Coping with MS Made Me Neglect My Loved Ones
My story of neglect involves recurring nightmares, hallucinations, deep-seated shame and guilt—and two cats. Here it is.
A few days ago I woke at 3:30 in the morning seized with the terrifying thought that a kitten had been living in the back seat of my car and I, through lapses of memory and neglect, had killed it. I couldn’t go back to sleep, the awful realization rising to a roar in my ears. I had no choice but to go to my car and at least retrieve the carcass. I was fully awake, mind you.
A rational voice spoke up
Halfway to the car, a quiet, rational voice in my head spoke up. There is no cat in your car, Kim. You wouldn’t leave a kitten in your car, forget to feed and water it, and expose it to freezing night temperatures and daytime swelter. You don’t do things like that.
But another voice countered: Oh yes, there is a kitten. Two weeks ago, I went shopping and after I loaded the groceries in the car, I heard the weakened mews of a kitten in the back seat. It reminded me that the kitten was still there—but I drove home and did nothing, putting the poor thing out of my mind.
That thought made me press on towards the car. It was a warm night, quiet except for the tap of my cane on the sidewalk. By the time I grasped the door handle, the rational voice piped up again. If it were true, if a kitten had been in your car for as long as you claim, it would have died of starvation or exposure long ago and you would have smelled it. I opened the door. There was no odor. Still unconvinced, I poked around under the seats with the tip of my cane just in case. But there was nothing. The car was empty. The air smelled sweet as the night air outside it, the scent of early spring. Death was nowhere nearby.
Had I hallucinated the whole thing?
On the way back inside, I was almost totally convinced that I had hallucinated the whole thing. But an overwhelming feeling of shame and terror still lingered and I was determined to sort it out. Here’s what I think this strange episode was all about.
I now believe I had a nightmare about there being a kitten in my car. I dreamed the shopping trip, too, and that became a false memory after I woke. I’m also convinced that I’ve had that nightmare before, too, and hadn’t remembered it. I have a history of recurring nightmares based on a repressed trauma.
A direct reference to three real-life events
The neglect of a helpless little creature was a direct reference to three real-life events in which a loved one needed my attention and I failed them. In the first month of my mother’s final illness, we didn’t yet know that she had cancer. I was living with her, and several trips to the doctor over four weeks only had them treating her for vertigo. That didn’t help her and she lay suffering in silence. I did my best to feed, water, and toilet her, but it was too much for me to deal with mentally and physically. My siblings weren’t able to help at that point, so it was all on me for those weeks. But they were free in the fifth week of mom’s illness. Looking back, I should not have waited for my siblings, I should have delivered her into professional care much sooner to ease her suffering. It’s haunted me for the four years since her death.
An aging pet
Several years before that, I had an aging pet cat. She was sick during the last six months of her life, but one night she took a sudden turn for the worst. It was a weekend and I would drive her to the vet on Monday. The vet told me she probably had cancer and they could run tests and perhaps have a treatment plan but it would cost at least a thousand dollars. I decided to euthanize her. The vet asked me when she fell into this state and I told her it had only been two-and-half days earlier. I was looking down but saw in my peripheral vision that she gave me a dirty look. I assumed she didn’t believe me and judged that I had neglected my cat. I probably did, and it’s haunted me ever since.
Neglect in my marriage
I was married to my second husband at the same time I had the cat. I spent more and more time on the computer after an MS relapse left me with more disability and I couldn’t do much. We never talked about my disease, he wanted nothing to do with it. Later on, when he gave me the I-want-a-divorce speech, his resentment and hatred came out, mostly because I couldn’t be his activities partner. But, I knew there was more to it than that. I did, in fact, neglect him. It haunts me still.
When I poured out this narrative to my sister, she told me I was wonderful to have put it together and own what I’d done. She also reminded me that those were years when I was coping with MS alone and without a support system, and I always tend to go inside myself to deal with life. Then she said: “The next step is to forgive yourself.” I don’t know if I ever will. But she was right when she said that forgiveness is a way to free ourselves.
I guess I’m not ready to be free just yet.
Do you celebrate your MS Anniversary?