Who You Are


Our dog Buddy has been so sick, literally at death’s door, and it could have been avoided – which is a terrible thing, not only to admit to, but to live with. He has ehrlichiosis, which is a bacterial illness transmitted by ticks, the signs and symptoms of which usually appear within a week or two of a tick bite. Buddy and Layla were both due their preventative Bravecto tick muti on the 1st of October. Peter bought the tablets and I completely forgot to give it to them; 7 days later Buddy was very ill. The vet first diagnosed biliary and treated him accordingly. He seemed to get better and then, a week later, had a relapse. He was so weak that he had to be put on a drip; a battery of tests then indicated that he had ehrlichiosis. Poor Buddy (and poor us I might add – vets bills are not cheap); his symptoms included fever, rapid breathing, lethargy and loss of appetite.

Unfortunately the medication he was given did not help to bring his temperature down and he also developed a stiff neck and blindness in one eye, so back to the vet he went. X-rays showed that a spinal disc he injured in August may have become infected and caused inflammation of the meninges. He was given cortisone and a second lot of very strong antibiotics that gets through bone but is not ideal for young dogs as it affects the cartilage. So he is not allowed to exercise while he is on it and has to take a supplement to counteract its affect on cartilage. Oy vey!

It has been devastating – our rambunctious puppy has been reduced to a shivering, and I would imagine, very scared wreck of a dog. Peter and I are also fairly shattered. I know it doesn’t help to beat oneself up with the “if onlys” – but beat oneself up one does. Neither Pete nor I have been sleeping very well while all this is going on. Every morning we half expect to find a corpse in the house and that doesn’t lend itself to a good night’s sleep. So the other morning I woke up at 2 am with everything I ever did wrong as a mother going through my mind. Why is it that in the early hours of the morning every problem our children have ever had is my fault? Of course, in the cold light of day it’s clear that the blame is always Peters!

Because I couldn’t sleep I moved into the spare room (so as not to disturb Peter) and started reading a memoir by Lynn Darling called Out of the Woods. I identified with her story – when her only child leaves home to go to Bowdoin College, she decides to relocate from New York City to a cabin in the woods in Vermont to “find herself”. (I mention the name of the college so that I can boast of having visited it with Kiera and James last year when we went to Maine. James’ sister Maggie went to college there and we stopped en route from Portland to Boothbay Harbor to have a look around – it’s a beautiful campus – and have yet another fantastic lobster lunch in a diner in Brunswick). Suffering from empty nest syndrome, Darling retreats to the woods to find a sense of direction in her life. I was so tired when I got to the end that I can’t remember if she ever did find it.

Be that as it may, I particularly enjoyed her perspective on aging.

You are young, and a light blinks on. A light that blinds you and dazzles you and makes you suddenly visible to yourself and to others. To men. You become something different in the light but you get used to it. And then, just as suddenly, the light goes out. And though you hated the glare, you grope for the switch.

She also quotes Doris Lessing:

You only begin to discover the difference between what you really are, your real self and your appearance when you get a bit older. A whole dimension of life suddenly slides away and you realise that what in fact you’ve been using to get attention has been what you look like ….. it’s a biological thing. It’s totally and absolutely impersonal. It really is a most salutary and fascinating thing to go through, shedding it all. Growing old is really extraordinarily interesting.

Earlier this year, when I had perioral dermatitis, I was advised by a dermatologist to get rid of all my expensive, cosmetic house toiletries (“snake oil” she called them) and just use a mild cleansing lotion (Cetaphil) and moisturising cream (Nutraderm) on my face. No toners, exfoliating creams, anti-aging serums or face masks – just wash and moisturise. I was also warned against using any foundation, blusher or powder on my face. Now I have never been one to use a lot of makeup but there is no denying it can improve one’s appearance if applied correctly. But the way I use makeup has changed as I’ve got older; when I was young, makeup was a fun thing that I played with, however when the light of youth went out, makeup became more of a mask to hide behind.

The daily cosmetic painting and repainting of identity seemed to create a psychic disconnect between who a woman was and who she needed to be in her dissatisfaction with herself.

Bob Shacochis (The Woman Who Lost Her Soul)

It’s also a fact of life that there is a correlation between aging, deteriorating eyesight and a shaky hand. I have always had a dread of being one of those “more mature” women with wonky, pencilled in eyebrows, smudged mascara and lipstick that has veered off the tracks – not to mention foundation clarted on like Polyfilla. Anyhow I am finding my new beauty routine, or lack thereof, rather liberating. And it has prompted me to start paying more attention to my appearance and how it reflects my real self. At the same time I’m aware that there’s a fine line between letting go altogether and hanging on for dear life (or groping desperately for the switch).  I hope I can strike a balance somewhere in between.

Recently we joined friends, Ann, Bill and Loretta, for lunch at Weenen Game Reserve, just under an hour’s drive north of here. It’s staggering how marked the change in vegetation is when you leave the Highveld and enter the Lowveld. There’s a point in the N3 where you round a corner heading towards Wagendrift Dam on the left and Estcourt on the right and suddenly the relatively lush and gentle Midlands countryside gives way to harsh, arid thornveld. And the drought becomes very evident. We had a wonderful braai under the acacias and a leisurely drive around the park before heading home, our spirits somewhat lifted by the short sojourn in the bush and the company of friends.

Weenen Game Reserve

Weenen Game Reserve

view of the Bushman's River valley just outside Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal

view of the Lowveld  just outside Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal







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2 Responses to Who You Are

  1. Chris Ammann says:

    Poor little chap, it must be so heartbreaking to see him suffering. Fingers crossed.

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