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?!

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 26 With Dora

I guess that today, there are two things on my mind: calluses and chores. 😏 It is what it is.

I have thick, painful calluses on the middle and ring fingers of my hands. From walking Dora. Who pulls like a train. An adorable 50 pound train. 


Everyone is like “That’s what pit bulls do!” and I’m like “Her profile said she was a lab mix!” 😆 Oh well. In any case, we are working on walking- for her health (and mine) and for obedience class.  Two handed grip: one hand above her on the leash, other hand by my opposite hip. So basically, Dora stands besides my right foot, the leash comes up from her harness to my right hand, then it crosses in front of my body to my left hand, and the loop is usually around my left wrist. I try to keep her there.

But she pulls. And the leash cuts into my fingers. And I pull back.

This week, we’re supposed to work on a new technique: stopping and sitting every time she pulls until she eventually chooses to walk nicely so we can walk further. It’s… slow at this point, but Dora is smart. It will come together eventually.

The other thing was chores. I’m on my 3rd load of laundry today. This hasn’t happened since before we got her. I’m pleased to announce that we are FINALLY getting her bathroom schedule in hand. I now have 2-3 hours between trips instead of ~40 minutes (because it takes so long to get bundled up for the cold and unbundled for the house). It’s…. it’s nice, but that’s not all of it. It’s like…

You’re outside I’m a park or something and the clouds break. Rain- hard, fast, and cold- pours over your shoulders. You’re soaked and 30 minutes from your car. You walk, because the path is covered in mud and loose rocks, and it’s not worth slipping and cracking your skull over this. Part way back, the rain slows and the clouds part, and the sun- the sun pours through this little hole in the storm, spilling out onto the trees and the mud. At that moment, you can tell that the worst has passed. It isn’t over; the rain is still falling, the breeze still pierces your sopping clothes, and you didn’t bring a spare outfit in the car; but somehow it all feels like it will work out.

That’s how today feels.

Unexpected Call Back

Yesterday, I heard from one of my friends from high school. And she didn’t hate me. I’m not sure what to do now.

Maybe I should back up. 

I haven’t talked to any of my high school friends in over a decade. During school, I pretended to be someone else. I was even more socially awkward and going through a gangly limbs phase and deep in depression without knowing it yet. Then I hit college and things started to fall apart. I started failing classes. I got my diagnosis. I became suicidal again.

I came home. Slept as much as I could, to avoid being awake (and in pain). Cried. Alternated between anger and sadness (and forced numbness) over the 300+ people (yes- I counted them once) who stopped talking to me once they found out I was suicidal.

Because abandoning someone who thinks that killing herself is the only way to stop her constant agony… Abandoning her is a very helpful thing to do.

Now, I get it. People in the state I was in are not easy to be around. They radiate pain and anger. They are actually incapable of thinking of anyone else because the pain they’re in is so severe that it blocks out everything else. I know why people abandon us.

All that I’m saying is that it made suicide look like the right option, because 300+ people already believed their lives would be better without me in it.

So, to hear from someone who predates this period (but was also directly burned by it) is… Terrifying, I guess. Part of me wants to reach out. Part of me wants to scream, “What do you want?! Leave me alone!” But, despite it all, I am committed to growing as a person, so I need to see her, just to know for certain what it would be like.

Game Therapy: Dragon Age II, Part 2

In “Game Therapy” posts, I’m going to unpack some of my thoughts and interactions with the games. Despite the fact that some games I discuss have been out for a while already, I will include spoiler warnings for those who need them.

This entry contains spoilers for Dragon Age II, regarding the prologue, act 1, Hawke’s family, the Legacy DLC, and some party banter with Fenris and Anders from throughout the game.

Terms in italics are defined and described in a separate post, just in case any of my readers are unfamiliar with this franchise.

I started this series a little while ago, and I guess I’m ready to continue. I guess. Nothing else has come up regarding the insights from part 1, so I think I’m probably ready to continue on through Abigail Hawke’s story to her father’s death. It’s still her backstory, oddly enough; the game content hasn’t even started yet. Oh well.

At the beginning of Dragon Age 2, we know two things about Hawke’s father: he was a mage/an apostate and he’s dead. A bit later on, some party members comment on your skills (if you are a mage) or on your sister Bethany’s skills (if you aren’t).

Fenris comments that you/Bethany are capable of resisting temptation and worthy of respect, although he still dislikes both Anders and Merrill.

Anders comments that you/Bethany are very well trained, especially for someone who has been an apostate for their entire life. He compares the training Hawke’s father provided to his mage child(ren) with that provided by the Circle.

In order for children who have grown up outside of Chantry control to possess a strong aversion to dealing with demons (and gaining blood magic), it is very likely that they were taught this by their father. In the Legacy DLC, Hawke and/or their surviving sibling express disbelief regarding their father’s use of blood magic and his stance against it. So I believe that Hawke’s father would not want to live as a blood mage.

Meanwhile, many mages throughout the game series express the belief that “death is better than tranquility.” It’s a pretty common viewpoint, and it carries through all three of the games thus far. The basic argument is that having your emotions, personality, dreams, hopes, relationships, personality, etc. torn from your body and living as an empty (but efficient and safe) husk isn’t really living. So I don’t think that Hawke’s father would want to be tranquil either.

Which leads me to the backstory issue: fulfilling the promise to watch over him and Bethany.

No matter which class my Hawke is, she always has this burden on her shoulders; to kill members of her family if they start making deals with demons, become possessed, or are made tranquil. Even the mages swear to do this. It’s just how I feel that responsible magic use should be governed. As I mentioned above, Hawke’s father died before the game began, and Hawke was surprised by evidence of his blood magic during Legacy, so I know that she didn’t know he had already broken the rules. Instead, we have this:

It’s always a story that I tell to a party member. Who it is depends on several things (which side I’m taking in the mage/templar war, who I’m romancing, etc.), but it’s always one of the charged characters- someone who really, really cares what Hawke does in this war. So, usually Fenris or Anders, I guess. Honestly, it’s usually Fenris regardless of romance status, because I just feel like he needs to know where I stand on controlling magic.

So, outside of gameplay, but at some point during the 10 year time span of Dragon Age 2, my Hawke finds a time to talk to this person. Somewhere private, like their house or mine, or maybe outside the city somewhere. And we talk. About my family members who are still alive, and about those who haven’t made it this far.

Sometimes, I lead with Bethany/Carver’s sacrifice- talk about how they threw themselves at an ogre so that we could escape, but got killed in the fight. How we had to fight the beast anyway, and how by the time the battle had ended, it was too late. About how mother blamed me (Hawke) for their death like I had just pushed them onto train tracks or something, and how I had to just silently take that blame and anger because she’s my mother and I’m not allowed to hate her. And how she still blames me. STILL! And how I want to have my own turn to mourn the death of my sibling, but just feel like I can’t as long as she’s going to keep lashing out at me, because I always need to keep my guard up.

And how she blames me for whatever happens to the other sibling four years after we arrived in the city. (They either: die from a plague, join an elusive order and are pretty much never seen again, or are integrated into either the Circle or the templars.) If they died or joined the hidden order, it’s because I respected their wishes for their life. If they left home and got caught up in the mage/templar war, it’s because I respected mother’s wishes for their life.

I often start with these parts because in some ways, it’s a part of my story that my friend already knows. It’s a bit safer to discuss… it lets me test the waters. If all goes well, then I take a deep breath and move on.

I tell them about my father: how he lived, what he stood for, and the promise I made to him. I talk a bit about running from village to village, losing everything to keep our mages free. About leaving friends, homes, possessions, then about not making friends at all because I knew I’d be leaving or about wishing I was free to fall in love, but knowing that I could never ask someone to join our crazy lifestyle. About how I’ve never lived anywhere for more than 3 years until we came to this city, to Kirkwall. About always being chased by the templars for the crime of wanting to live as a family.

I tell them how one time, we stayed in a village for too long and the mage hunters caught us. How my father told me to take the family and run, how we locked eyes, and how I knew that he might not be coming back. How I forced my siblings and my mother to run, how we found a safe place to hide, I put Carver on guard duty, and returned for father alone.

How I tracked his pursuers from our trashed home and eventually found their camp. How I saw my father sitting among them, unbound and at peace, which he never would have done. How my heart sank as I realized that he had been made tranquil, that my father’s spirit had been killed while his body lived on.

How I took a deep breath, steeled myself, tightened my stomach, and struck him down swiftly (with poison or a very focused spell) so that he die before he could tell the templars about the rest of us. Maybe he already had. I couldn’t know. But he would have, because he had no emotional ties to us any longer, and the logical course of action would be to assist the templars in catching the rest of us.

My shoulders usually shake a bit as I tell this part- muscles tight, body poised to run, physically remembering my desperate sprint away from their camp. The third one that day- first from our home, then back to town, then out into the wilderness again in a long winding path that would keep them from being on our heels for our whole journey too a new home.

As they listen in stunned silence, I finish up with how I was exhausted and emotionally devastated by what I had done as I rejoined my family. I describe the pain in their eyes when they see that I’m alone and how steady my voice was when I told them that the templars killed father. (And it’s true, of course, because they destroyed the man that he was, but it’s also a lie, because I stole father’s final breath.)

And then, it fades into pain and silence. Maybe mother blamed me for father’s death, and maybe she didn’t. Maybe Bethany cried. Sometimes, Carver understood. Usually though, I’m just… alone. Liar. Murderer. Breaking my family into pieces through ultimate betrayal.

I run out of words. I stare at the floor. at my hands. I remember that I’m sitting in a room, that I’ve been speaking to someone else. And he says something, but I don’t hear the words. There aren’t words big enough to contain “I’m so sorry that you had to kill your father with your own hands because he made you swear to do so as a teenager and failure to do so would have broken your vow to him and endangered your family and I can’t believe that you’re still going on after all of this and that you manage to smile sometimes or joke about anything at all.”

It’s too big for words.

But I hear the sentiment. The “it’s ok” and “I know your secret crime and I still care about you” feelings. So I rest in that acceptance, and I let the world drift away.

I’ll start again tomorrow.

 

Packing My Past

For the first time in a few months, I felt like unpacking a few more boxes and reclaiming the clutter room for our use. One of my boxes was pretty much stuffed with old papers- pay stubs, birthday cards, college homework. A lot of it is in the recycling now, which is good. But some of it…

Seeing a few of the items set off strong responses. Not panic attacks per se, but something close: rushing heartbeat, wide eyes, shallow breaths, a wave of emotion. It was hard to handle it, to keep my cool and finish my day, but I did. The papers are sorted, all of the scraps are off the floor, and it’s pretty much handled. Two of the hardest items came from college, but from different years. 

The first was a note from my “little” in sorority, who got assigned to me right before my health issues forced me out of school and I was at the brink of suicide. I can’t remember if I was already in medication fog at that point or not, but I may well have been starting into it; I think I was diagnosed a year or so before that point- maybe? Either way, it was a dark time for me, and I never connected to that young woman. I don’t know her name; I barely know her face (she was blonde); and she never got what she wanted from our group. It’s too bad, but I can’t apologize. I have no idea where she is now. Hopefully she handled it alright.

The second item was a collection of stories written for one of my senior classes. They all have cricisms written in unfamiliar handwriting and I just remember how the classes were run badly. The author never got to speak at all, even if the classmates or professor had questions or were confused. We had to listen silently while people tore us apart or completely missed the point of a story or made off topic comments. 

One of the stories I found… I wanted to write about a kid and his dog, so I wrote these short little questionnaires for 4th graders, and had a teacher I know ask her students to complete them. Just simple questions about dreams, hobbies, and things they would do if they wouldn’t get caught. Their answers were adorable, and I marinated myself in them: carrying them with me for days, reading them over and over, following the memory trails they triggered. It was wonderful.

I wrote my story based on their input, and on one of my breaks, I drove back home to read the first chapter to them. They enjoyed it, they said it sounded like a kid, and they all wanted me to finish it. It was great. I researched, wrote, and won over my target demographic. I loved it.

But the 22 year olds and the 50-something professor? They did not like it; did not believe it; did not care for any part of it. So I sat there in silence, listening to these really, really old people trying to convince me that they knew my target audience better than that audience knew themselves. It was horrid, you know. I remembered how excited the kids had been to be asked for help by an adult, and to see that adult use their help to make something. It just seemed wrong to have something so beautiful torn apart for something as meaningless as a grade.

I threw those stories in the recycling bin. As soon as I saw the comments, I remembered the pain. I can’t keep them. I can’t.

I never finished his story, either. After it was attacked in class, I didn’t have the heart for it any more.so in the end, I let them down too, because I never finished the project they had contributed to, even though I told them I wanted to. I can’t apologize to them either.