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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Things are starting to go well. Yesterday, I was able to run two errands without The Flutenist along, for the first time in years. I had Dora with me and she filled the confidence boosting role. Now, keep in mind that these are things I am physically able to do, have done by myself before, and completely understand. I was just scared. Scared of going alone, of being outside, of being visible to others, of doing something stupid, etc. What did we do?
We took recycling to the collection dumpsters and ill-fitting clothes to a thrift store. That’s it.
I can’t really tell you why having her with me made it better/possible, but I cried yesterday because it was so sad that I hadn’t been able to do these things alone for such a long time. Often, when I make breakthroughs, the revelation of a new and healthier path is followed by me grieving over all the years I spent on my old, self-harming one. 😔
I also suggested a course of action AND took action on it within the same day.
And I made a phone call without needing 15-45 minutes to psych myself up for it this morning.
It’s… it’s really good. I’m actually starting to hope for things to be better.I haven’t had hope in along time. 😏 I don’t think there’s an emoji for sad smiles… one that means “Yes I know how bad that sounded and it really is that bad but all I can do is smile about how bad my life is because if I don’t I will break and I need to keep going.”
Maybe one day.
(Note: Dora is still in training, but in my state, she is allowed to wear a vest and start practicing with public access at this time. The law is written this way so that dogs can be socialized to new experiences, people, environments, sights, smells, sounds, etc. before their handler takes custody of them. This allows trainers to work through any fear, disruptiveness, or other issues with a service dog trainee and for disabled people to receive dogs that are used to behaving well in restaurants, concerts, stores, parks, gas stations, public events, etc.)
I also mowed the yard today. And walked Dora out to a driveway where construction workers are prepping it for fresh cement. And talked to my next door neighbor- met her new dog, told her that I have a psychiatric disability and that Dora is in training to be my service dog.
Look at me go! It’s amazing what I can handle when I don’t need to face it alone.
I still have meltdowns semi-regularly, maybe once a week I think “I don’t know what I’m doing I can’t do this I’m ruining my dog why do I have to do all the training someone help me please,” but honestly, that pretty much only happens when I’m not doing well anyway. (Hungry, tired, cold, stressed, sad, lonely, etc.)
It makes the pressure burst, and since the last straw was dog training, I initially process all the stress as coming from dog training. 😑 We’ll get there. Eventually.
The flowers I planted in the fall are coming up. That’s nice. Only the crocuses are blooming at this point; the other bulbs we planted are only making thin stalks right now, so they’re not ready for pictures. While we’re sort of talking about my social anxiety, I will say that Dora has been amazing for me. I go outside every single day (several times); we talk to people in our training classes and when we’re on outings; and I’m getting much more comfortable using public spaces. It’s good.
*sigh* I wanted to tell you guys about how public access socialization has been going, but Dora really, really wants to go outside, and we still have training homework for this week. Well, TLDR: it’s been bumpy but mostly good. Dora did better in the grocery store than at the concert. She’s good.
I have to go. Hang in there.
This is going to be short. I’m sorry. It just feels like an important moment to capture.
We’re taking Dora out today as a service dog for the first time. She’s still in training, but she got the go ahead from our service dog trainers to start broader socialization. (Broader than the dog-friendly circle she’s been in so far.) We’re going to a jazz concert at a small local venue and I am terrified.
What if someone gives me trouble about her? I’m already scared to try new things and go out without anyone asking me why I have a service dog or swearing at me. (Peers at the training meeting this week were sharing stories of people shouting at them and swearing at them, and I… I am not looking forward to it happening to me.)
I just want to be able to experience the world without panic attacks, lethargy, terror, and despair. That’s all. 😔