A while back I mentioned on this blog that I might someday have the gumption to tell you why Brynn is my service dog. So, here it is. I have complex PSTD. Among other things I experience debilitating social anxiety and a wicked case of agoraphobia. Fear is my best friend & my cruel enemy. Many days go by that I am unable to leave the house.
Brynn in her vest at the Emergency Room
PTSD is is 'flight or fight' in overdrive. I feel like an unlatched storm door being slammed open and shut by the wind, over and over again. I feel like a fox that is being relentlessly hunted, always wondering when the hounds will get me. Sometimes it feels like an imaginary enemy is living my life and I am merely a spectator.
To give you an idea of what it is like..
Have you ever had someone sneak up behind you, or hide behind something then scare the living crap out of you? You are suddenly overwhelmed with fear - a momentary lapse of breath, every muscle in your body tightens, your heart skips a few beats, explosions of light behind your eyes, then your brain registers TERROR!
Maybe you scream, lash out, or run. After you realize you are not going to be hurt, the feeling subsides, you might giggle a bit....although the feeling usually lingers.
For me, I get that sensation hundreds of times a day. If I allow it to rule my life I would be in huddled mess in the closet. But I don't. I refuse to allow it to control me anymore.
I have been working through it with the help of an amazing therapist & a service dog. The dogs have been the biggest help for me, more than any medication or therapy to this date.
Brynn in her service vest in the ER watching my son get his nose set.
With my dogs I feel safe. I can relax. It is not a matter of feeling like the dog will protect me, because I will never put them in that position - instead they allow me to step outside of my anxiety.
"Dogs are very sensitive to escalations of mood. They can tell if a person's mood is starting to escalate to a panic attack," said Joan Esnayra, president and founder of the Psychiatric Service Dog Society.
"They can tell their handlers this well in advance, before the handler has lost their composure and lost their ability to think clearly."
Dogs also help people with mental illnesses devote attention to the needs of the dog instead of solely on themselves.
"Dogs give them an alternate focus," said Esnayra. "Going out of the house, for example, is for the dog. That displacement frees up the brain a little bit and reduces anxiety."
The process of training my dogs on sheep has been a very personal journey. I have learned a tremendous amount about myself and how I can begin to manage my anxiety and it provides me with an activity that gets me out of the house.
Along with the chronic anxiety comes a constant stream of self doubt and as you have read here, self deprecation.
It is time for me to reverse some of the negative thoughts I have going through my head on the trial field.
- I can do this
- I have a good grasp on this and know what I am doing (in most cases)
- We deserve to be on the trial field
- We have worked hard and are ready
- I love the sheep & the dogs
- I love the people I have met along the way
- I love working with my dog in a partnership
- I love to see how happy they are, a fulfillment of their purpose
Believe it or not, I do enjoy trialing. What frightens me is how I will handle my anxiety.
I know what is happening on the trial field with Brynn. Brynn is trained to respond my anxiety level. On the field, my anxiety threshold goes through the roof. She responds in the only way she knows how....I believe she takes charge and tries to get us off the field as fast as possible.
My challenge - separate emotion from the work. The biggest obstacle I face in training is : ME. My own feelings, anxiety, anger, irritation, desire to appease the ego, frustration are all that stand in the way of my goal. I diligently strive to identify why my anxiety is raising (perceived lack of control) and replace it with knowledge that I am in control.
It is, what it it. Nothing more, nothing less and let the rest of the shit go by the wayside
For everything else, there is ice cream....and my best friend Atavan.