Anxiety & the Dog

I try to be open and upfront about things that are important, I believe that living life honestly as to who you are makes for stronger friendships and a better life. At the same time, I’ve often been told that I can come across as closed or withdrawn. That I’m hard to read. There is a story about that. It is also a story about Winston.

Winston passed away the day that I am writing this. He was a little over 12 years old and I’d been with him since he was 8 weeks.

Around 10 years ago (maybe a little more, maybe a little less) I went through a pretty horrid time. I worked at a place that was awful. This is not entirely fair, I met some people at this place that have become friends for life. But I was not the right type of person to work there, and this place made some very, very bad decisions. To the extent that it was possible a large number of us could possibly lose the ability to practice our job, that we had to appear in court, that I, and many others, had to get our own attorneys as finger pointing and blaming ramped up.

During this period, I saw the absolute worst in some people. Yes this is somewhat vague, because some of what I know came to me accidentally and some happened in one-on-one scenarios. It is also vague because people I care about still have respect and interact with these awful people. It isn’t for me to change those opinions.

All of that is to set the stage. To further set the stage, I have to confess that I have always been an anxious and stressful person. Anxiety levels such that I would make my ears bleed in elementary school because I was so anxious. To the level that I developed shingles while still in high school.

All of these things led to me being hospitalized. And hospitalized in a way that only made matters worse. The initial diagnosis was that I likely had a heart attack. (spoiler: I did not.) 

The hospital that I was admitted into, told me not to have anything of value because I could get mugged in my room. The hospital forgot that they admitted me and I went over 12 hours without seeing any doctors or nurses, or getting any food. They had no record that I was admitted so no one could find me who was looking for me. I could go on, but it was bad.

When I got out and back home, it got worse. I ended up in the emergency room multiple times. It was unclear what was going on. Although, the careful reader with the backstory provided above probably guessed that it was panic attacks. Well, my brain didn’t stop there, it went on. To the point that I finally was diagnosed with severe generalized anxiety, severe social anxiety, and agoraphobia.

My life narrowed down. I went to work and I came home. And when I went to work, I wore a idea of what Roy would be like in a work environment. And when I got home, I was exhausted from maintaining that shell for 8, 10, 12 hours. I would try and go to the store, but couldn’t get out of the car. The idea of being someplace that unsafe - the store parking lot or worse the store itself...was more than I could handle. Only when I was completely out of food, could I force myself to do my shopping as quickly as I could.

There are things I did and places I went, which were necessary to keep up an illusion of a normal life. I don’t recall many of these because I was having to spend all my mental cycles on determining what was the safest exit strategy. Where the emergency exits were, or how to make sure people weren’t too close to me, or that they might try and touch me.

It was not a fun or good time.
I tried every proposed method to get better that I could find.

If you have stuck through this long and are still reading, may be wondering...didn’t he say this was about Winston? A dog?

I’m almost there.

The lowest point this got to, of course...because melodrama, was around Christmas and New Year’s. Winston was a high energy dog. The highest energy. He needed multiple walks a day and would not settle for less. By not settling, I mean he would stand in front of you and bark in your face. This is not what one thinks of when picturing a loving and soothing pet.

There were definitely moments of me crying and begging him to just let me be, that he needed to understand that I couldn’t. I knew what he wanted but I couldn’t go outside.

I reached out to friends. The anxiety and fear was less if I knew someone was aware that I was leaving the house and that there would be someone who would know if I didn’t come back. This next part, I really want to blame on my friends. But with time I’ve had to realize that part is likely also my fault. 

I asked if people had time to come over as I needed someone at the house. I think there are two ways this was heard:

Heard by my friends: “Hey, it is Christmas and I was wondering if you might want to come over and hang out.”

Heard by me: “I think I am going to die. I know it is Christmas, and I’m really sorry to ask, but I need help. I don’t know how I’m going to make it and I really need someone here.”

Only one person came over, and I still thank him so much. Twice, he was there while I took Winston for a walk. My dad ended up driving down from Oregon so he could be with me for awhile, so I was able to leave the house and take the dog for a walk.

I still very much carry with me, that if I need help - I’m not sure any of the people that I think of as my closest friends will be there for me. I’m trying to let that go, but anxiety likes holding on. It likes saying, “see I was right, and I will be right every time you are in crisis.”

But through all of this, Winston still needed his walks. He didn’t understand anxiety. He was a puppy and he knew he had so much energy he was aching to move.

So, one day...after far too much time being barked at. When I just couldn’t take Winston’s persistence anymore. I put his harness on him, and took him for a walk. No one knew I was going. No one knew where I was going (although, honestly I may have left a note in the house because I was terrified).

It was not a long walk. I’m sure Winston felt very let down. That this was a promised walk and he was betrayed because it was barely a stroll.

But I didn’t die. We came back home.
And the next day he barked at me again, until I caved and we went for a walk.
This time we went a little farther.

And that is how the days went. I didn’t realize it but he was teaching me what therapy had also been trying to say. You tell the anxiety, I know you are is okay. If you want to come with us then come, but there is shit that has to get done.

And we walked farther, each day. And it became a little easier each day.

Until, we just walked as part of our routine, without me having to get barked in the face until I broke down crying.

And once a daily walk became comfortable. I was able to give getting out of the car and going into the grocery store a try.

And after lots and lots of walks, I tried attending a housewarming party where I would only sort of know one person. This is where I ended up meeting my husband.

This is how Winston saved me.
A part of me is afraid again now that he is gone. I hope I will still hear his barks when they are needed.