Tag Archives: Barking Back

What I Learned from my Dog about PTSD

When the Brindle Dog was young, she was amazingly strong and focused. Her parents were bred for police work in the Netherlands, and that likely would have been her destiny as well if I hadn’t scooped her up as a house pet.

She could swim or train for hours. She would never give up on a task unless called off. She could joyfully chase a ball or Kong in the park for hours with breathtaking stamina and endurance. She took pride in her ability to execute commands perfectly, and she was also an enterprising problem-solver.

As she aged and got sick, her stamina waned. She weakened. She started to get confused. As her cataracts spread, as her hearing diminished, and as her cancer extended its tentacles and tumours further into her body, the Brindle Dog began to stumble and fall. Her back legs would sometimes give out. She would struggle to right herself and keep going, but I stopped taking her on walks, and just threw sticks (her favourite game) in the yard for her.

The day came when I couldn’t even throw sticks for her anymore, because she kept falling down when trying to chase them. I had to just drop the stick a foot or two in front of her, and she’d grab it.

It was heartbreaking. She used to have the strength and drive and form of an Olympic athlete. She was tireless! Her enthusiasm for work and play was incredible. And now she was a tottering little old lady, half-deaf, half-blind, exhausted from severe anemia, barely able hold her bladder for more than a few hours. I was angry and miserable. Fuck cancer! Look at how age and illness had taken this amazing dog and pounded her down!

But at the same time, I was so glad to be able to provide palliative care and to sweeten my dear dog’s last days with extra love and attention. As she drew closer to the end, and as I turned myself away from the “extraneous” things in my life to be as present as possible with her, I noticed one particular thing I had missed:

In her younger days, when she chased a thrown stick or toy, she would pounce on it with pride and enthusiasm. As she got weaker, her desire to chase that stick never waned, even though her body was failing. And near the end, when I would drop the stick pretty much right in front of her nose, she would still pounce on it with all the energy and drive she could muster, then look up at me proudly, panting from that slight effort, her gums white and her eyes cloudy, but still full of anticipation, wanting me to ask for the stick back so we could do it again.

She was always and only and forever living in the present. She was in pain, but she wanted that stick. She was confused, but her love of this particular game never left her. And whether she had raced across a field to retrieve that stick, or had pounced on it right at her feet, she was happy. She was doing a thing she loved, and it made no difference to her that she used to be able to do it better, or that other dogs could do it better, or that she would never race across a field again.

And that was the thing I had missed. It is okay to be happy doing the things I can do, even though my life will never be what it could have been without abuse and trauma. I will never have a life where my past didn’t happen to me. Therapy isn’t going to take it away or make any of it okay. What I do have, if I let myself have it, is the ability to pounce on that stick even if I’m confused or in pain.

The shit that was done to me will never be gone. I guess somehow I thought that recovery or healing meant I would be done with it. PTSD and the accompanying depression and anxiety mean that I am living with some very real limitations that have consequences in my everyday life, and I may or may not be able to change (some of) those. It’s hard not to be angry and bitter about the fact that my life is smaller than it could have been because of abusers.

But now I realise that recovery and healing, for me, are about figuring out how to live my life with joy and anticipation despite the pain. By example, the Brindle Dog showed me how to accept limitations and just keep living as fully as I can. If I can’t race across the field, I can still grab the stick at my feet with pride.

 

The Brindle Dog died peacefully last week. She carried her stick to the car on her way to the vet. She walked in to her appointment on her own wobbly legs. I cuddled her until she was gone. She was the best dog ever.

 

 

 

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Finished this book: The Seventh Mother by Sherri Wood Emmons

Cover of the book The Seventh Mother by Sherri Wood Emmons

Cover of the book The Seventh Mother by Sherri Wood Emmons

 

This story is told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of Jenny, an eleven-year-old girl, and Emma, her seventh mother. Jenny and her dad live a nomadic kind of life as her dad takes seasonal work around the USA. Along with the seasonal work, Jenny’s dad picks up seasonal girlfriends, and although Jenny had grown attached to most of them, she also knows that none of them will stay for long. But Emma, Jenny hopes, is different.

All three of these characters are white, and the treatment of race in this book is handled in a way that is weirdly gentle and unflinching at the same time. This didn’t take up much space in the book but was probably my favourite thread.

Jenny’s dad, Brannon, is a loving and devoted father but he has an angry streak that he shows to others. Emma falls for him and excuses his angry moments (initially they are only moments, of course), forgiving him and explaining it away as proof of his love. Classic red flag stuff and the kind of thing that would have me running for the hills.

As the story progresses, Jenny wants to settle down and go to school, to have a “normal” life with her dad and Emma. Emma wants a “normal” life as well, a husband and children and a house. But Brannon isn’t a Happy Family kind of guy, as Jenny finds out when she stumbles across the real reason why the past mothers / girlfriends who were in her and Brannon’s life are now gone.

Books about dysfunctional families fascinate me, and yet I approach them with trepidation. With this one, I got nervous as soon as I saw Brannon’s temper, and I put the book down for a while because I wasn’t sure I could read about domestic violence. But one thing I really loved about the book was that Jenny’s perceptions and feelings were almost always validated by the people around her. Her dad loved and protected her, her “mothers” were nice to her, Emma loved her, and the parents of her best friend also listened to her and believed her. That part seems to be a bit fairy-tale-ish to me, since it’s not the way I think most young girls are treated in the world, but I did enjoy the fantasy.

Later in the book, there was a bit too much god-talk for me. Like, I get in when characters in a book go to church regularly the same way I understand it if they diet regularly: it’s not part of my life, I don’t understand it viscerally, but I “get” that it’s part of that character’s backstory and lived experience and will influence how they see the world and blah blah blah. But when the plot starts hinging on faith or calorie-counting in a way that assumes I, the reader, will agree that’s a legit basis for life decisions, I start losing interest. Sure, I know that these are very important things to a lot of people, I really do, but for me they are actual disincentives to stay engaged with the book. (And also with real live people who can’t stop talking about their religion or their weight loss regimes.)

Overall, it would have been a fast read if I hadn’t put it down twice for days, once when Brannon started getting mean, and once when people started ascribing events to a god. Jenny is a very sympathetic character, and Emma would be if she wasn’t so naive about Brannon. No, that’s not exactly it: I liked the character of Emma but I felt the path her life was taking was just too predictable from the reader’s perspective.

It makes me kind of sad when a book full of characters doesn’t have GLBTQ* people, or people with disabilities (in this case, one person used a cane, but that was obviously because of her age, which we know because of references to “the old lady”), or characters with some awareness of their class position, and so forth. I guess it’s always a bit disappointing when the characters in a story all seem to strive for a “normal” life, which to them and to the author means the status quo. There are ways to write characters like that while the book itself interrupts that idea of normality, but this book isn’t one of them.

It was a decent book that will now go into my giveaway pile.

 

 

The Shit People Say at Work (or, Flashbacks at my Desk)

Content warning for discussion of flashbacks, child abuse, domestic abuse, and trauma.

 

Workplace cubicles don’t allow for privacy.

On the small floor where I work, a small second floor perched like a hat on a larger building, the windowed offices ring a large area which has been packed with cubicles. At one end of this rectangle is the access stairwell. At the very far end from that stairwell is my workspace. The cubicles end, and my desk and filing cabinets are in the stub of space just past the fire exit stairwell.

It’s an old building. The heating and cooling are iffy, approximate, and likely controlled by someone in a different time zone. As a result, people tend keep their office doors open to improve air circulation.

This means everyone hears everything. We all know about each other’s kidney stones,  grandchildren, car troubles, and how well we all slept last night.

 

(Content warning for below the cut)

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Finished this book ages ago: House Broken by Sonya Yourg 

Cover of the book "House Broken" by Sonya Yoerg

Cover of the book “House Broken” by Sonya Yoerg

 

This book had a dog on the cover, alluded to dogs in the title, and has a main character who is a vet. I was sold! Also, the blurb mentioned the vet’s mother’s alcoholism, which was another draw for me. I like stories about dysfunctional families; reading them helps me make sense of my own childhood.

Before I get any further, I should mention that I read this book early last summer ( or late last spring?) and just haven’t gotten around to reviewing it yet. So this will be short and vague.

It was disappointing that there wasn’t more dog- and vet-related stuff in the book, and what there was, was not always particularly convincing. I’m thinking specifically of the minor plot line involving an aggressive dog, which was not very credible. It almost felt like the dog and vet stuff was thrown in there to get the punny title.

The writing, as far as I remember, was good and smooth. But I wasn’t entirely convinced by the actions and words of the characters. Your mileage may vary, of course; what you find realistic in a character might differ from what I would believe.

The plot held my attention and I did enjoy the dysfunctional family stuff. Well, “enjoy,” right? But it’s always interesting to me to read someone else’s take on it.

This book is going into the giveaway pile. It was an okay read, but not a fave.

House Broken by Sonya Yoerg. ISBN 978-0-451-47213-7

So this guy tried to pick me up…. (or, A Tale of Three Men)

Last Friday, I played a gig with two other DJs. I was up first, and I tried something totally new (for me): a set of music from my childhood. Pink Floyd, Cream, The Animals, Led Zeppelin, Supertramp, David Bowie, The Talking Heads… Music I remember falling asleep to as a little kid. If I’d come up with the idea a little sooner, I would have loved to add some Golden Earring and Moody Blues and ELO, but anyway, it was fun.

There was a guy (we’ll call him Stripey Shirt) who was pretty drunk and trying his luck with a lot of the women at the venue. With me, it was “Wow, you got some good dance moves. I mean, I’m from Jamaica and I know you got some good moves!” while his arm was on the back of the chair in which I was sitting. I was leaning away from his arm and planning how to extricate myself when he added “You gotta give me your number. I want to you DJ a private party I’m throwing!” I laughed at him and said “Yeah, because THAT sounds totally legit!” Continue reading

Finished this book: The Sky Beneath My Feet by Lisa Samson

Cover of "The Sky Beneath My Feet" by Lisa Samson

Cover of “The Sky Beneath My Feet” by Lisa Samson

Spoilers near the end, but there’ll be another warning first.

Only a short way into this book, I realised it was full of religion. There was a moment where I considered putting it aside and starting something else, but I was already nestled into bed with my PJs and my fuzzy socks and my fleece housecoat, with the cats and the Fluffy Dog in their usual positions, so I decided to read on a bit and give the book a chance. Also, the way the writer introduced the faith aspect was kind of funny, and I wondered if it might turn out to be tongue-in-cheek (the protagonist, Beth, was on a riff about the Jesus Fish on her van). Continue reading