I am socially inept. I haven’t the first idea how to make small talk. I hate groups of people, and being in crowds can cause me to panic. Shopping is torturous for me. I would rather jab hot needles in my eyes than to to a concert or other event where there are a lot of people. If I didn’t have to make a living I would be happy to never leave my home again.
Only others who have suffered from anxiety disorders can understand how debilitating this disorder can be. Add in severe ADHD and depression, and you’ve got someone with a whole host of social issues. My entire life I have felt odd and different. I knew I wasn’t the same as other kids and they made sure to let me know I was abnormal.
There is a loneliness and a sadness to having a brain dysfunction. You are always aware of it. You are always hyper-sensitive to being perceived as “weird” or “different” and that awareness actually makes the issue more pervasive. My behavior has often been considered rude, when in actuality I am just beyond my ability to cope.
For most of my life I just tried to suck it up and deal with it. I wish I had a penny for every time someone told me to calm down, slow down, settle down. Telling me didn’t help me get control of myself. If anything, it made things worse. Medications can help, but they can’t fix things. As an adult I finally accepted that a social life was never going to be easy or maybe even possible for me. I know my husband has spent years frustrated by my reluctance to do anything that requires me to be outside of my comfort zone: home and work. Bless his heart for hanging in there with me for the past 40 years.
Then along came my little brown dog, Ray the Vicktory Dog. He clicked in place against my soul and suddenly I was able to talk to people. I could go places which would make me stress out before. I had someone else to concentrate on. When Ray flew with me on an airplane, the trip was literally smooth sailing. In the past I would obsess about security, getting to my gate in time, checking my bags, my seatmates, where the bathroom was on the plane, and everything else you can think of. Every decision was fraught with danger. Ray changed all that for me just by commanding my attention and placing himself between me and the world.
When he died I was lost. Not only was I missing a family member I loved dearly, I was missing a support system that allowed me to function on the same level as “normal” people. I started seeing a counselor to try and get past his loss and she pointed out something that should have been obvious: Ray had instinctively become my service dog. He did exactly what he needed to do to increase my comfort level in public.
It was my counselor’s suggestion that I find and train another dog in the same skills. She wrote me a “prescription” for a service dog and I started looking for the one who would be able to partner with me against the world. I knew I wanted a larger dog, who could keep jostling crowds at bay. It had to be a male dog, so it wouldn’t cause friction with our selective female dog Turtle. I was looking for a dog who wanted to please, who was smart enough to learn quickly and who was good with animals and with people. And finally, I wanted a pit bull terrier like dog, in honor of Ray.
My friend and fellow Vicktory adopter Rachel had been volunteering and fundraising for ColoRADogs out of Ft. Collins. So I reached out to them with my list of specific needs. Nancy got back to me within minutes to tell me about a new dog they had just accepted named Bubba G. It didn’t take long to determine that Bubba was exactly what I was looking for. He came home to live with us just a month after we lost Ray.
The first week he was with us I had him evaluated by our Canines with Careers program here at the sanctuary. If he passed his screening he would qualify for a grant to fund his training. Although he was undisciplined and rowdy, it was clear he had the heart of a lion and the intelligence needed to become a support for my daily life. He was accepted into the program on the spot. That week Bubba began training to learn the skills he needed and he has continued with the specialized service dog trainer every week since.
At first when we were working in public I would be evasive and would mumble something about training to become a therapy dog. It was hard for me to admit to anyone that I needed a service dog. I was embarrassed by the situation. I didn’t know how I could explain my need in a way that made sense to people. In ways, I felt like a fraud. But I finally realized I needed to move past that attitude. What I have learned and am experiencing could help others have the courage to admit they needed help. This article is my ultimate “coming out” opportunity.
In the past year Bubba has gone from a hyperactive, mouthy juvenile to a dog who has learned to be supportive and protective in public. At home he is a goofus who specializes in zoomies which bowl over his sister and in selective deafness when his name is called. But once he has his vest on he becomes a vital support system for me. He has learned to accompany me into stores and restaurants. He has shown the ability to tune out people and crowds. When I am standing still, he positions himself in front of me, and leans against my legs, keeping the world at bay. I am thankful every single day that Bubba has given me back the ability to walk into public with confidence. I can concentrate on my connection with him, and I don’t have to worry about anyone else on the planet.
More and more people are beginning to use service dogs for “invisible” disabilities. Just because you can’t see an issue, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I never realized just how freeing it could be to have a dog beside me as I venture into the world. I wish that everyone dealing with a problem or a difference could have the same opportunity I am enjoying…the ability to finally feel normal.