Self Care & Guilt

Right now, I just feel scared. Tense. Like someone is going to yell at me. I did so many things right today.

  1. I woke up on time to get my husband to work and keep the car.
  2. I got the car to the repair shop early and managed Dora in the crowded lobby.
  3. I went to the car rental place, answered the questions I could, completed the process, and brought the car home.
  4. I bought the yarn I’ve been meaning to get so that I can make a gift for a friend.
  5. I went to the post office at my husband’s request to pick up a package; it wasn’t there.
  6. I exercised for 40 minutes today, when I really haven’t put forth any effort since the winter started. (For me, <20 degrees Fahrenheit is too intense. I don’t have winter gear that’s actually good at preventing frostbite, and I have bad circulation all year round, so winters are tough enough without feeling my skin change texture after 5 minutes.)
  7. I went to the post office again, waited in line, showed them the tracking number, and asked them to check on it for me.  (They found it!)
  8. I picked up my husband on time and we made it home safely.

That was all good. All of it. Moreover, Dora was in public, on duty, five different times today. That’s five places where strangers can:

  • Talk to her instead of me while she’s supposed to be focusing
  • Try to pet her
  • Tell me that “it’s fine” when I ask them not to pet her
  • Look at me strangely when I body block them and move her behind me so they can’t pet her when they try again after I’ve already told them no
  • Ask me who I’m training her for
  • Ask me if I know when I have to give her to the disabled person
  • Ask me if she’s a therapy dog when her vest says “service dog” and we are in a place where therapy dogs don’t work (restaurants, repair shops, gas stations, banks, etc.)
  • Ask me what she’s trained to do (which is simultaneously asking me to explain my disability to them despite us never having met before)
  • Try to talk to me while I’m clearly talking to someone else, like the cashier or the government employee
  • Continue trying to talk to me after I ignore their first comment (because I’m just trying to move things along for me, the paid employee in front of me, and everyone in line behind me)
  • Tell me that I’m going to rip her throat open with her collar if I’m not careful (yeah, that was a fun day)
  • Ask me if she’s necessary for a medical purpose and then keep hounding me when I say “yes” because they totally think I’m lying
  • Make an offhanded remark about how ‘they should have put up a sign’ (which will presumably say “No service animals allowed here. Go ahead and sue us. We dare you.”)
  • Backtrack when they finally understand that she’s a service dog and that’s what I meant when I said that I need her for a medical reason

… I’m sure there’s more, but honestly, I’m tired of thinking up things that have happened to me in the last calendar year. For someone who already had social anxiety, believed she was a toxin that drained life from those around her, believed she was invisible, etc., it’s really been overwhelming.

So… what do I feel guilty about?

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Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

Staying home tonight, taking a bubble bath, and trying to relax. I chose to do that because I realized that I was staring blankly into space and once my eyes stop focusing, things only go downhill. Going out in public (again) may have pushed me into a meltdown. Better to take care of myself, right?

So why do I feel so guilty for NOT GOING? No one is blaming me! Why won’t my muscles release? Why can’t I breathe normally or just believe that I’m done for the day? I’m so tired. 

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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 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 47 With Dora

    I took her out for a walk to exercise and potty. It was fine, but I started thinking about my grandmother, whom I saw this weekend. I don’t like visiting her for a few reasons:

    1. She’s a hoarder, and she keeps buying me items that I often do not want and forcing me to take them. I have watched the living space in her house dwindle through my lifetime, and I really, really don’t want to live like that.
    2. Many of these items are 1950s housewife essentials, and I’m not a vintage fan nor a traditional gender roles supporter, so I don’t want them. (Last item is some weird oversized chalice type bowl for holding tiny fruits.)
    3. She keeps asking me questions like “Do I know my neighbors yet?” when most people around here are pretty private. There aren’t welcome wagons. We might wave (usually dog people who like Dora), but almost no one talks to each other. And I’m an introvert, so I prefer to have a few deep relationships instead of many shallow ones. And I have social anxiety flare ups. So no. Still not imposing on my neighbors.
    4. She showed up at my house uninvited in August to ‘see if she could find it,’ and then told me that ‘she would come back sometime and spend more time here.’ Meanwhile, I was frozen on my porch like a deer in the headlights, angry with myself for having chosen that specific moment to take the trash can to the curb.


    On the walk, Dora found an abandoned Air Kong toy, which she rescued. We finished our business at hand, I slipped down a wet hill and fell (which ending up being funny, rather than stressful or painful), and we headed home. As we approached the driveway, I saw it: a car slowly turning around in the cul de sac and heading our way.

    I panicked. Gave Dora the command to come inside. Climbed the porch stair. Fumbled with my key. *engine noises as it grows closer to my driveway*

    If it’s her, I won’t be able to pretend that I’m not here. She will know that I’m inside and that I’m not answering the door. Or my phone. Come oncomeon…

    Unlocked the door. Call Dora inside. She’s looking at the world or sniffing the air or talking to a unicorn for all I know. But she’s not listening. “Dora! Dora! Inside! Dora! Inside!”

    I pull. She comes. Inside. Take keys. Shut door. Deadbolt. Breathe.

    That car passed my house while I was outside fumbling around and trying to get Dora to come in. I knew it then, but it didn’t register.

    Now I’m inside and the door is locked, and that’s not my grandmother, but I still want to close all the blinds and curtains again, like I did back in August. (Every day for at least a week. Maybe two. I just didn’t feel safe here.)

    But we should eat soon, and I need to breathe. 
    I don’t like panic attacks.