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.)
It seemed worthwhile to look at everything that’s happened since we got Dora a little over a month ago. It slips away too quickly otherwise.
- I have started talking to several new people routinely. Mostly about Dora, when I’m with Dora, but still- we recognize each other now. That’s pretty good for a hermit.
- I have started taking the car much more often. My husband and I share a car, and I feared becoming house-locked because without my own car I wouldn’t feel free to join things. It happened, but slowly. Now, I take the car at least 3 days a week- dropping off my husband and picking him up- mostly because of Dora.
- I’m using public spaces for my own purposes. It’s cold. Really cold with windchill, and I can’t walk my dog outside for long periods of time. But Dora needs exercise and leash training. So I go to the stores. Pet stores, home improvement stores, any place that allows leashed pets. I still feel a bit guilty about it, but I do it anyway.
- I talk to strangers as one off encounters too. Again, it’s usually about Dora and with her, but still, having a handful of positive conversations with dog lovers about how well behaved Dora is, how cute her ears are, how nice she looks, how old she is and so on, does brighten my day (which I could use).
- A friend of mine has been coming over to play video games and hang out for about an hour, three days a week. She works at a school nearby and has an awkward break between her morning duties and school starting. It’s been good to see another person routinely.
- I have asked people to accommodate me. If something is scheduled and I feel exhausted, then I contact them and ask to reschedule, or to change things somehow to allow me to complete it anyway. (As opposed to worrying about being a burden to the extent that I never allow anyone to be kind to me.)
- I talk, sing, and laugh more during the days (because I’m not alone). Having Dora around to interact with does help ease the social isolation. I know she’s not an eloquent conversationalist, but she’s a responsive listener. That’s something.
There are probably a few more changes, but I think my husband was right about the benefits of getting a dog quickly and then training it ourselves (via co-training). Dora has been good for me.
I think I need to watch The Runaway Bride again soon. Not for the romance or whatever. I hate that type of movie. It’s very boring for me.
No. I think I need to watch the story of a woman who changes herself for everyone around her, over and over. A woman who lets people order her food and choose what she wears. A woman who lives like a blank slate, washing her traits clean and becoming someone new again and again. Until the day she stops.
For me, that movie is about two scenes: the one in which someone can’t believe she doesn’t even know what type of eggs she likes; and the one in which she is surrounded by dozens of plates of eggs. Three scenes, if you count her running up to the other person, shouting out which type she likes most.
She is a chameleon woman, challenged to find her true colors and brace enough to do so. It doesn’t matter if someone wants her to eat, dress, talk, or act a certain way; she chooses to find and live as herself. That is what matters.
And that is what I need to do. Find myself. Be myself. Without playing up similarities or claiming ancient traits. No. I am me. This is what I want. This is what I do. This is what makes me laugh. This music makes me dance. These songs make me sing. This beauty makes me cry.
I had a breakdown yesterday. Just got overwhelmed by how many more tasks I needed to complete. By how much more of myself I needed to give away. By suddenly having this new being depending on me for everything- for food, for relieving herself, for exercise, for fun.
There was just so much of it, and no breaks from it, and so I just cried. And Dora came up close to me and tilted her head and licked my salty tears. And I petted her soft, smooth fur and breathed in that warm, familiar dog smell. And I calmed down a bit.
This isn’t going to be natural right away. Nor will it be easy. She isn’t trained for her role yet and I am only accustomed to owning outdoor dogs. We both have a great deal to learn.
I found an article about new mothers being overwhelmed by the arrival of their babies, the sudden appearance of new tasks, the loss of one’s job or friends or routine, the lack of sleep, and just… all of it. At once. Without breaks.
I think I understand now, better than I have before, a small part of what they go through. If any of my friends become new mothers, I want to try to do something for them: to (let’s see- what do I want?) … to give them a break from their tasks for a while or to do something that feels a bit like life before (like eating or talking about movies and life). I want to ease the burden by adding something to their life.
But back to reality: Dora is a really sweet, gentle, and calm dog. I think it’s going to go well overall. I just need to adapt to the new balance of life. I think she will respond well to training and could be taught to monitor my wellbeing if we want to go that route. At the very least, because she is a velcro dog, Dora won’t let me hide in the dark and cry alone. I might still do it on some days, but at least she will be sitting with me. That will probably be enough to keep the darkest thoughts at bay.
My husband and I talked about the options for treating my depression and social anxiety. Honestly, at this point, I’m so terrified of antidepressants after losing several years worth of memory that I’m… shall we say very unlikely to go back on them. In addition, because I’ve always had depression, it is hard for me to answer the “Is this dose working for you?” questions. The best I can manage is usually ‘Well, I want to die a bit less than normal, and I feel a bit more convinced that putting effort into a given task will produce results…’ so I say “Yes.” Of course, I may still feel like -horrible thoughts about myself that I will not retype because I don’t want to strengthen them any further-, but I’m still breathing, so of course I feel awful and am drowning in despair. That’s just what life is.
Right, so, moving on.
Counseling does and doesn’t help. Right now, I don’t believe that it will be helpful, because progress in nearly every area of my life consists of the following:
- Accept that this situation is terrifying, that it has gone badly in the past, and that these feelings do affect the way you approach the current situation.
- Choose to risk everything and believe that just once it is possible for things to go well (or at least better).
- Pay attention to how you feel while facing the situation and make adjustments as necessary.
- Sit still and process the outcome. If things went well, make a point to think through that and try to remember the situation.
- Repeat ad nauseum, until the stimulus is no longer threatening.
- Identify new fear-inducing stimulus and return to step one.
At this point, it’s just confidence and practice that I need. Courage to take the first step and willingness to struggle and fail as needed in order to improve.
So, why a dog? Well, there are some direct benefits to this treatment method:
- Daily exercise: Improves my health and fitness, added endorphins, exposure to sunlight.
- Daily low intensity socialization: Dog people are likely to talk to me about my dog while we walk. This is better than talking to only one person per day.
- Stress relief: She is calm, so I become calm. Also, I have continuity throughout my day, which takes the edge off of transitions and unexpected tasks (like incoming phone calls- which I currently don’t answer because they scare me).
- Laughter: Smiling and laughter both affect the brain a bit, and this should help to decrease the severity of my depressive responses. I hope.
- Companionship: I can’t really explain why sitting alone for long periods of time is bad for me, why I have been escaping reality into a world where I have friends, or why having a furry friend with me through the highs and lows could help me feel better. I think I have spent enough time in profound isolation that I’m still unable to feel any emotions regarding my loneliness. Except on rare days when I cry without warning. I probably feel it then, but I can’t be sure.
Dora has been sticking close to me since we brought her home, and I am terrified of her. Not rationally, of course- if I think about it, I receive feedback like this: “She is gentle. She listens well. She loves company. She is so laid back!” But on an emotional level, I’m afraid that she won’t be the right dog or that I will screw this up some how or that she will hate me or that the universe won’t let me have this good thing or that my life will somehow revert back to deep dark pain because I need to hurt all the time or I can’t be allowed to keep living. And I’m crying now. Emotionally numb, in this moment, like a lid on top of a boiling pot, bouncing a bit as the steam escapes but still containing the activity within.
One day, I want to feel things again. To have a stimulus occur and then to know that I am sad or happy or whatever. Not to experience the stimulus, and then stop and analyze the situation to determine what my emotional reaction is likely to be, and then to discover a day later that there was a feeling inside that feeling, and then to find another one, and another one. Like a matryoshka doll of pain, fear, and repressed memories.
I want to just see something beautiful and laugh and smile and feel a warm glow in my heart. I want to be hurt by someone and to know it then, right as their words or actions dissipate into the air. It’s hard to live in this disjointed way- only enjoying or mourning long after the event has passed.
Anyway, hopefully Dora will help me to go outside into public space more often, without feeling like an eyesore. Hopefully, we will meet many new people without me feeling like I’m wasting their time. Hopefully, I will find a way to connect to this world, instead of watching helplessly as it moves along without me.
I don’t know if you remember this, but I don’t like being outside where my neighbors can see me because I grew up without neighbors. Or at least, when we had neighbors, our yard was fenced in so there was still a fair amount of privacy. After we didn’t have neighbors any more, it was just squirrels, birds, chipmunks, and rabbits in my yard, so I could do whatever I wanted without any fear of looking weird.
I’ve been working on my tolerance of being visible by… spending time outside. Very creative, I know. I’ve actually made a fair amount of progress on this front since I last talked about it- largely because I took over most of the yard work when my husband developed a grass/mold/pollen allergy. (We aren’t sure what he’s reacting to, but the symptoms are pretty mild, so we’re just using over the counter meds and surgical masks to handle it so far.)
So, look! I raked leaves a while ago!
The rake actually broke while I was using it. 😑 A few days after this, I finished the job via the push lawnmower and its bag. This was several hours of being a part of people’s shared space, and no one appeared to be affected in the least. It is ok for me to be visible.
We also put in a small flower garden, because it will A) require us to be outside and B) be pleasant when it grows. So there’s a moderate amount of upkeep and repeated short periods outside in my future. It will be ok. Hopefully, I will continue desensitizing myself to this issue so that one day, it won’t be a fear. I want to be able to function fine indoors and outdoors.
The garden is made of phlox and… bearded tongue? I think. 🤔 There are also crocus bulbs and… man, I think it’s allium. I think. (See how prepared I was for this post?) Anyway, hopefully there will be flowers next spring. Maybe I will share those.