Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Walking Past Dragons

At 4 this morning, which is not a time I typically associate with morning, but more with middle-of-the-night, my dog Ash decided he needed to go outside. He communicates this to me by standing by my side of the bed and making a very slight whimpering noise, the kind of noise no one else can hear, particularly my charming husband, who keeps sleeping. But I, I always hear the whimpering of the Ash. I opened one eye and looked at him, which wasn’t easy in the dark, since he’s black and the room was, at 4 am, black, but I could make out two intent eyes looking at me and waiting for a response.

He only does this when he really needs to go out. He’s not a difficult dog otherwise, normally sleeping all night through like a rock, or a log, or some other inanimate object used to express the idea.

“All right, I’m coming,” I said, and I climbed out of the security of my comfortable bed and the two of us stumbled downstairs, me stumbling more than he, and I let him out into the backyard.

I don’t know what he does out there at 4 am, though I can guess, but the truth is, I don’t really care, as long as he’s quiet about it.

He came back to the door, I let him in, and we stumbled back up the stairs. I headed straight for bed, and had just gotten myself all comfy when Ash was there again, at the side of the bed, with a whimper, and I said, “Now what?”

He whimpered again. This isn’t rocket science, figuring out what a whimpering dog is saying. The only other thing it could be was the dragon in the bathroom.

The dragon in the bathroom is a perennial issue with Ash the Wonder Dog. During the daytime we refer to her as Honey, the Chow Golden Retriever who is also Ash’s best buddy, the older dog he doesn’t hesitate to jump on when he wants to play. But during the night, when she’s sleeping, or anytime she’s between him and something he wants, whether it’s water or a ball or me, she’s an immovable scary object.

“Okay, I’m coming,” I told him, and I climbed out of my, yes, comfortable bed and we walked into the bathroom so I could escort him past the sleeping dragon. Honey, the dragon, didn’t move. Now that she’s half deaf she doesn’t hear us approaching, which means I must be extra careful not to startle her. She doesn’t like being startled. Would you?

But we walked past her carefully, and she stirred enough to almost lift her head, but that was all. It’s not as if she cares if Ash wanders by and has some water. She’s pretty okay with him doing what he wants to do, but he still thinks that she really CARES and would object, even though she has never once attacked him for walking by her. Not once! Occasionally, just because she can, she’ll give out a tiny little growl, as if she would do more if she really cared, if she weren’t so darn lazy, and so he believes his concern is justified.

I do that with my own dragons. They don’t care if I walk by them to get to where I’m going, but I keep thinking they’re going to reach out and snap my head off, or cut me down to size (whatever that means) or somehow make me sorry I ever bothered. They’re not even fearsome dragons! But still, I let them control me.

After Ash drinks his fill I escort him back past the dragon, who has gone back to sleep, or at least seems to be unconcerned with the people and dogs traipsing past her.

I get back in my comfortable bed, and so does Ash, who decides to sleep on the extra pillow I keep above my head for him. He falls right to sleep while I ponder dragons, and how they mostly don’t care what we do. Yet we, or me in particular, for I don’t know your dragons, look at them as if they’re large immovable annoying objects, sent to bedevil me and stop my progress, here to stop me from doing whatever it is I want to do. All I really need to do is walk past the damn things and get on with it.

Ash needs an escort to get past his dragon. And I have escorts to get past mine. There are people who help me with my dragons, who guide me past them in ways I couldn’t imagine. Sometimes I’ll walk right past a dragon all on my own, because I’m learning that it’s possible and that my head won’t explode if I do.

I do try to avoid heads exploding at all times. It’s messy and irritates bystanders.

We all have dragons, though they often turn out to be no more than elderly furry half-deaf dogs who don’t care that we go tromping past them in the dark of night. Or something similar. We can get past them with the help of our friends, and we can get past them all on our own. We don’t need to slay the dragon, unless it’s breathing fire and ready to eat us, we can just walk past them on our way to somewhere else.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Looking at Mental Illness from THEIR POV

Just read another story from someone with a loved one with mental illness, and again I hear the same story: His illness is no excuse to act the way he does, nor to treat people badly.

Of course it isn’t. But I always wonder, did anyone take the time to ask HIM about his point of view?

Too often I see the mentally ill told to straighten up, do what society expects, stop acting all crazy, and could you please, while you’re at it, be nice? These are all reasonable requests, as long as we refrain from defining “acting all crazy,” since it can cover a wide variety of things, some of which even the sanest of us participate in.

Buying bottled water, for example. It’s crazy, when you think about it, and when you know that tap water can be better for you, and cost a lot less, but we do it anyway. At least some of us.

I’ve come to the realization that I’m one of the sanest people you’ll ever meet. However, that doesn’t mean that when I’m talking to someone who’s mentally ill I’ll proclaim my superior sanity and tell them to just act like me. Instead, I’ll ask them what they think. I’ll want them to tell me about their delusions, though I won’t call them delusions, and I’ll want to know how they see things.

With my ex-Stew-who-was-mentally-ill (for those of you who haven’t followed the story and haven’t read the book yet), I talked to him. I didn’t just tell him what was going on in the real world, but I asked him about what was going on in his world. I treated his views, as irrational as they seemed to me, as if they were real. Because you know what? To him, that was reality. Telling him to join me in my reality didn’t mean anything to him because he couldn’t see it.

I don’t mean buy into their world. You can’t follow them down that path, at least not far. It doesn’t help them, and it doesn’t help you understand them. And sometimes no matter how much you ask, it won’t make sense to you. It can’t, anymore than what you see can make sense to them. But that’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is that you are relating to them on a level that’s equal. By asking about their world, you let them know you care what goes on in it.

I’ve met people who don’t want to know what’s going on in someone else’s world. “It’s not real, they just need to snap out of it.” Always helpful advice, the just-snap-out-of-it. It’s like telling someone with a broken leg to just walk on the damn thing and they’ll be fine in no time.

But often it matters to them. It matters that someone cares enough to ask. With Stew, we could have these sorts of dialogues, so he could tell me what was going on and I would take it seriously, but I could also remind him that, “You remember, don’t you, that we talked about how only you can see this, and no one else?” And he could remember, usually (not always, I’m not a miracle worker) that his world view was not necessarily the world view I had, or anyone else had. It was distinctly his, but he was welcome to talk about all he wanted, because if you can’t talk about your crazy world with anyone, you’re going to hold onto it even tighter so you don’t lose it.

Even if it’s a sad dark world, it’s still the only world you have, and why give that up? How can you when you can’t see anything else?

Maybe, just maybe, if you take them seriously, instead of insisting they conform to a standard they don’t understand, they might take you seriously. They might come to understand that you’re not the enemy, at least not all the time. Sometimes you’ll still be the enemy, but perhaps just by listening you can become safe, someone they don’t have to fear is going to tell them, yet again, that they’re crazy and could they just listen to reason?

And maybe not. Maybe it’s all for nothing. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to disengage. Sometimes, though, if you try, you can find that disengaging isn’t necessary after all. I tried with Stew. I tried with everything I had, and I was rewarded with his lasting friendship and his support, which are no small things. I was also rewarded with being able to talk him off the ledge when he was on it, which happened more than I would have thought possible. He listened to me even when the voices in his head were telling him not to, because he knew I was listening to him, and not just talking at him. I knew his fears, and I knew his hopes, and I knew, usually, how best to reach him.

Not always. But enough.

Sometimes enough is the best we can do.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Honey Has Been Healed!

Last night we attended a church revival down by the railroad tracks. Crowds of people were clamoring to see the prophet, as were we. I have a fondness for prophets. It was a noisy crowd, but Honey was unfazed, since she couldn't hear them anyway. She did appear to be considering the possibility of biting those closest to us, but whatever. We sat through two sermons, one by a 10 year old child preacher who admonished us to tithe freely in order to secure our eternal salvation, three intermissions so we could buy hot dogs and popcorn, and two interludes of a 12 year old soprano singing first Amazing Grace and then The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The first was okay, the second was wretched.

At last the prophet himself appeared, and said, "I am here to heal the sick, comfort the sick at heart, and collect your money!" This was all in a loud booming voice, except by the end the crowd was screaming hysterically to be saved and most of them may have missed the money part. We had to wait our turn of course. This healing thing is apparently a sort of individual process. If the prophet is as powerful as he would like us to believe, couldn't he just wave his fairy wand over the crowd and say, "There, all done." But no, we were given a number, for which we paid a donation, and made to stand in line behind the makeshift stage.

The first healing was a 42 year old accountant who was complaining of bunions. "You are healed!" the prophet said, and smacked him in the head, causing said accountant to fall backward, where he then hit his head and was knocked unconscious. Guys in black t-shirts rushed on stage and carted him off, and then the next, a clown who was sad. And by clown, I mean a clown, in full clown regalia, with a sad drawn on face and the barest hint of rum on his person. "You are healed!" said the prophet, knocking the clown to the ground, and the clown's sad drawn on face didn't change at all, but I'm pretty sure he was no longer sad. Or would be, once he regained
consciousness. Then a scullery maid, who was suffering from steam burns, who was also knocked unconscious, no doubt so her burns could heal. This went on for half an hour, or an hour, or some period of time that lost all meaning.

Then it was Honey's turn. "If you smack my dog I'll kill you," I said to the prophet. "Just fix her hearing."

"It'll cost you extra," the prophet said, "If I can't smack her. That, and she's a dog, if you haven't noticed."

"Really?" I responded. "I knew there was something different about her. Just get on with it, will ya?"

"If I must," he said, "But I must insist on cash or a cashiers check first. Or Visa. Or MasterCard. We minister to those of all faiths."

"Fine," I grumbled, as I handed over my last few dollars.

"We'll bill you for the rest then. This isn't nearly enough."

I have a mailing address I use for these purposes, so I gave him that. Said mailing address is halfway to Timbuktu, and there's no address there, much less a there there, so I imagine a pile of mail has been collecting there for quite a while. Another bill or two wouldn't matter much.

"Dog, you are healed!" the prophet bellowed, and Honey snapped at him.

Wouldn't you, if a prophet was bellowing at you? Well, true, Honey couldn't hear him, but she got the general idea.

We left the stage as a midget desiring to be tall entered from stage left, but we didn't hang around to see what would happen next. 

After we got home I said to Honey, "Honey? Can you hear me?"

I could tell she couldn't because she made no sign of hearing me. Which is not to say my dog can sign. That'd just be weird.

But this morning she came into my office, and was snapping at me, which is her way of saying, "Can you let me outside now please?"

I turned around in my comfy desk chair and said to her, "Do you want to go outside?"

She responded by barking and jumping up and down, if a dog can jump up and down. Then Ash, who'd been loitering in the doorway, started barking and jumping up and down.

I kept talking to her, and she kept responding as if she could hear what I was saying. Then again, it's hard to tell with a dog. We went into the hallway and I had Andrew call her, and she looked at him, then went to him.

The dog can hear.

After I let them outside I went back upstairs and called out the back upstairs window to Honey. She stopped what she was doing, which was sniffing grass, and looked up, then around. She wasn't quite sure where I was calling her from, but she knew someone was calling her.

I could have just said that the vet had said she might regain some of her hearing once the infection cleared up and the ear gunk was cleaned out from the drops he'd had us giving her, but that doesn't make for such a good
story, does it?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Good Holiday

You can tell I've had a good holiday when my burns are only first degree.

Fortunately I'm only a danger to myself. Others are safe around me, unless I trip and fall on them, but even then, there's usually a pretty good chance said others can jump out of the way before my full weight descends on them like a ton of bricks. The burns, on the top of my fingers of my left hand, are only slight red marks now, and the swelling isn't bad at all.

Not bad at all. This is my mantra for getting through things like scalding myself, cutting myself, and in general doing damage to myself. I have never broken a bone, but I'm thinking that's only because they're made of rubber.

So other than the whole burning thing, which was only a slight inconvenience and allowed me the opportunity to sit on the couch with my hand wrapped in ice and later aloe while charming husband put together the rest of dinner, life is good. Painful, at times, but what isn't that's worthwhile? (This is another of my mantras that I use to console myself with.)

Last night, which just happened to be some sort of holiday, I started to wonder when we'd moved to a war zone. It must have happened when I wasn't looking, because when looking for a house, I'm pretty sure I checked the option to be out of a war zone. Since I've never been in an actual war zone, only pretend ones, I have no idea what one sounds like, but I'm pretty sure I heard mortars going off, and air strikes, and explosions. I was also not aware that there are so many people around here. There must be, for all that noise to be going on. That, or we invited several other neighborhoods to join us for the festivities.

I'm hoping the fatalities were kept to a minimum.

Used to be, fireworks were a cause for concern around here. Honey does not like them. They hurt her ears, and it makes her upset. I'd be upset too if my ears hurt. But now that she's mostly deaf, she really doesn't care. Occasionally, when the racket was loud and long, she'd bark at it, as if to say, "Shut the hell up, will ya? I'm trying to sleep!" But it wasn't with the former panic she'd have when she was a hearing dog. It's not as if she could hear it all that well. And Ash, he doesn't care much, except for a particularly loud one that'll cause his head to pop up. He likes to sit next to me and burrow into me just in case though. Then again, he likes to do what when there's no sign of fireworks too, so I'm not sure it means anything.

I do have the best life. It's not just on holidays that I notice, but on holidays, no matter the reason, I give myself permission to slack off and do whatever I want, the sort of permission I'm loathe to give myself any other time. If you ask me, I should be doing something useful and productive all the time. Not that I do all the time, but I do heap guilt upon myself if I'm not productive. Not on holidays though. On holidays there's none of that.

Of course, I did do some work anyway yesterday, but it wasn't much, a couple of hours altogether. This was before the burn incident, when I could still move my fingers.

And today I can move them just fine again, so I better get back to work.