Editor’s Note: Fidose of Reality is proud to have a new guest contributor on board with us. Twice a month on Thursdays, we’ll be sharing this new column dubbed “A Spot of Sanity.” Please welcome Kim Kiernan and her Cocker Spaniel, Poppy, to the Fidose family. Here’s Kim’s first column if you missed it: http://fidoseofreality.com/spot-sanity-column-launches/
Room spinning. Pulse racing. Heart thumping. Can’t breathe. Limbs paralyzed. Thoughts racing. Body sweating. Head pounding. Nerves tightened. Senses heightened. Fists clenching. Fear rising. Dread descending. Hope evaporating. Anxiety rising. Depression falling.
They’re triggered by a dream, a memory, a smell, or even a show on television. All in the blink of an eye, I am sent reeling. Sometimes I am sitting next to someone on the couch watching a program. Sometimes I am having lunch with a friend. Sometimes I am at a movie or driving down the road. Frequently, I am fast asleep. My head knows that it was just a nightmare, but my body doesn’t. In my dreams, I never know that I’m dreaming. A cascade of stress hormones flood my body, triggering a fight or flight response, but with nowhere to go. The adrenalin and cortisol wreak havoc all over my body. I breathe slowly and try to think about something good. I think about walking with Poppy around a lake, looking at the beautiful birds. I love how interested she is in everything around her. I love how open she is to new experiences. I love how friendly she is with people and other dogs.
I concentrate on quieting the panic in my head. I tell myself to turn over and face Poppy. My body doesn’t want to move. I’m trapped in my own head while my heart threatens to jump out of my chest. I struggle to open my eyes and am finally able to turn over. I look at Poppy in her crate, which is resting on a table next to my bed. She looks at me with her loving, big brown eyes and I imagine her saying, “Hi Mama! Breakfast?” I tell myself to breathe and just watch Poppy watching me. I open the door on her crate and put my hand inside. She licks my hand and wraps her paws around my arm.
At this point I would love to have her on the bed with me to help dissipate the stress hormones, but Poppy must go outside immediately to avoid an accident. She hasn’t had complete control over her bladder and bowels, since her second disc rupture in April, 2012. She was diagnosed with IVDD (Intervertebral Disc Disease) in December of 2010, a week after her third birthday, when a calcified disc in her neck suddenly ruptured. It’s typical for a dog to regain bladder and bowel control after they start walking well. Poppy still has some neurological deficits, even though she is walking well. Most likely I will continue to have to empty her bladder five times a day for the rest of her life. After potty time, I can put her back on my bed to have snuggle time, but she keeps me on-task as Chief Food Provider.
Through repeated practice, I have become better at dispelling the dread and hyper-vigilance, but it is hard to shake. After a nightmare, I often have a haunted feeling for the rest of the day. It hangs with me like a cloud, shading my experiences, muddling my memories, and disrupting the joy in life. I have learned to pay attention to my nightmares. When I wake up having a panic attack, it’s my subconscious saying, “Hey, Kim! Hello?!! You’re stressed!” I often react with, “Really? I didn’t think anything was bothering me.” After some time, I try to force my brain to slow down and think about what is bothering me. It may be silent negative thoughts I say to myself. I am so good at hiding what I tell myself, even from me! It could be a TV show that shook memories awake, or I may be trying to do too much. When I get overwhelmed with everyday tasks and decisions, the stress tends to leak out in my sleep.
Keeping stress as low as possible is the best way to banish the anxiety, nightmares and resulting depression. It wasn’t until several years ago that I discovered the name for this condition: PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). My psychiatrist had written a letter to Social Security, encouraging them to continue disability benefits. He gave me a copy of the letter. I was floored that one of my diagnoses was PTSD. It had never occurred to me before, but he was right. My anxiety, the resulting depression, the suicidal thoughts, feelings of hopelessness and of being abnormal, were all a result of trauma. I had always associated PTSD with veterans coming home from war – not ME! I now know that PTSD is caused by many things in addition to serving in a war, including childhood trauma, being a crime victim, sexual assault, and suffering through a natural disaster or terrorist attack. Although the causes are different, the resulting symptoms are similar.
I realized that people like me are the hidden face of PTSD. I am someone you would chat with in a store or at the dog park, and you’d never realize the hidden war I have fought for thirty years. Through the love of Dog, I realized I am not alone, and neither are you! We as a pet-loving community not only share our love of animals, but share the support we find in each other. Thank you friends for the support you have shown me in the last two weeks. It’s been an emotional roller coaster, but through it all, Poppy and my animal-loving friends have been my Spot of Sanity!