Day 144 With Dora

Social anxiety has never been fun, per se. It’s quite a handful, and I can’t predict its rhythm. The last 16 days, however, have been awful.

Sixteen days ago, I was at the grocery store, with Dora in her vest, sitting on a bench, talking to my brother, who I met by chance. The Flutenist was getting our car, and I was minding my own business. Some random stranger, an old man with white hair a brown duster and- I kid you not- some sort of badge on his buttoned white shirt, says to me “Pretty dog you have there.”

Never mind that he’s a stranger. Never mind that he cut off my conversation midsentence. Never mind that he doesn’t look like law enforcement but is actually wearing a brass badge.

As a disabled person, strangers now expect to be able to interrupt me at any time in order to talk about my dog. On a date with my husband? Who cares?! Reading a book in a park? Not important! Trying to juggle six other things at a cash register? Not their problem.

Whatever. So he compliments Dora, I say “thank you,” and my mind starts loading up the relevant info. Her breed. Her name. Her age. She’s a rescue. Etc.

“Be careful with that collar. One good lunge and you’ll rip her throats out.” Drops mic. Turns and loads his groceries into his car in one of the handicapped parking spots. Drives away.

Dora wears a prong collar when she walks. It is properly sized, has rubber tips, and we have walked well over 100 miles since she got it. We both know each other’s walking speeds, distractions, expectations, needs, etc. 95% of the time, she stays right with me. 5% of the time there is a gust of wind or a new dog or a running child, and Dora gets excited, but she has never once hurt herself with this collar. I have not hurt her either. 

Dora chooses to stand politely next to me because she doesn’t want to be poked in the neck. I appreciate her not requiring the use of both arms and all the muscles in my torso in order to walk her. It is working for us. Neither of us is in danger.

What is wrong with this retired Texas Ranger wannabe?! Why does he like going up to disabled people and talking about their dogs dying in graphic language? Doesn’t he know that our dogs start to feel like an extension of ourselves? That after a few months together, we are closer to them than to any humans we know. Every good day, bad day, sick day, adventurous day- Dora is with me each step of the way. And I am with her when she is sick or scared, excited or happy. We are a team.

I love her.


Long story short: I’m scared to go in public now, because of this one selfish jerk who cares more about himself and his ego than reality. He didn’t ask any questions; he didn’t want to know about how Dora and I interact; he was just certain that he knew best, even though he knew next to nothing. All he could possibly have known about us is this:

  1. Dora is a medium sized black dog in an orange service dog vest, striped flat collar, and prong collar.
  2. I am an adult woman who is apparently not deaf, since I acknowledged hearing him.
  3. Dora was sitting politely at my feet without pulling at all.
  4. I was polite enough to drop everything and interact with him despite him rudely interrupting my visit with my brother.

That’s it. That’s all that he could know about us.

😩😡

And now, I get panic attacks in public, just by walking into stores. Why?! Wasn’t it already hard enough for me? Did I really need more burdens?! And most importantly: why can’t I just ignore him and move on when I know that’s what I need to do?!

Who I Want to Be

“I can be anyone I want to be,” they told me.

But I wanted not to be me, to be someone stronger, and I tried.

I ran my mouth until I pushed my friends away, and I looked strong, but I was lonely.

Then I wanted to be someone stoic, who didn’t feel pain.

So I squeezed my heart, wrung out the feelings until I felt no pain, but I lost my joy as well.

I wanted to be someone with a family who was kind, and I struggled.

I squinted and strained and crossed my eyes, until I couldn’t see their flaws and more until I couldn’t see my pain.

“I could be anyone I wanted to be,” they said, and I wanted to be someone else, but they lied. And now I need to make peace with the truth:

I can only be me.

Discarded Dream


This wind sock used to fly outside the tiny apartment that The Flutenist and I shared. We were at the graduate school where we met, and after a few twists and turns, we were married and both studying to be international aid workers. I brought it with us when we moved to the state I’m from.

1,200 miles. 1,900 kilometers. Same country, language, department stores, but light years of difference. I kept it because it was a piece of continuity. 

When we moved into the house owned by my grandparents but being prepared for someone else, I hung it up in the tree outside our window. On the days we had privacy and the days that my grandmother let herself into the house to move things around (why would people married 6 months ago want privacy?), that wind sock fluttered in our tree.

When we moved into my parents’ house, I packed it away with the rest of our things. It wasn’t our home.

When we moved into our tiny blue house where we live now, it went back up in a tree. I braided a cord for it out of yarn and hung it there. It stayed in our tree through the sun, rain, and snow. Through the gusts of wind that beat it against the tree bark. On the good days and the bad ones, it was there.

And now it’s gone. 

I took that picture of it yesterday, before I threw it away. Straight into the bottom of the trash can. With bags of Dora’s poop and our kitchen trash that smelled abysmal. Then out to the curb. This morning, I double checked our trash can before bringing it back inside, and it was empty. Just like that.

My tie to our past, to our lives before they changed forever, is gone. We’re stuck here. It’s real now.

Day 129 With Dora

My family, extended family especially, is not on board with my service dog. “You’re invited over, but Dora isn’t.” “I can’t believe you’re making me choose between seeing you and having a dog in my house.”

I just…

I expected this to come. I really didn’t think these people who have been selfish and distant for years, who have caused me pain and never tried to reach out to get to know me, they were never going to take it well. 

I just didn’t think it would hurt so much.

Day 125 With Dora


It’s a bit of up and down at this point. Here’s an overview of the highs and lows:

Highs

  • Basic life tasks are getting easier. Lately, I have been able to go to the UPS store and the gas station by myself. I have also both made calls to schedule appointments or talk to people and received incoming calls without panic attacks. I didn’t need someone to come with me, and I didn’t go into the other room to hide from my ringing phone. Progress.
  • Dora is a natural with some tasks. She instinctively responds to both my crying and my stressed hyperventilating by coming to me, nuzzling her face under my hands (which I cup over my face), and licking me. This disrupts the emotion enough to keep it from escalating into something severe: for example, uninterrupted crying may grow into self loathing, which can produce despair and then suicidal ideation. Having a companion here to tell me that it’s ok (if I’m stressed) or that I am loved (if I’m depressed) is very helpful. It’s ok that Dora can’t speak.
  • I am growing a bit more stable overall. I know it may not be obvious to others, because I’m still being stressed by things, but it seems like the number of stressors I respond to is going down, at least. I feel more capable than I used to.

Lows

    • We have reached the psychiatric task phase of training, and it is hard. Imagine teaching your dog to sit: you can see them sit on their own, say “sit,” and praise their spots off. Eventually, you say “sit” and they do. Now imagine trying to teach your dog to notice that you can’t move or talk anymore, and you want them to come to you and interact with you until you start petting them. For me, it’s been challenging so far.
    • This training is also emotionally draining. I have to walk a very fine line between pretending to have my worst symptoms for training Dora and accidentally triggering my worst symptoms in the process. I pretended to have an overloaded shutdown experience for the lead trainer a week ago, and I wasn’t able to focus my eyes on anything or walk with full balance for at least an hour afterwards, because I actually produced the shutdown state. Hopefully I’ll get better at only producing the physical symptoms in the future.