Reactions to trauma aren’t “disorders.” They are normal.

Have you been given the label “PTSD”?  Take the “D” off of it right now.  There’s nothing “wrong” with you.  So saith me.  Instead, the world needs your voice.  Instead, what you need is to be loved and reassured.  If you have experienced something rotten, I’m truly sorry that it happened and I wish it didn’t.  No one can undo it.  However, it’s my wish, and I assume your wish as well that what happened to you never happens to anyone else.  What we all need to do to see to it that people stop being mean and that we all have a safer place to live.

I can give you a super good example of why I say “PTSD” is not a “D” at all.  My little dog, Puzzle, isn’t mentally ill.  She can’t speak in words, so no one can say she’s ever said anything irrational.  She’s never taken psych meds so no one can give her a diagnosis based on what meds have been “effective” for her in the past.  Has she ever tried to kill herself?  Has she ever overdosed?  Oh yeah, she overdosed on chicken bones a number of years ago because someone had thrown them on the ground instead of in the garbage and I didn’t see them there in time.  The bones went down the hatch quickly cuz that’s what dogs do.  It was my own fault that I was not able to teach her to give up what was in her mouth.  Was this a suicide attempt on Puzzle’s part and is she mentally ill?  Um, I think chicken bones are yummy for dogs and she’s rather typical.  So were the vet bills.

Do you see what I’m saying? Back to PTS____.  We as a society speak often of abused animals and how they tend to cower and act scared.  Do we call them mentally ill?  I don’t think so.  They are traumatized and their behavior is a normal conditioned response.  They have learned from their bad experience to be fearful.  What do we do?  We are animal rights activists.  We beg for the rights of these abused animals and beg for them not to be killed and beg for homes for them, donating our time and money.  We bring them into our homes.  We love them and cherish them.  Why don’t we do this for our abused humans?  Instead, society gives them the message that something’s “wrong” with them, makes them feel even more like crap, segregates them into ghettos, “programs,” hospitals, jails, medicates them, therapizes them, supervises them, or manages them, but certainly doesn’t love them.

Puzzle was traumatized when we first moved to this apartment.  I’ve spoken of it here before.  A lady shoved a shopping cart at her.  I couldn’t undo what was done and it shouldn’t have happened.  The lady still lives here.  She’s one of the many residents I feel sorry for her cuz (between ourselves) she herself is a victim of ongoing abuse, but that’s a whole other story.  This is low income housing and an incredible number of people here are lonely and deeply unhappy.  You’d think it’s a quaint home-like place where little old ladies live, but the truth is, it’s a very violent and harsh environment.  There’s a lot of shouting at all hours and you don’t feel safe here.

The Housing Authority doesn’t want people wandering the halls with shopping carts that come from the supermarkets and these shopping carts are supermarket property anyway.  I’m sure the presence of shopping carts in our narrow hallways are a hazard for fire and rescue efforts.  But this lady walks the halls using a shopping cart instead of a walker.  She owns a walker but prefers the shopping cart, so I’ve since learned.  (Her claim that she couldn’t afford one and didn’t own one wasn’t true.) Whether the walker isn’t comfortable to walk with or isn’t properly fitted and the shopping cart fits better…I don’t know much about walkers, actually and am no judge.

I was walking with Puzzle, just coming in from a walk, having just moved in, not thinking of any of this and not knowing that the residents had already made up their minds.  They felt hostile toward this new girl they’d never met before and had not even spoken to.  They never bothered introducing themselves.  They simply decided they didn’t like this girl and her dog.  She was an ugly girl.  From the other building.  A Jew.  I guess someone heard the girl crying.  What a slut.

So the lady said she was scared of Puzzle while I was walking down the hall and that’s why she reacted the way she did.  “Get away from me!” and she shoved that cart right at Puzzle.

I didn’t know it then, but looking back, I can tell you that Puzzle’s personality changed after that.  A few of the changes have never gone away, but most have faded gradually.  She became extremely fearful.  I’d say for a year after that, she’d assume you couldn’t be trusted until you proved yourself trustworthy.  This was new.  Observers would ask me if she was a “shelter mutt.”  Over time, this distrust has faded and she’s back to being the loving dog she once was that assumes everyone is good.  That’s because I gave her lots and lots of love and exposed her to as many other people as I could that loved her as well.

There are behaviors I see in Puzzle, though, that originated with this shopping cart event that have never disappeared.  She gets upset when the doorbell rings or when someone knocks.  A guest is not necessarily someone she feels she can trust.  I don’t have people inside my home ever.  I did have CBFS but most of the CBFS personnel I dealt with didn’t even like dogs and wouldn’t pet her or show interest in her.  They’d even look repulsed when they saw her or they’d visibly flinch or move away or rudely bury themselves in their cell phones.  The maintenance people are rude and I tend to dread their coming in here.  I always hope that they send one of the ones with manners that likes Puzzle.

Puzzle enjoys traveling on the bus and subway.  She takes up a tiny amount of room on my lap.  It’s transit policy that I can’t take up more than one seat even with a dog, so I either leave my knapsack on my back or I take it off and snuggle Puzzle between my body and the knapsack.  She loves being snuggled.  I try to sit next to someone that smiles and me and invites me to sit rather than sit next to someone who looks grossed out at the idea of sitting next to a dog.  My instincts are pretty good.  I almost always choose someone wonderful.  I pray for someone who is lonely.  I want Puzzle and I to make someone’s day.

I want to end this article with a little story about love.

Where is God?  What is God?  God is love.  God is the voice of those lonely, often nameless strangers that speak to me on the bus.  God is the homeless girl I met on the CT1 or CT2 bus, I can’t recall which, who had shared with me that she cared about her relative (was it an uncle?  I can’t recall) more than anything.  She was on her way to yet another shelter and didn’t have enough change to pay for the bus.  The bus driver told her, very rudely and in a lecturing tone, “Grow up.”  She asked me in earnest for some tips on how to quit smoking and said she was trying very hard.  I thought surely, she’d seen a lot of life if she’d lived in shelters.  It was all I could do to listen to her story and of course, I told her how I’d quit smoking many years ago.  She’d bummed her last cigarette off of someone.  She was doing everything she could just to survive this world. All she wanted was for her sick relative to be well.

Puzzle and I have met so many.  There have been men with whom I have spoken as well, men on their way to the shelter in Waltham, men hoping to find employment.  I see them on the 70 bus, headed for the shelter.

Many people tell me their story, and thus doing, without knowing it, I have renewed hope and the will to go on with my life when otherwise I would have ended it.  A simple conversation.

I don’t give a shit if that lonely person may have been drunk or “out of it” or if some doctor has stated that the person is “mentally incompetent” or how many drugs the person was or wasn’t taking.  Or if the person was a working person that society assumed was okay, but inside, was deeply unhappy.  Do you understand that this fleeting conversation on whatever bus saved my own life?  That smile, those tears of relief and that person saying, “You and your dog Puzzle made my day.”

You ask me where is God.  I am telling you, this is God.

We should all be so loved again.  Throw out the “D” and let’s all embrace.