It’s been a rough few weeks here. I’ve had some big changes forced upon me recently, and they’ve included being sick and still recovering.
We’d been fostering a pair of mature, intact male rats for a few weeks. Their names are William and Carlyle. They weren’t housed together, because Carlyle, while a sweet rat, was much younger and somewhat aggressive with 18-month old William.
William was an absolute cuddle-bug. A black berkshire with unusually long hair, and a speckling of white hairs throughout his coat, his favorite thing was just to hang out on my shoulders, neck, and chest, laying down and getting skritched.
We were, in fact, very close to adopting William. But then something came up.
Over the weeks that these boys were with us, I was having worse than usual problems with coughing and allergic reactions. With my new/old laptop, I was even spending much of some days in my bedroom all day to rest and recover.
I think that the bedroom time cleared my allergies enough that I was finally able to identify a distinct exposure/reaction pairing. After being in my bedroom for the day, I went and collected William for snuggle time.
Within minutes, I began coughing, my eyes were puffy and watery, and my nose was running. I was having an allergic reaction to William, with all his grown-up hormones and the buck grease of a un-neutered male rat.
This was an unexpected and startling turn of events. We conducted experiments. Exposure to Carlyle, a 7-month old un-neutered boy, did the same.
Then the heart-breaking moment. I took Trixie out of the colony cage. A moment later, the cough began.
I’ve obviously lived with our rats for some time without noticing a problem. Apparently William and Carlyle, who were surrendered to Mainely Rat Rescue because of severe allergies in the owner’s family, were causing the same issue for me. And they’d tipped my allergic reaction to rats (which I never suspected before) over the edge into critical and highly sensitive ranges on the allergen scale. Gryphon tells me he was even afraid I was going to have an anaphalactic reaction if we couldn’t curb the problem soon.
We contacted MRR immediately, and the other foster home here in Wilton was fortunately able to take the boys in the same day. A decision was made that we would discontinue fostering as well, since our health issues were clearly interfering with our ability to take in more rats.
We have ten of our own rats: Marbles, Mia, and Bailey in their cage; Leonardo, Isabella, Laurel, Laura, Trixie, Dusty, and Toby in the colony cage.* At this point, we’ll be allowing the colony to downsize through natural attrition over time. It’s my hope that by then, I’ll be “de-toxed” enough from the allergies to be able to comfortably live with a few select rats at a time.
In the meantime, I am staying out of the living room as much as possible to avoid exposure to all ten of them for any extended periods of time. I am making a point of having one or two brought into the bedroom for me to socialize with every day. They clearly miss their Mom, but this way I can play and snuggle with them without becoming seriously ill.
This problem has inspired us to do a little rearranging in the house. Since I’m spending my days in the bedroom, we removed a small, but un-used, crafting table from the corner across from my bed. An easy chair from the living room was brought in, along with the Table-mate table that I can slide up to it for a working surface.
My bedroom has become a very Victorian-sounding “bed-sitting room”. I can now spend my days comfortably sitting in a good chair, with my laptop in front of me, a television at a comfortable viewing distance, and my knitting at hand.
Concurrent with all this, I discovered an interesting group on Ravelry that resonated with me. Called “the cave”, it’s for people who, like me, have always considered themselves something of a hermit. We get along well enough with the outside world when we need to, and even seem very outgoing at times. But our highest and best happiness comes from being able to completely cocoon ourselves, isolated from outside distractions and having to interact with people.
I’d already been coming to grips with the fact that Gryphon and I are now, for all purposes, retired from working. It was a struggle for me to feel like it was okay to do nothing meaningful to the outside world all day, not to do work that produces an income. I was accepting that this is how our life is now, I don’t need to produce an income (though we are still pursuing a disability declaration and subsequent benefits for me), and it’s okay for me to spend my day doing whatever I want.
Then I found “the cave”, and added an extra dimension to my new reality – I accepted and embraced the fact that, all my life, my true nature has been to be the hermit, to spend my time alone at home doing things that please me, and to avoid having to go out and interact with people. Being officially retired, it was now okay for me to do this, too.
I’m not cutting myself off altogether. I have balanced my hermitude by making more contact with friends. I phone just to talk, and I am making a point of getting together with one or more for lunch every week. But it’s been immensely pleasurable and relaxing to sit in my room, fiddling with the computer, or knitting and watching a program.
More than ever, I am daily achieving that immersive state where you are totally involved in what you’re doing. You know it – when you finally look up and notice the clock, you are startled by how much time has passed without you even realizing it. This is a level of relaxation that I haven’t felt in years, and it feels good!
So, no more foster rats, but we still have our own. There is some hope that I won’t have to give up rats completely. I’m embracing a new paradigm where I am achieving more relaxation, and better personal progress on knitting and other crafts.
The blog will stay “Of Rats and Jen”, but obviously, the focus may shift a bit. A little more back to the knitting and crafts, perhaps. Just wait until I tell you about the new, elaborate, challenging KnitPicks kit I started working on last week!
Don’t worry about me, friends; I’ll be okay. Change is stressful, but this change is leading to a new, less-stress reality. I hope you’ll stick with me for the ride!
*Dusty and Toby are new additions as of a couple of months ago. They were surrendered by a friend in Manchester who realized that, due to health reasons, she needed to downsize her colony to a single cage. Dusty is a petite, sweet, Pink-Eyed White (PEW) girl, and Toby is her burly PEW (neutered) boyfriend. They were introduced to our colony the day they arrived, and got along great right from the start. Though Toby and Laura tend to squabble like an old married couple…<g>