Unlearning with Pepper

So after three years of thinking about this I’ve decided to take advice about a service dog.  This past two years has been an exercise in unlearning.  Unlearning ableism.

I looked at various options and decided to follow the MindDog process; whereby you can select your own dog and work with the trainer to train that dog to be accredited.

I sort out the services of Laura Mundy who is an accredited MindDog trainer and psychologist.  We discussed what personality dog I would need to seek based on what I wanted to get from the relationship with the dog.

During my teen years I had a horse who I credit with saving my life.  Another myth about Autistic people is that we don’t have empathy.  I have trouble reading other people’s hints, sarcasm and passive aggression as I have low cognitive empathy, but I have enormous amounts of effective empathy.  I am affected by high emotion settings but struggle to process why.

My response as a child was to freeze, as an adult it is a meltdown (which was often confused with a panic attack). My horse used to calmly help me get rid of that excess emotion when we went riding alone. I loved just being with her, away from people, sitting in a quiet spot in the bush.

Laura recommended a greyhound because of this history and gave me a list of traits to look for in a rescue greyhound.  An important part of this process is the right bond between dog and human.  The next step is to start the MindDog accreditation process along with training and assessment from Laura.

The idea was to find a dog that will encourage me to find the least crowded ways of walking by pausing and making me slow down, slowing my responses to my anxiety. A chilled out dog, but a dog that can also understand that my anxiety comes from sensory overload and how to help me deal with that. Slow down Jacci, walk another way. When I am anxious generally, the dog will take my focus away from the anxiety inside of me.

img_2880.jpgI was approved at two services and then went to look at Pepper on Sunday the 24th February 2019 (I won’t forget this date) at the Baxter office of Gap Greyhound Adoption Program Victoria.

I was super anxious as she approached me, but was holding back tears and pretending to be okay.  She just knew.

She walked up to me and pushed her head into my legs and leaned against me really affectionately.

I wanted to cry, but the urge to cry fell away and I felt safer.

It was amazing and so reminded me of my horse that used to put her forehead on my chest and gently press.  Note: yes, she is thin.  There are efforts underway to improve her weight, she was a racing breeder and she has gained a bit in the last two weeks already. 

I picked her up and brought her home early Saturday the 2nd of March and in just 24 hours I already feel different and we are getting along amazingly well.  Like I can do this.  Like I am not less for being who I am.

She seems to know when to leave me alone and when to intervene.  I often feel dreadful anxiety in the mornings just getting out of bed.  This morning she refused to budge until I had processed that with doggo cuddles.  Only when I felt better did she go “come on let’s go”. img_2916

With Pepper I am about to shed years of learned shame.  But this shame doesn’t come from nowhere.  It comes from my early life and how the world (and the people around me) spoke of anyone with a disability.

So many times I’ve resisted so many therapies and simple steps I could take to make my life better. I hid and suppressed things that I now know are part of me and not things to be ashamed of. Because deep down, despite my protestations otherwise, I thought I was “broken” and was trying to make myself like everyone else.

I didn’t want to be pitied and cooed over like my Dad was.  I couldn’t imagine anything worse, but that was happened to my father with his chronic illness.

Then there was the martyrdom and burden stories associated with his care and the narratives about how stoic and brave he was.  To me he was just Dad and I knew he felt like a burden enough without these dramatic stories circulating around him.  He would hide symptoms of his illness to prevent the drama it would create around him, something that didn’t help with the chronic heart condition he had.

To other members of the family telling these stories appeared to give them hero status in a 1970’s and 80’s world were carers “had to put up with a lot”.  The culture of ableism was high during this period, without any real discussion about what the person on the other end of that caring felt or thought or needed.

I know I did not want to be the centre of attention for being broken.  That was the family story.  So I pushed on through and at times, and sometimes did break myself.

I am no longer ashamed of my synaesthesia and the anxiety it can cause me.  I have a clearer picture of how I internalised that ableism in the past and how I can change it now.

Conversations with optometrists are coming back to me with new relevance.  They would do extra periphery vision testing because I would describe what I experience.  How artificial lights exhaust me, or how I experience the world like I am under a spotlight. How nighttime street lighting makes me feel as though I am in a tunnel.

Early on in my life wearing glasses I stopped telling the truth about the swirling but almost translucent colours (it varies in intensity) that permeate my vision moving in time to the sounds around me.

When a psychologist suggested wearing sunglasses to me and that I wear them anytime I am not at a computer, I balked.  Now I do, and the improvement in my quality of life is rapidly improving, because I am not so exhausted mentally.

I now know that when I talk about the tastes in my mouth when I touch things, I don’t need another test for diabetes.  I know understand how I stim (see this great video on this) and what it means for me, but that’s another whole blog entry.  Check out Agony Auties great video on stimming and quiet hands and shutdown.  My experience is very similar to hers.

Must be time for a walk to the beach with Pepper.  Yeah, that sounds like a plan.

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