Coping

Waves of Fear

August 22, 2016

My doctor prescribed a dog. Someone to brighten my day, teach me to live in the moment, help me get over myself. A dog needs to be walked, which meant I would have to walk. In the beginning Copper was as scared and traumatized as I was. We just sat on the couch watching Mary Tyler Moore and sharing Doritos. We both quivered and grew exhausted from the prospect of leaving the house. Germs, ticks, relapse, pain attacks, other dogs, shoelaces, broomsticks, moths. Who knew what would attack us?! But we just did it. He was put into a harness, my mom bought me new runners and we were pushed out the door. 

This week Copper and I have both been fed up. I think it is the heat, allergies (Copper has asthma and allergies, go figure?), and mosquitoes. We are just done with summer. I have been waking up at three in the morning with thoughts of death and guilt and fear. Time to shake that off.

Today we faced one of Copper’s remaining fears: water. Copper came to us with many fears, most illogical. I understood the fear of bats, clubs, flyswatters, sticks. Perhaps he was hit a lot. Anytime we swatted a fly or Marcel polished a golf club Copper hid in a corner, cowering. To ease him of this fear and to teach him to trust us we just started walking around the house with stick-like objects in our hands. I would walk around with a broom handle for half an hour while doing some chores. Marcel would sit on the couch watching baseball with the broom or a bat. Soon Copper learned that we will not hit him. We can now use a flyswatter without Copper peeing all over the floor and running for cover.

This neurotic little beagle has overcome his fear of tinfoil, baggies, other dogs, moths, and shoelaces. But he had yet to conquer his fear of the dark and water. We are not going to desensitize him to the dark. That lacks purpose and is cruel. So we have nightlights all over the house. This has helped Copper immensely with any night time wanderings or sleep issues. But water….Copper hates “moving” water from hoses, sprinklers, the bathtub (we have to fill it before he comes near the bathroom for his soak), even the Brita filter gives him the willies. His water bowl? Okay. A puddle? Okay. But water that moves or flows? No way. But today I felt confident that he could be exposed to moving water.

I drove us to the nature trail, where we walked and relishing in the cool morning. Soon the dirt path through the trees diverged into a fork. We could stay on the path or wander towards the river shore. I walked left, Copper followed. His nose was to the ground so he did not realize we were nearing water. But when he finally looked up, there glistening in the sun was the river. He did not pull away. He just looked. This was a feat. Then, suddenly a leap. A little frog jumped from the mud into the water. Instinct took over. Copper leaped after it.

All four paws were in the water. Surprise, shock, and then pride. Copper looked up and seemed to beam with joy that he had all four feet in a body of water. The frog made Copper realize he is a dog. Dogs innately like to swim or at least explore with curiosity not fear. This allowed for a walk along the shore. Copper walked in the shallow waters over rocks while I was up to my ankles in mud. We returned home feeling very accomplished.

I don’t know why Copper has so many fears, and I really don’t want to know his past. Perhaps rehabilitating a dog while I myself am rehabilitating was not the smartest move regarding my energy levels or knowledge, but I think we are helping each other. My doctor recognized that I was stuck. Like the mud that bogged me down today, fear of recovery and moving on kept me stuck on the couch and at home. For years I was seriously ill. I had made peace with death. I knew people who died from the disease and infections I had. I said goodbye to my career and hobbies and “normal” life. I found my God and was ready to fly away one bright morning. But I did not die and I did not remain seriously ill. Sure, I am on treatments and sick, but managing. Capable of some good hours each day.

My doctor was surprised that I was not walking or trying Pilates again when the pain lifted and my red blood cells started transporting oxygen properly. Where did the woman who walked to get groceries, or walked from one end of town to the other just for the hell of it go? I loved fresh air and my town. Where could that love have gone? In my mind I was still soooo sick. I spent the last few years on my will, getting things in order, researching what treatments to try next in case this one failed. I had not prepared myself to live, grow well, recover. Starting again or developing a new life scared me so much that I became numb, immovable.

She recommended a dog. Someone to brighten my day, teach me to live in the moment, help me get over myself. A dog needs to be walked, which meant I would have to walk. In the beginning Copper was as scared and traumatized as I was. We just sat on the couch watching Mary Tyler Moore and sharing Doritos. We both quivered and grew exhausted from the prospect of leaving the house. Germs, ticks, relapse, pain attacks, other dogs, shoelaces, broomsticks, moths. Who knew what would attack us?! But we just did it. He was put into a harness, my mom bought me new runners and we were pushed out the door. Each day we walked a little further. It was difficult at first. I was so out of shape and had lost most of my muscle. Copper had never been walked so was not only fearful of how large the world is but also of the leash itself. We encountered other dogs and moths and fatigue and pain but learned to keep going.

Now, almost a year later we walk an hour a day. I don’t freak out about relapsing or reinfection. I am seeing some strength return. Copper is happy and curious most of the time. This week he walked by two other dogs without freaking out. And today, that frog lured him into the water where he conquered his last fear. Who knows? Maybe by next summer he will want to swim or sit in the canoe with Marcel.

I need to allow frogs and other spontaneous things to pull me back into the world of the living. Simple joys and unexpected happenings will heal my soul and teach me to be present. I grieve losses but still find things to smile about. I am still sick but can laugh. For the past year I carried around the past trauma like a deep, dark secret. It was heavy and prevented me from enjoying little moments. It prevented me from having fun conversations or enjoying social activities. I felt out of place everywhere but the hospital or by the side of a sick friend. But Copper helped me take off the clothes of mourning and put on a new garment. As I taught him to embrace life, I was indirectly teaching myself. Being helpful and empathetic towards the sick while allowing a renewal for myself is possible. Facing the fear of living was a strange lesson. This world is wonderful and vast. Like Copper’s nightlights, I have a few crutches, but am well on my way.

Marcel noticed that this week I was cracking jokes and spewing puns. I had him laughing like the good old days. He said he has missed me; that I haven’t been silly in at least five years. I think I am on my way….

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1 Comment

  • Reply Yvonne markotic October 28, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    Jillian, your website is beautiful. Your have endured many pains and sufferings and have found ways to heal and see beauty in life.
    Life can be such a struggle is so many varied ways. My struggles make me more compassionate to other peoples pain, and I always feel lucky i have a supportive partner. For some people I know it is the pain of mental health issues, for another it is the loss of a child, for another friend it is separation after years of marriage.. Your website has helped me and helped me think of others I know who are struggling. I am going to read the book you recommend by Stephen Levine, and I know others who may want to read it too. Thank you for the insight you bring and for helping.

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