passed. They have a forum just for greiving and a lot of people who know just what you are going through right now.
posted by MayNicholas at 6:06 AM on March 13, 2007

Sorry about the missing link...
posted by MayNicholas at 6:08 AM on March 13, 2007

Sorry about your kitty. When I had to put mine to sleep, I wrote about it on my blog. Not in a 'front page' read my story kind of way, but in a sidebar where I could always access it if I wanted to reminisce about her for a while.

It helped to write down things about her and to write about what happened - and it helped me grieve. Yes, men can grieve over dead cats!

You don't have to blog it for the world to see, but you could write your own little memoirs to pull up from time to time.
posted by matty at 7:36 AM on March 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Grief is very hard and 2 months isn't that long. You may well have farther to go in the process. Don't let anyone suggest that your feelings are wrong. I lost some dear pets some 15 years ago and was very affected by their loss. While I no longer grieve, I still dream of them once in a while and I cherish "seeing" them again.

As for mindfulness, when you find yourself lost in thoughts of grief, try to bring your thoughts back to the present moment with whatever you are doing. If you're just in bed trying to get to sleep, bring your awareness back to your in and out breaths. Be gentle and non-judgmental with yourself in this. Another thing might be to direct your thoughts toward those warm feelings of being snuggled deep in bed, getting restful sleep. Even if that's not happening at the moment, visualizing this goal may make it easier to achieve.
posted by DarkForest at 8:26 AM on March 13, 2007

I'm so, so sorry.

The first thing I would say to you, is that it's okay to still have a soft spot or to get teary about this as time goes on. I lost my first pet when I was 16 and he was probably 10 or 11. I still can't really talk about him - not with people who didn't know him. It's a truly painful thing to lose a companion like that (and there is a difference between a companion and a pet).

I think that if you can stand to do it, fostering kitties who need a friend on their way to a permanent home would be good for you. I know that one of the hardest things about losing my boy was that the house was really empty. Bringing another cat in that I needed to get to know and play with helped to take my mind off of it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:44 AM on March 13, 2007

I have a solution that sounds silly, but really works: Get a cuddly stuffed animal and hold it when you're missing your cat... I'm serious... Several years ago my cat died after an unexpected illness. She had been with me since I was 10 years old and I was 24 when she died. I was also pregnant at the time, so my grieving process was compounded by a hormonal roller coaster. My doctor suggested the stuffed animal idea and it really worked... It was comforting to have something soft to hold on to when I was feeling depressed.
posted by amyms at 8:46 AM on March 13, 2007

Fostering might be a good idea.

Also - how about doing something to connect even more to the human with whom you live? Play a game, build something, plan together, take up dancing. I don't mean to imply that you don't already connect, but that connecting _more_ might help dispel the loneliness.
posted by amtho at 9:25 AM on March 13, 2007

Also: I still remember when my dear cat Dave died. I had to go home from my singing job the next day because I just couldn't stop crying. It was awful.
posted by amtho at 9:28 AM on March 13, 2007

How did the cat die? Unexpected illness? Trauma?

What goes through your mind when you are missing him? Guilt? Emptiness? Your own loss of companionship? What can you do to address THOSE things? That may help some.

I've been through a LOT of cat deaths, and more human ones than I want to talk about.

There are scores of grief-related posts here, and anything relevant to dealing with human death is relevant to dealing with close friend death, which is what pet death is, IMO, at least for me.

It helps to get it out... excise the grief. Live in it. Allow it to work itself out. Honor your feelings.

Your search for 'mindfulness' may be more of a search for getting rid of the bad feelings NOW! It may not happen that way. You are not in charge of your feelings. A truly mindful person can observe the feeling while feeling it, and that's very useful, but it doesn't make the feeling go away. Feel it. As long as you have to. It is part of your humanity and a good sign that you have a tender heart.

I get continuing joy from reading a silly little collection of cat stories/poems/etc. in a small book called Cat Scan. It never fails to make me miss one of my late cats and always reminds me to care for my current herd just a little better.

Good luck. Your pain is legitimate and real. It is not trivial. Reject any suggestion to the contrary.
posted by FauxScot at 9:33 AM on March 13, 2007

No one is talking about excercise? My ex-girfriend has/had issues with depression - she has gotten into regularly scheduled workouts in the evening (running, lifting weights, dance etc...) - it has worked wonders for her mood, ability to sleep etc.

highly recommended.
posted by specialk420 at 10:24 AM on March 13, 2007

I'm so sorry. I never had a cat, but I lost my dog a year and a half ago. Even now, although it's been awhile, I sometimes still have spells of crying whenever I think about him.

What might help is to put together a scrapbook of photos of your cat, and write down your memories. It might make the pain worse in the short term, but it might also get you laughing and bring all the good memories to the forefront.

Other ways to cope might be to take regular walks at night, and then come in for a cup of tea or something equally relaxing. And like everyone else said, don't listen to those who think grief over a pet is a trivial emotion, because it's not.
posted by elisynn at 1:13 PM on March 13, 2007

FauxScot, he died due to contracting cancer at age 15. An advanced age, I know. But he was kittenish through the first half of last year, then bam. An inoperable tumor in the abdomen. Two months later, after losing half of his body weight, he expired on my wife's lap.

The trauma of seeing his emaciation and death contributed a lot to the depression, I feel.

Many excellent suggestions. I truly appreciate all and sundry. Keep 'em coming.

(Pudding, if you're reading this in heaven, sorry for revealing intimate details about your demise. But I'm with friends here, and feeling better by the moment.)
posted by Gordion Knott at 1:22 PM on March 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

I wish I had some good advice to offer, but everyone here already said wonderful things. I just wanted to say how sorry I am. I lost my much- beloved William cat ten years ago, and still shed tears once a week or so, and have her picture by my bed. Yeah, Willie was a girl, as it turned out when she was a bit older, but the name suited her dignified humor very well. I shall not see her like again. Ah, well. I've digressed. My point was to offer my sympathy for your loss.
posted by puddinghead at 6:55 PM on March 13, 2007

You're a good man, GK. And a good cat-dad.

And it is for that reason, more than anything, that I think you should consider -- eventually, mind you -- adopting another cat. Do this only when you're ready.

But when you are, know that you'll be serving a two-fold purpose. Not only will you be allowing a new friend into your life, thus filling that void in a way that honors your cat's memory, but you'll be assuring this new cat the attention and care borne out of all you learned while raising Pudding.
posted by grabbingsand at 7:23 PM on March 13, 2007

I'm sorry to hear about your cat, you sound like a good cat-dad, as grabbingsand has just said. Grieving for a pet can be complicated because people have all sorts of different reactions to how a pet fits into one's life and I know for a lot of my friends, as well as for myself, it can be hard to determine if what you're feeling is appropriate (and you may suspect others think it may not be) but I agree with FauxScot -- they're your feelings and if you're taking care of yourself and mindful of them you're on an okay path. Remember that all of this happened (likely) while the days were getting shorter and the holidays were coming up and that's a difficult time even with no big life changes.

Since you're married this may be a good thing to talk over with your wife. I assume you have but you may also want to think if the two of you may have differing responses to your cat's death and if this may have something to do with your feelings. I'm just guessing here, but often grieving is complicated by doing it with other people in close proximity, no matter how close you are to them or how similar your responses are. And yes, nighttime moping is often part of being depressed. Keep an eye on yourself to make sure you're not overmedicating or developing bad habits that will stay with you, but continuing to get the blues is not a sign that you've got some unfixable problem. Time will heal your hurt somewhat and you seem to be trying to help that happen.

So, honor your cat. If you're not normally the "put photos up" type, consider trying that. You love him, he's just not with you. While Pudding is not in your day to day life as a pet, he's still a very important part of your life emotionally and that presence is also real and your feelings for him are real. Thinking about him, remembering him and talking about him are all appropriate ways of working through this. Best of luck, I know this isn't easy.
posted by jessamyn at 6:21 AM on March 14, 2007

I am so sorry about your loss. The death of a family member is difficult in so many confusing ways.

Some SPCA's have grief/loss support groups that meet. Talking with others who are experiencing a similar loss can be very helpful. You will grieve at your pace.

I had a dog die of CHF related to a cancerous growth on her heart. Loss from cancer can be very difficult in it's own way to deal with emotionally.

One thing I did that helped me a lot after she died was to light a safe, small tea light candle in the room where she liked to sleep. It was in my living room on the couch. I would see that little flicker of light and I liked to think of it as her spirit lingering around again. I still do this on occasion.

Find the things that work for you and know that you are not alone in your feelings of loss and sadness. Good luck to you.
posted by dog food sugar at 4:36 PM on March 14, 2007

I just remembered another thing I did that helped me a lot through that time. We had a casual service for her.

We live near an ocean and we spread her ashes at the edge of the water on a cold winter day. I liked that the wind picked up her ashes a little bit and the water would gently pull them away as well. It was a nice ambiguity between the air, the land, and water.

Now whenever I visit that ocean I think of her, remember her, and find comfort in thinking that the energy she brought into my life is now elsewhere in the universe.
posted by dog food sugar at 4:49 PM on March 14, 2007

Hey GN...

I know this is a late response (again!), but I do hope you read it.

I can't imagine having one die in my arms like that... most of mine went to the vet for their final moments and I have a little ritual and process that makes it easier on all of us, though it's rough no matter how it happens.

My cats live a long time, too. It's hard hard hard to deal with death after sooooo many years of basically a parental kind of relationship. Rule of thumb I have heard is a month of grief for a year of relationship.

You did get good advice here, and hope you'll find some healing from it all. Email in profile if you need a sympathetic ear.
posted by FauxScot at 4:27 PM on March 15, 2007

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