Tuesday, November 18, 2014

For The Love Of Dog

Today is my Cinn's birthday! She's the big 1-0. Feels like just yesterday that she was an eight week old pup at a shelter dog adoption, wearing a bib that said "maybe your baby". I didn't choose Cinn, she chose me. I went over to the crib where she was laying with her nine brothers and sisters. The rest of the fluff balls dozed, barely glancing of at me as I approached. Not Cinn. She stood up and literally stepped over all of the other dogs to get to the side of the crib where I stood. I said on the spot, "I want that one".  At the time, I thought "she's got spirit, she is courageous and doesn't let anything - like stepping on her siblings - stand in the way!" Ten years later, I realize that I actually got a big baby, a gentle giant who's scared of such things as a strong breeze, plastic bags, and pink mopeds (yes, only the pink ones). I guess she must have just really known that day that I was meant to be her mama.

Cinn has been my constant companion and my best friend. When I got divorced, I asked for (read: demanded) just one thing - Cinn. She saw me restart my life after my marriage. She saw me get engaged a second time, then subsequently un-engaged.  She saw me through as I restarted my life a second time. She's seen me cry more tears than all of the humans in my life put together. She knows when I'm sad or when my depression is bad. She comes over to me, letting me pet her, quietly putting her face up to mine. "Mama, I'm here." She's heard more soliloquies than a Shakespearean theater company. Me practicing an important presentation, me thinking out loud over the day's events, me trying to sort out my ever-muddled brain.

Cinn rarely asks for anything. Often, even if she's hungry or in need of a bathroom break, I don't know... I only find out when I walk to the door or the food bowl and she starts jumping around and I think "oh no, has she not eaten/gone out today? What a terrible mom." Cinn never talks back, gives me a hard time, disagrees with me. She loves me unconditionally. Every single day for ten years, she's run to the door to greet me when I get home, whether I've been gone eight hours or eight minutes. I can't think of a human on earth that would be that happy at my arrival multiple times every day for a decade. This is nothing against the people in my life, but when was the last time a person jumped up and down animatedly, wagging their butt and trying to hug you when you'd just run to Wawa for ten minutes?

Cinn's a great "guard dog." She wouldn't hurt a fly - in fact I think she's afraid of them - but she's big, with a deep bark, and because she's scared of everything, her back hair stands up when she seems something unfamiliar.  She's particularly good for scaring off door to door salesmen and Jehovah's Witnesses ("Hello, I've come to talk to you about... JESUS CHRIST!").

I tell Cinn she has to live until she's at least twenty five, but I'm not sure that's something even Cinn's love for me, and mine for her, can make happen. It's sad to see her graying muzzle, how she gets up a bit more slowly, her back starting to sag. I realize that large breed dogs usually have a life span of about 14 to 15 years, and her turning ten is very difficult with me. Wasn't she just a pup? Yet I know life is all too short, for humans and canines alike, and I have to enjoy every minute with her that I have. I can't take her for granted, or think of her as "just a dog". She's my baby, my first "born", and always will be. She's been as good for my mental health as any therapy or medication, and I could never put that gratitude into words. So I'll simply say:  Happy Birthday, my beautiful Cinn, my baby girl. Mama loves you from the bottom of her heart. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

It's Not You, It's Me

I recently read a blog post on HealthyPlace.com entitled "I have Anxiety - I'm Not a Snob", by Gabe Howard. The title drew me in immediately. I could relate to the author before I even read a word - though of course I did read it in full and could relate even further. In his post, Howard describes the disconnect between how those with anxiety (and I'd venture to say many mental health conditions) feel, and what others think they see. This is something that I try to get across to people time and again, and I get so frustrated when I can't. Still, it prompted me to attempt this once more, to explain my feelings and actions for what they are, and not what others may stubbornly insist that they are.

I have social anxiety. In my case, it's not a separately diagnosed condition (though it is in others), but part of my life with cyclothymia. Most people, I'd venture to guess, would be very surprised to hear I am socially anxious. I'm an extrovert, or at least always have been, and once I get going I have a ton of energy and enthusiasm. The thing is, it takes me a lot to get going. The worst are situations in which others know each other quite well and I am only somewhat acquainted with them. However, unless I'm with my closest friends and family, or oddly, sometimes complete strangers who also don't know each other either, the anxiety is quite awful.

For social events, I often have to prepare mentally, emotionally, and physically for several days. By physically prepare, I don't mean spending extra time doing my hair and choosing my outfit.
Rather it's the racing heart, nervous stomach, occasional shortness of breath, headaches or migraines, often the onset of a depressive cycle, which brings extreme fatigue and exhaustion. Then, I have to prepare for how to interact. If I don't know people well, especially if they're close to each other, will they think I'm leeching on if I try to join the conversation? Will they notice my anxiety? My depression? Or worse, as Howard mentioned, will I appear like a disinterested snob? Will they think I'm a drain, no fun, uptight? If I actually gain some confidence and my natural excitable personality surfaces, will I come across as loud, annoying, hyper?

But wait, there's more! Believe it or not, my anxiety isn't the most troubling. There's also the fact that my depressive spells make me completely unable to value my own worth, It appears to me that everyone is better at everything than me - more fun, more likable, more talented, better looking, more successful. As you can imagine, this doesn't make going into a social engagement that you're already nervous about better. A very important note here: this is NOT jealousy. It's not me moping around, thinking negatively, needing an attitude adjustment. It's that my brain is hard-wired to react this way. Plain and simple. Depression seems to siphon out the ability for positive self-thought. So when I'm sad, or aloof, or despondent, or teary-eyed for reasons others can't understand, when I don't want to interact or do something social, it's not that I'm a jealous, high-strung, uninterested grinch who wants to ruin your time.

Finally, there's the hypomania. Oh, my love-hate relationship with hypomania. Occassionally, it does help me to have the confidence of an averagely-confident person which, I'll admit, feels wonderful. And being not depressed, that feels wonderful too. But mostly, as I've described it so many times before, it makes me feel like a drank a whole pot - not cup, pot - of coffee on an empty stomach. I feel even more anxious than usual. I'm jittery, unable to sit still. I babble on, knowing I'll later be horribly embarrassed but feeling like physically I cannot stop. Trust me, as much as it may bother you, it bothers me more. Now, as with depression, let me tell you what hypomania is not. It is NOT attention-seeking activity. As you may have guessed from my description of social anxiety, I hate attention. I actually feel nervous when people, other than very close friends and loved ones, look at me. Yes, just looking at me makes me feel like I'm getting too much attention. I have to fight every instinct to not turn away, embarrassed. Hypomania might bring attention to me, for better or (more often) for worse, but it is not intentional attention-seeking behavior.

So next time you think someone with a mental health condition is snobbish, a stick in the mud, too uptight, too hyper, too jealous, trying to ruin your fun, attention-seeking.... please remember what I've just written above, and consider how much they're going through just to participate in a normal social situation. Perhaps, as Howard suggests in his post, one day I'll be able to say "I'm sorry, my mental health condition is acting up, I apologize for my social awkwardness, please don't take offense." But we are far from that day sadly, so please, try to understand what we might be dealing with.

Now, I bet you all can't wait to invite me to your next party!