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.

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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.

    Days 110 & 111 With Dora 

    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.)

    Day 103 With Dora 


    We’re outside. Relaxing. Dora has a chance to learn about the neighborhood where she lives, and I’m just enjoying the weather. 

    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.

    Day 97 With Dora 


    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.

    Day 93 With Dora 

    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. 😔

    Day 88 With Dora 


    Wow! Training your own service dog is overwhelming! I thought it would be, but the scope of it is… it’s hard to put into words. Here’s a few of the pieces:

    • Public access manners- If you’ve ever seen a service dog, you probably have some idea of how they behave. Quiet, controlled, polite, focused on their handler, etc. All of this is taught, unless one or two of those traits were in your dog’s personality.
    • Canine Good Citizen manners- The American Kennel Club has two behavior standards your dog can test for and attain: STAR Puppy and Canine Good Citizen. There’s some overlap between the two sets, but also some real differences, because CGC dogs fill a wider array of roles. (Awesome pet, therapy dog, service dog, mascot, whatever.) It’s just a core behavior set that tests how your dog handles real world situations.
    • Service dog tasks- Oy. I’m lucky that Dora is emotionally sensitive to begin with, or this would be difficult. We’re starting with defusing-type tasks; that is to say, Dora observes a symptom that precedes a panic attack or suicidal spell and interacts with me to decrease the intensity before I meltdown. I’m also trying to prep her for tasks needed during panic attacks, but one of them requires several parts (get command, go to place, retrieve item, bring item to me, release item). It will take a while.
    • Socialization issues- Did you know Dora is scared of semi trucks? I didn’t until we had to walk past one this week. We were out for exercise and more experience with this stimuli set (strangers, cars, automatic doors, strange noises, whatever shows up), so we had to stop. And stand there. For five minutes while she hid behind me. Because I need my dog to know that it’s ok. Semis stay in the street. It’s ok.
    • Interacting with strangers- Dora needs to sit before and during petting. I am bad (really bad) at asking strangers to stop approaching my dog and wait until she sits and stays sitting before they pet her. Or telling people who scare her that they scare her. Or telling people who try to interact with her while I’m in a training class that I’m in a training class right now go away please.
    • Balancing two trainers (and two training methods)- Oh man. For someone with social anxiety, this is horrible. I don’t think I need to explain the issues here.
    • Evaluating a training method that reminds me of abuse that I suffered- Basically, I have been crushed under someone’s will and broken until I was unable to act in a way that displeased them. I find it hard to make choices or take action, even as an adult, because I was broken as a child. Now, I’m supposed to do that to Dora. But I can’t. Because it’s abuse. *sigh* Trauma is wonderful, isn’t it?
    • Making time for self care- 90% of my energy goes to Dora… and to my survival tasks. I have 10% left for leisure activities (during the day), relaxation (with the dog because I don’t get down time), thinking about life, interacting with people, exercising, and evaluating whether or not I can handle doing one more thing right now if I just buckle down and push a bit harder or if I need to just stop now because I’ve done enough and I can do that tomorrow.
    • Every night, I dream of Dora- Usually, it’s some combination of an app or game I used yesterday… and dog training. One day, I played a lot of Fire Emblem Heroes and that night, Dora and like 5 other dogs were having some sort of turn-based meet and greet interaction. I had to choose her moves and monitor the other dogs’ behaviors. The worst part is that no matter how many times I wake up during the night, the dream will just carry on when I finally fall asleep again.

    I know I’m forgetting something, but I’ve already used about all of the energy I can spare for this, so that’s all. I’ll try to write about meaningful updates when they happen. I do want to share this experience with anyone who might need to walk a similar path in the future.