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.
    Advertisements

    Unlearning the Fixed Mindset

    Disclaimer: I’m assuming you have watched the video in my last post. If you haven’t, this post may be a bit confusing.

    So, after I watched that video the first time, I cried. I cried because it all made sense. That’s me. That is why I feel so weak and stupid and pathetic. Performance praise.

    I recognized so deeply that as a child I was trained to see my actions as more important than myself and my results as equivalent to my ability. I am what I do, and if I do nothing, I am nothing. 

    So, you see, I need to achieve in order to justify my existence. If I cannot succeed, I am worthless.

    It seems innocuous to tell children that they are getting A’s because they are smart, but I know so many people who cried at their first A- (and B, and C, and D, and F). We saw our struggles as our limits and we fell into failure spirals as we tried to push past them.

    So, I’m sitting there, holding my phone, calling out, “Now what? I need more!” This woman has taught me how to keep kids from following me to where I am, but is that it? Do I just write off the rest of your own life because I can’t prevent the adults around me from making me into a paralyzed adult?

    And I stare at the screen. And it goes black to save power. And I cry.

    Some time later, it occurs to me that the only thing I can do- the only path I can see- is to remake my childhood. To willfully enter that environment again. To find something in which I have no training or skill, something in which I am a novice, as I once was with the alphabet or long division, and start again.

    I need to set myself up for failure and struggle, frustration and despair, but respond differently this time.

    I must be both the child who needs to be told how to interpret her performance and the adult who comforts and emphasizes future potential and the long, winding road to come.

    It was terrifying (is still intimidating), but that is why I am learning pottery now. That is why I go back every Friday and try again, and fail, and watch others fail, and succeed, and watch others succeed, and struggle, and fight, and endure.

    Because I haven’t given up on myself. Because I am going to learn to value the process. Because I am going to learn to value myself.

    Performance vs. Process

    Well, this is what I was trying to avoid- dead air. Sorry, everyone.

    I think that it would be worthwhile to post a video that covers the performance/process dichotomy that I’m wrestling with in pottery class. It is about schools and childhood, which makes sense because they make up the bulk of formative experiences for many people. We learn who we are, how we fit in, and how to interact with others through our time in school.

    It’s called “RSA ANIMATE: How To Help Every Child Fulfil Their Potential” and RSA posted it. (Sorry that I can’t embed a player from my phone.)

    http://youtu.be/Yl9TVbAal5s

    Many Points of View

    On a lark, I borrowed a book called Book of Superstitious Stuff: Weird Happenings, Wacky Rites, Frightening Fears, Mysterious Myths, & Other Bizarre Beliefs by Joanne O’Sullivan. As may be inferred, the author does not take any of the contents terribly seriously, although at the very least, her blanket dismissal appears to apply equally to all culture’s beliefs. Consistency may be a minor virtue, but it is still a virtue.

    (This is to say that my point of view includes some gray zones, where I don’t actually have a position on the validity of a particular phenomenon, because I lack the experience and information necessary for renderring judgment.)

    That wasn’t exactly what I wanted to talk about today, however. I’ll pick a random topic from the book: colors. The symbolism and power ascribed to a specific color varies greatly from group to group. A color may symbolize sexual purity for one culture and death for another. Another color can mean prosperity and celebration for one people group and passion for another. Wealth, luck, life, death, faithfulness, lust, hope , friendship, religious devotion, and much more- we see what we are raised to see, and often, we may think that these associations are more universal than they truly are.

    At the very least, purusing the contents of this book has reinforced for me that there are many points of view available. Why does that matter? It’s pretty simple. 

    For the bulk of my life, I have seen only one point of view for most issues revolving around myself. I failed one course, so I am a failure. I did not get to spend this day with friends, so I don’t have any friends who care about me. My effort did not yield the desired results, so I don’t have what it takes. And so on.

    A very large part of my growth process has been freeing myself from the trap of a single perspective. To that end, I read things, I talk to people that I respect, and I stretch my horizons, checking to see what actually is possible for me, and what is impossible. It has been very good for me overall. So why did I bring up the superstitions book? Isn’t this a very different topic? Well, yes it is.

    For myself, I believe that the practices and beliefs in the book are either ture or false- either fairies really exist and we should take them seriously, or they don’t and we shouldn’t (and so on for every topic in the book.) But even so, someone out there will find something that predicts bad luck and grow wary and someone else will look at that same thing and grow excited about their imminent good luck. 

    Perception affects action, and that holds true for a great many things.

    Facing Her Fears

    This is another entry about Kuno, my cat, whom I wrote about a few days ago. I thought that it might be good to talk a bit about how we worked through her fear of people. I suppose that I should mention that I am not a cat behaviorist, so this does not constitute professional advice, although it lines up with the research that I have done on the topic.

    Anyway, Kuno was terrified of us when we brought her home. At least, it was pretty intense after she got back from the vet and her respiratory infection and ear mites cleared up. (She had a rough kittenhood.) So, at that point, Kuno pretty much only came around when we fed her, but even then, she came after we left the area around her dish. She was scared, and I knew that she didn’t trust us.

    I was going through a dark season myself, and I also had trust issues, so I understood that results wouldn’t be fast. On the first day, I picked her up and held her to my chest, supporting her weight and scratching her ears while she hissed in my ear. I only kept her there for a few seconds- maybe 20 or 30- before releasing her and giving her treats as a reward. The next day, I did it again for a few more seconds and with more treats. I increased like this, bit by bit, for maybe two more days, and then I held her for a solid minute. I knew that I was asking her for a lot, so I gave her a full can of tuna after I let her go, and she got the next day or two off.

    We started again the next week and just kind of worked our way up to 3 minutes or so, but by then, Kuno wasn’t running away any more. She wasn’t coming to us for attention, but she wasn’t hiding either, so I stopped. She had been learning from her experiences, starting to trust humans a little more each time that we approached her with affection. She knew that she was safe with us, and that was enough for me.

    Over the years, she has become more social, and now, she will climb on laps to be petted for whatever duration of time she pleases (but not a second more). It’s really good progress, and I am proud of her for making it.

    But the best part of these therapeutic sessions with my cat isn’t really her growth; it’s mine. As I reach out to her and meet her where she is, without expecting more than she can give, I learn to treat myself with the same gentle patience. And that- that is worth the cat scratches and the pain.

    Note: The pictured cat isn’t Kuno, because she isn’t really cooperating with me.

    Baggage

    I’m unpacking the relics of my life- those objects one compiles over a lifetime. It’s rather unpleasant to be buried under all of the physical and emotional baggage. As an example- see the featured image of a memory match game.

    It is missing 18 pieces- only 14 pairs exist. I don’t want to keep it- I’m not going to play with it. I don’t want to get rid of it- I liked the game. Both choices are bad, but I don’t want to be a hoarder some day, so I need to do something.

    If I’m honest, the only reason I still have this set is because I’ve avoided making a choice for years. There are just boxes and boxes of this stuff.

    I guess that’s just how it is sometimes- we can only run from our pasts for so long before they catch us. No choice can be postponed forever, and no secret truly forgotten. I may as well accept it.