Stress isn’t the problem; it’s how one handles that stress that matters more.
An incident that may seem minor to others has caused me nightmares. When I picked QB up at doggie day care www.thepoochpalace.com the person who got him for me, a new employee, obviously didn’t know how to properly place a choke collar on a dog, because when he brought QB out, the collar was put on in such a manner that it would have slipped right off him had I not seen the employee’s mistake and corrected it before leaving the building. Had QB gotten loose, he would have been hit by a car within minutes.
That night, and every night following, I have dreamt horrible scenes that I needn’t recount here. I even have these nightmares during the day when I take naps.
I was awakened from my nightmare last night by my building’s fire alarm. Loud and annoying, it was doubly annoying because QB fears it almost as much as he fears vacuum cleaners. The alarm rang for about ten minutes and QB carried on with his barking for another ten minutes or so after the alarm had ceased to sound. I tried to calm him.
While QB and I were out Tuesday evening, we saw some kids I wish now I had completely avoided. I knew, as soon as I saw them, that there would be trouble. Several of them piled into a fenced in yard while two remained on bikes outside the fence. I proceeded ahead, cautiously.
“Lassie, Lassie!” the kids screamed, riding close to QB, then pulling away, teasing him. More kids ran into the street. “Lassie, Lassie!”
“Lassie, the barn’s on fire!” The kids jumped and whistled in front of QB, who at that point was barking and jumping out of control. “Lassie!”
I realized that in addition to trying to get a rise out of QB, the kids were trying to get a reaction from me. They didn’t get one, but on the inside, I felt like crying. I know I acted like a brat when I was a kid, but that doesn’t excuse their bad behavior.
This morning, maybe around 5am. I was hungry, and still frazzled from last night’s fire alarm annoyance. My hands were shaky when I took my medication organizer out of the drawer. I dropped it on the floor. Pills bounced out everywhere.
Panic. The dog. I was in panic mode. I put my guitar in front of the entrance to the kitchen, to “suggest” to QB that perhaps it wouldn’t be the best idea to come in, then I grabbed some Iams Puppy Biscuits (his favorite) and tossed them toward the front door. While he was eating the biscuits, I picked up as many pills as I could quickly find. Here, I draw a blank entirely; I have no memory of putting QB in his crate, but somehow I got him in there and swept the floor. One pill was missing! Did QB eat it? Did he? Another look at my pill organizer indicated that there were no missing pills, that we were in the clear, so I let QB out of his crate, and I could breathe again. The scare was over.
Stress isn’t the problem; it’s how one handles that stress that matters more. I’m still shaking, I’m still exhausted, I’ve still got pictures in my mind of QB eating pills and getting teased and hit by cars and trapped in barn fires, but I’m not falling apart. I’m sitting here in the library writing, making something of these stories instead of keeping them inside and letting them stew. I’m making constructive something that could have destroyed me. I’m twisting these stories and shaping them in such a way that they make sense and relate to each other in a way they never did before, except that they are all about my beloved dog.
When I was in Metropolitan State Hospital, now closed down, my life had more to do with survival than recovery. The threat of being beaten or otherwise harmed, by staff or other patient, was just as real as the threat of self-harm. One of the workers was a prisoner on work release, who told me in confidence that Met State (or “The Met,” as we called it) was as restrictive and as cruel as any prison he’d been to, that it didn’t make sense that we should be punished for being sick.
As you can imagine, my stress level was very high. It was not an atmosphere conducive to recovery. Any outburst on my part, even tears, would delay my discharge from the “hospital.” I had to stay in control even though my insides felt like something that just came out of a blender.
It’s how one handles stress that matters. I had some paper and pens with me, and I began to write. Staff and patients alike looked over my shoulder to see what I was writing, but that did not stop me; I kept writing. I wrote about everything I saw and heard and felt and experienced. I wrote about the fight that had broken out that morning just outside my room, and the worker who had made a pass at me. I wrote every detail, from the lace on a patient’s blouse to the sound of a worker’s nails clicking against her clipboard. Everything.
Writing was what kept me together in that cruel world of The Met. I was released, and as soon as I had the opportunity, I wrote a long piece, about 65 pages, about my three-day stay there. The piece wasn’t very good. It wasn’t even passable. But it got me writing. It got me to realize that writing could save me, and indeed it has, many times.
But dear little QB, could you please, pretty please stay out of trouble for a while?