Archive for the 'Relationship stuff/Betsy' Category

Good Grief: The Healing Power of Communal Mourning

I’ve written about grief on occasion here, and usually I get comments along the lines of, “I’m so sorry this is so hard for you.” Now, I always love to get comments! I love to know people are reading, and I’m interested in how my posts affect them and what they have to say. And I appreciate their heart-felt sympathy. At the same time, these comments have surprised me because I’ve been so relieved and happy that I am finally able to grieve. It sounds strange, but to finally be able to blog about my grief and to actively grieve is a wonderful gift. I celebrate it.

I think some of the dissonance between how I feel and how others guess I feel might have to do with a few factors, maybe in combination:

  • the difference between the noun (grief) and the verb (grieving)
  • my perspective on grief, which is at odds with our American culture’s relationship to grief
  • the fact that the ride I’ve been on in the last few years is not one most have taken. (Thank God.)
  • how I am coming to experience and express emotions since I started practicing Nonviolent Communication (NVC).

What do I mean by the ride I’ve taken? Well, I experienced a truckload of losses in a short time, and both because there were so many things to grieve, and because I was in a fight for my life, and because the very losses I incurred severely reduced my resources for coping and grieving, I was just way too overwhelmed to process it all. (If you know my story, you can skip the bulleted list below.)

Beginning in November 2007 and culminating with Gadget’s death in November 2009, I suffered the following losses:

  • basically overnight, due to Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases, I lost the ability to speak, move my limbs, sit up unaided, tolerate sound/touch/light/movement, which then involved the loss of communication and of my independence and freedom to go to the bathroom, get out of bed, feed myself, bathe, brush my teeth, etc., without a great deal of assistance
  • along with all the above was intractable pain, both body pain and continuous migraines. Pain isn’t usually described as a loss, but it’s horrible and traumatic, and it definitely involved loss of joy and ease and all sorts of things that are hard to put into words
  • also along with this, I experienced major mood and behavior changes (due to neurological damage from tick-borne diseases), which actually left me feeling like I had lost my self. I hadn’t even thought it was possible to lose myself before, and the fact that I could be taken over like that by feelings I hated and couldn’t control was terrifying, painful, and a source of shame (compounded by the way others reacted to my moods and behavior)
  • loss of important parts of my mind/cognitive functioning, including interest in writing, sex, or any form of creative expression
  • all this led to serious relationship damage with virtually everyone in my life, and the loss of trust and safety I had previously felt
  • then I went through a natural disaster which I’ve written about before, which caused me PTSD and further losses in my sense of safety in my home and in the world
  • immediately following that, my best friend of 16 years (and my main interpreter) ended our relationship, and her sister, my other best friend, and I experienced a tremendous strain in our relationship, so that we barely spoke
  • one of my best friends, Norm Meldrum, died
  • my therapist terminated with me
  • other friends left me or died
  • Gadget, my service dog, was diagnosed with lymphoma
  • Gadget died of mast cell cancer
  • my remaining best friend finally ended our foundering relationship

That’s a crapload of loss. In two years, I lost almost my entire social network and family of choice, my service dog, my functionality, and virtually any feelings of self-worth. Most of the meager sense of self I had was tied up in being Gadget’s partner. He needed me. We were a team. He was not resentful about doing things for me, and it was my mission in life to save him, to keep him alive. I believed that even if I didn’t matter to anyone else, I mattered to him.

And then he died, and part of me died with him. It was too much. I couldn’t bear it. Something in me broke.

When I sought out support, people kept telling me to journal about him and to “let my feelings out,” to cry. But I couldn’t. I physically couldn’t journal (by hand) for the most part, and when I tried, when I could type, I didn’t know what to write. Nothing came out — and I’m a writer! I tried to cry and nothing happened. I just felt blank. I felt empty. The other people on my dog grief list talked of crying every day, many times a day, and I’d think, “What is wrong with me? Did I not really love Gadget? What kind of cold-hearted freak am I?”

There were two times I connected to my grief over losing Gadget, and they were so horrible, I can’t describe it. It was like being thrown into a bottomless black pit. I felt like my heart was squeezed into the size of a walnut. The emotional pain was so bad, I wanted to die. None of this feels adequate to describe the experience. If my feelings were a painting, it would be Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

I couldn’t go back there.

So, for a long time, I just felt closed off and careful and scared. This was grief (the noun). Grief can take any form — anger, sorrow, numbness, depression, anxiety, a sense of unreality, etc.

My grief was mixed up with the judgements I’d internalized based on what people said when they were upset with me. I didn’t believe I could connect with anyone or open up to anyone because I thought I was a horrible, selfish person — that’s what my friends told me when they ended our friendships — and that if I revealed any of my true feelings, people would be disgusted and angry and see me for the monster I was, and they would leave me, too. And because I couldn’t grieve, I couldn’t feel Gadget. And because I couldn’t feel him, I couldn’t grieve him.

And now, things are different. They are changing. One big difference is that I’m not dying anymore; I’m less ill than I was. I also am not experiencing mental illness anymore, which is a tremendous relief, as it felt horrible to be in so much psychological pain and to not be able to trust myself or my perceptions.

The other thing that has changed is that I’ve been studying NVC. It’s hard to describe just what a huge impact this has had on my life. I started taking classes by telephone, taught by and for people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, about a year-and-a-half ago, though it feels longer. The biggest gift, at first, was that I had friends again. I was part of a community, and I wasn’t a freak or “too needy.” Everyone in my classes had really tough lives; many of them were in worse situations than me. I often felt helpless and heartsick at what they were going through, but I also appreciated that I had something to offer, that just being a supportive presence was something. It felt good to be contributing to other people again. Also, I was shocked to discover that people seemed to like me. For quite a while I thought I was hoodwinking them into thinking I was a nice person. Eventually I started to think I might not be the monster I thought I was.

Then, as I practiced NVC more, I started learning how to apply it to myself and others. NVC is about empathy and compassion. It’s about learning to recognize judgements of ourselves or others and how to translate those judgements into an understanding of ours’ or others’ feelings and needs. I started to realize just how much I judged myself — all day, every day. I started to be able to give myself compassion. I started to be able to accept others’ compassion for me. Very, very slowly, I have been able to communicate better with the people in my life, to be less triggered, to take things less personally.

A turning point came for me on October 2, 2011. There was a 50-hour-long NVC empathy phone call. It was international, in celebration of Gandhi’s birthday. I would call in and mostly listen for a couple of hours here or there, but I felt a need building in me to be heard, to express the grief that was rising up in me. Eventually, I felt like I could hardly breathe for choking it down.

I asked for empathy from these people who were strangers, from all over the world. I was terrified of doing it, and yet I knew I needed to do it. It was a very vulnerable experience. I felt scared and naked and anxious. I was afraid they would all be disgusted by my neediness, that they would see me as selfish and pathetic. But I was desperate to share my grief.

I started talking about Norm and Gadget, and I cried and cried and cried. People made empathy guesses. People gave me support. Nobody judged me. Everyone was grateful to me. They thanked me for sharing myself with them. They thanked me for my vulnerability and authenticity. They were moved. Supporting me had met needs for them. I couldn’t believe this. I had to ask the facilitator, “Why?” How? How could my outpouring of pain possibly feel good or useful to anyone else? I don’t remember what she said, but I remember that I believed her. Through this haze of pain, although I can’t remember most of what I said, and even less of what was said to me, I felt like I was being given a second chance at life.

It was so hard to believe that I gave anything to anyone that night, and yet, everyone was being honest. Rather embarrassingly, I keep “running into” people on NVC teleclasses who remembered me from that night. Some people have told me that it was the session that touched them the most.

I have to believe them, because one of the aspects of NVC I love the most is the honesty. I have not run into any game playing. People say what they feel or need, even if it might be awkward or not in line with cultural norms of politeness, but in a way that is compassionate toward themselves and others. They are not being mean; they care about others’ feelings, but they recognize that their needs and feelings are nobody else’s responsibility. There is no blame. It’s like the anti-guilt trip.

That call was life-changing. I felt like a hundred pounds had been lifted off my shoulders. I knew I needed more of that. The opportunity to grieve in community.

That hour of sobbing my heart out to a big group of strangers has had a big ripple effect in my life. I finally believed I was on the road to grieving — the verb. To not just be mired in grief, but to take an active role in my grieving. It hasn’t been smooth or clear or easy. A lot of the time I still get stuck and shut down. It’s taken me quite a while to learn how to grieve, and I’m just beginning. I have so many things to grieve, it will probably take many years before I have touched it all.

For now, most of the grief that’s coming up is for Gadget and Norm. I am hardly ever able to grieve by myself. The exception is occasionally when I’m writing a blog post like this one, feelings will come up as certain realizations hit me when I type them. Mostly, however, I grieve with other NVC people. That feels safest to me. That is where I can express my sorrow and have it welcomed and held with tenderness. I get empathy and do not get judgements — no “shoulds” or suggestions or advice. Just deep listening and connection. And then, when I get off the phone, after crying my heart out, I feel good. I feel lighter.

I sometimes feel happy again. Not just okay, but happy. I had forgotten what it felt like. At the check-in for an NVC class a few months ago, we always give a feeling and a need we’re having in that moment. I was groping around for the feeling I was having: Peaceful? No. Calm? No. I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was . . . not unhappy. Then I realized, I was happy! I felt almost guilty announcing that!

This is one of those counterintuitive things I keep having to learn over and over again, all my life. To get to the joy, I have to go through the grief. After sobbing my guts out, I’ll be able to laugh.

I have not yet learned how to grieve by myself. I think I need to keep being in the safe space of other empathic people who welcome my grief to feel safe enough to be that emotionally raw. I am afraid of grieving by myself, because I know that abyss is potentially there, and I could fall in. With others, I feel held. I can let the wound bleed, but I don’t have to worry that I will bleed until there is no life left in me. I can just let the wound of grief be cleansed by the outpouring and let the scar grow back over it and feel a little bit more healed.

I celebrate that I am able to grieve, that I am able to connect with my feelings about Norm and Gadget — not just cardboard cutouts of feelings I imagine I should have. I celebrate that there are people in my life who are not just willing, but eager, to take these journeys into my heart with me. I celebrate that I am able to feel a fuller range of emotions now — joy and laughter and hope, along with sorrow and grief.

I think our culture is not comfortable with grief. It’s messy and unpredictable and raw. We don’t know how to “fix it,” so we try to shush it away. But really, it is a way to celebrate life — that we are still here to grieve. That we suffer is part of being human. So please, congratulate me — I’m grieving.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (very much alive in me as I wrote this), and Barnum, sweetest SDiT

P.S. If you are a person with a chronic illness or disability who might be interested in an introductory class on NVC by telephone, Marlena, my teacher, has spaces available. Contact information and a basic description of the class are here, although the dates and times are wrong. (This is an old listing.)

Pie Zen (2nd Annual Thanksgiving Doggie Self-Control Pics)

Last year I blogged about my black-bottom pie, which I make every year for Thanksgiving. When I set it down to take a picture of it, Barnum came over. Thus, I started the tradition of Pie Zen.

This year, we had four pies for Thanksgiving, and it was my intention to take a picture of Barnum surrounded by all four pies. However, neither Barnum nor I were feeling well, so I stayed in bed while the others ate pie.

Fortunately, Betsy was available to help with a picture of pie zen:

Betsy sits at table with four whole pies in front of her. She is leaning back in her chair, eyes shut, a serene expression on her face, and her palms facing upward with thumb and middle finger touching, as if she is meditating.

Betsy practices pie zen.

Today, Barnum and I were both feeling better, so we were able to show Barnum’s skill, having gone from a Level One Pie Zen Master to a Level Four Pie Zen Master in just a year!

Barnum is lying on a hardwood floor. Next to his left elbow is an apple pie. Next to his left front paw is a pumpkin pie. Next to his right front paw is a pecan pie. And next to his right elbow is a custard pie. He is looking at the pumpkin pie.

Ooh, I like pumpkin!

Barnum still surrounded by four pies, but looking up and leaning away from the pumpkin pie.

What's that? I should leave the pumpkin pie alone?


Barnum lying very relaxed, legs spread out, with the pumpkin pie between his front legs, and surrounded by the other three pies.

This is a piece of cake. I mean, pie.

Have You Seen This Ball?

I am so very grouchy today. I have been overdoing on every level: physical, cognitive, emotional, and I’m paying the price.

I’m on day two of a migraine I can’t seem to shake, day and night, which is not doing wonders for my sleep. Barnum has hair in his ears from the haircut we gave him yesterday, and I have been trying to decide whether (and what) to use as a non-commercial ear flush, since all the commercial ones are scented. He hates having anything in his ears, so that will be fun, if I decide to do it.

I’m also having writer’s block — which I never have — on a story that I’ve been given an extension on by the editor. So, I really feel indebted to her that I have to finish it. Yet, it is floundering, and I fear that whatever I send her will not even be something she can use. And I’m still struggling to finish my post for the ADBC.

Of course, there’s also the never-ending pchair saga. I haven’t made progress on my letter of demand because my brain has been too occupied with other things, or I’ve been too sick (from overdoing). Meanwhile, Betsy and I have been making Herculean efforts to get my old Jet running again, and that’s been a bumpy ride, which has not made for happiness on the home-front, either.

Still, there is progress there, at least.A very nice guy from my town came over today to help me figure out why we can’t get the Jet working, even though we had the batteries installed correctly, and they are new. It took a lot of detective work, but we have figured out there is a wiring issue with one of the wheel motors. It’s not safe to use yet, since it could die at any moment, but at least now I can charge it and use it around the house to keep the batteries in shape.

Barnum was a complete flake when my neighbor was here working on the chair with me: getting in the way, stealing treats, totally couldn’t figure out how to do “go to mat,” and then when he did, couldn’t maintain it. His zen was abysmal, particularly in the realm of crotch sniffing — which he only does with strange men, which makes it hard to practice! — and is not an appealing habit for a service dog! Augh! There are always 8 million additional skills he needs “work” on!

Lest I go into a complete spiral of despair and frustration, let me remind myself of skills he really knows and is reliable on:

  • Shutting doors. (He actually went and shut a closet door while my neighbor was here, and he’s only ever had one session on that door before, of only two or three repetitions. I was impressed.)
  • Shutting drawers.
  • Shutting cabinets.
  • Brace. I had to get up and down from the floor several times, and he really is rock-solid on this one. It really helps. I have to start calling him over more for help with that when I just need a moment of balance at other times, too.
  • Stand.

That’s it! AUGH! He still does not even have sit and down under stimulus control! He confuses them, gets nervous, cues off of environmental or body cues, etc.

So, here’s a new problem: Barnum’s favorite ball is dead. It was the only toy he would play with anymore, so this is a problem. Play is important.

Many years ago, Deb, my neighbor, gave Jersey and Gadget each a ball for Hanukkah. Jersey never had any interest in hers. Gadget wasn’t interested in his except for water retrieve, which became very useful as part of him helping me to swim.

We had a blue one and a green one. The blue one died eventually (a Lab chomped it to death during a play date), but the green one was Barnum’s most, most, most favorite toy. It’s a good size for his mouth (bigger than a tennis ball, about the size of a large naval orange or a small grapefruit), and soft enough to squeeze but still tough enough to have lasted. Most importantly, it squeals incredibly loudly. Or, it used to. That’s what he loved so much about it. It had a very loud, high- and multi-pitched, piercing squeal. If you didn’t know what it was when  you first heard it, you might be concerned that a small animal or baby was being killed, but Barnum’s Mr. Prey drive, so he loved that.

This was not an ordinary squeaker, at all. The squeaker was part of the ball, part of the construction, and “squeaker” is really a misnomer. It was a squealer.

Another important factor was that even when these balls got tooth holes in them, they still squeaked (although, if  you used them at the beach, they became waterlogged). Apparently, however, they are not made to withstand being accidentally run over by a powerchair.

Now, Barnum will run and pick the ball up, attempt to squeak it, and then drop it in disappointment. It’s a very sad sight to behold.

Thus, I am asking you, my internet dog community: Have You Seen This Ball?

Green plastic ball with blue, orange, and pink slightly raised designs on it. The designs are five-pointed stars or "suns" -- rough-shaped circles with little lines around them like rays. This ball is scuffed up quite a bit.

The Best Dog Toy in the World

I haven’t seen them in any dog catalog I have. I’m really hoping I can replace it. If I can find several, I will buy them all!

Please, if you see this ball anywhere — online, in a catalog, at a pet supply store, at a garage sale — buy it and send it to me! I will reimburse you! Or tell me about it so I can buy it.

Just imagine Barnum quoting Shalom Aleichem, “So, if you had a bad week, why should I suffer?” Poor dog wants his ball.

– Sharon (fully trained grouch), Gadget  (sorely missed on days like these), and Barnum, SDiT and bored pup

Waspish Wednesday: No, I Really Am an Actual Lesbian Blogger

I know it’s not technically Wednesday, but I’m a blogger, so if I pretend it’s Wednesday, thousands of people might believe me, right?

It’s true; I usually write about dog training or disability rights activism or chronic illness awareness or service dog issues. Nevertheless, I have mentioned that I’m a lesbian in many of my blogs, and I want you to know I’m being straight with you, so to speak, about that.

I just wanted to let you know, I am, personally, an actual lesbian. So is Betsy. Jersey was definitely straight, and we think Gadget was bi and poly. I can’t speak for Barnum. We’ll have to wait and see how his sexual and gender identities evolve. But, no matter what they are, Betsy and I will be supportive. Barnum will not be living under an oppressive lesbian humanoid regime here.

In case you’re still reeling from the other “lesbian blogger” scandals and are afraid to take my word for it, here is proof:

Sharon wearing a long pink dress sitting in her powerchair on the lawn with Betsy kneeling on one knee beside her. They are facing each other and kissing. Sharon has her arm around Betsy. Betsy is wearing a blue polo shirt and white shorts. Both women have short, dark hair, glasses, and a few extra pounds.

Actual lesbians in our natural habitat: the Northampton area.

This was taken on our six-year-anniversary, last year. That is me, on the left (the “femme” as we lesbians refer to lesbians like me), with Betsy (the “butch,” as we lesbians refer to butch lesbians like herself), the woman I live with, kissing. Because she is a woman and I am a woman, and we’re lesbians. Kissing is part of what lesbians do.

Lesbians also devote themselves to multiple social justice or progressive issues, experience invisibility, feed our dogs or cats better than ourselves, watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and get made fun of for not devoting enough time to our hairstyles.

Sometimes we have sex, but a lot of the time we just read or write about having sex or process about the fact that we’re not having sex, and how we both feel about that. We cry a lot, because we’re girls, and we learned from Marlo Thomas that “It’s Alright to Cry.”

This picture is from several years ago, proving my long herstory of lesbianism:

Sharon stands in front of a large rainbow pride flag wearing a black, red, and white plaid shirt with one hand up next to her head and the other flat below her chin. Her hair is very short and curly.

Yes, that's my real hair. No curlers or products.

Although many modern lesbians like to claim this is a stereotype or relic of the past, the above picture provides conclusive proof that lesbians do have short haircuts, wear flannel plaid, tend to carry a few extra pounds (and not wear bras), engage in vogueing, and display gay pride symbols — such as the rainbow flag — in our domiciles.

I wanted to “come out” about this because a certain very popular blog, ostensibly written by a Syrian lesbian, actually turned out to be written by a white, straight man. That revelation was followed by another: that the lesbian blogger who was supporting the work of the first “lesbian” blogger is also a straight man. Both of whom are American; neither of whom live in the Middle East.

These guys both did this because they are concerned about the rights and needs of LGBTQ people living in the Middle East or under other oppressive regimes. So, rather than doing something really weird like donating money to Gay Middle East, a grassroots website of real LGBTQ people living in the Middle East, or Israeli Gay Youth, or The Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, they decided to support the cause of lesbians in Syria by pretending to be lesbians.

Here’s more information on the completely irrelevant work that the Astraea Foundation is doing with its multiple International Fund Grants:

[Funds] are granted to innovative LGBTI-led human rights and social change organizations and projects across Africa, the Americas, Asia, Eastern Europe/Commonwealth of Independent States and the Middle East.

These include the International Emergency Fund, the International Movement Fund, the Consortium of Latin American Funds LBT Project, and the International LGBTQQ Youth Fund. All of which, shockingly, provide actual assistance to actual lesbians living in oppressive situations, and who do not need random foreign straight men pretending to be them to decide the best way for them to organize or promote their agendas.

Or, these guys could have blogged about these organizations or the groups they fund. They could have held fundraisers for these organizations (which certainly can use that kind of help). They could invite speakers or guest bloggers from these organizations to blog on their own blogs.

Fuck, they could have donated money to lesbians here at home who are suffering under oppressive situations, such as almost every disabled lesbian I know, who are scraping by in poverty, and lesbians in prison, who live under deplorable conditions, or lesbians who are beaten, raped, or have their kids taken from them for being lesbians. That all still happens in America!

But that would have been so boring and obvious, and — what’s the word? Respectful? — I can’t think of it. Let’s just say the opposite of massive privilege-grabbing boneheadedness.

It reminds me of the mid-1990s, when k.d. lang and Melissa Etheridge and Ellen DeGeneres all came out (and then ABC dropped Ellen like a hot rock after she’d netted them some of the highest ratings in history), and Time and Newsweek were saying how it was now “cool” and “trendy” to be a “lipstick lesbian,” blah blah blah. Yet, somehow, none of this “trendiness” resulted in more rights, reduction in poverty, removal of glass ceilings, increased safety from violence, or anything else, um, what’s the opposite of the world they were depicting? Real?

I wish someone would have informed all the young men who tried to attack me on the street, or who threw rocks at me and my girlfriend, or who chucked a piece of cement through our window because we were lesbians, that they could stop, because I was trendy. Or told the employer at the job I got fired from for being a lesbian (and yes, that was legal back then). Or the professor at my university who told me I was genetically flawed — an evolutionary mistake — because I was queer. Obviously, since he was a chemical engineering professor and not a sociology or literary professor, he didn’t realize I was actually on the cutting edge of emerging social norms. And therefore as normal as a drunk straight guy asking if he could watch my girlfriend and me have sex, because that is hot.

It certainly was trendy for straight men to go to lesbian online chats and try to pretend to be lesbians so they could pretend to have pretend sex with us. And to keep making craploads of money off of straight women pretending to be lesbians pretending to have sex with each other in visual media for the enjoyment of other straight dudes.

But none of this seemed to actually affect me, as an actual lesbian. I probably wasn’t trendy enough — even though I had been wearing lipstick for years!

As it turns out, however, the trend of straight men pretending to be lesbians online is alive and well! Thank goodness! That will keep all us real lesbian bloggers honest. Or sarcastic. Maybe it will keep us just a little more bitter and sarcastic than we already were. Hm.

A funny picture of Barnum with an extremely muddy face, his beard and nose caked with dirt, his mouth open, facing the camera. Behind him is creen grass.

I love my two lesbian moms.

– Sharon (A Lesbian-Identified Lesbian Since 1990) and Barnum, SDiT? (and neutered male non-lesbian [as far as we know])

The Good, the Dead & the Bloody: Today’s Walk

Today, Betsy and I decided to go to the pond (the happiest doggy place on earth). The plan was for me to walk Barnum, now that my powerchair was fixed, and Betsy would ride her bike.

Barnum performed excellently for most of the walk, remembering to keep the leash loose, even though we were going in a different direction than he’s used to. Lots of exciting smells and sights — a swamp, cars, etc. The only problem was if Betsy rode ahead, he got upset and whined. He does not like the pack to be separated!

However, often I could see him start to move ahead, and then he’d remember that he was about to tighten the leash, and he would stop or come back, so that it did not tighten, and he stayed in position. I could see him thinking, which was wonderful. Nothing thrills me more than seeing a dog think — especially this dog!

The mosquitoes were really getting vicious, so I decided to go faster to see if we could lose them. Usually, speeding up is too exciting for Barnum and causes him to lose focus, resulting in pulling. However, today, after a few reminders (going backward when the leash tightened), he actually did quite well going at high speed without pulling.

It really helped that we have discovered a new treat: mozzarella cheese. It is cheaper and less messy than the cheddar we’d used in the past, and Barnum is wild about it. This came in particularly handy when my chair completely died about a half-of-a-mile from my house. Yeah. Again. Dead chair. Pfft.

AUGH! That was “the dead.”

I unlocked the wheels. Betsy pushed me out of the street to the side of the road, then biked back home to get my van. Barnum and I practiced lots of basic behaviors, which he did with tremendous zeal (thanks to the mozzarella) and despite the swarms of mosquitoes, distracting new environment, and his desire to get going! We also had an opportunity to play Look at That! Whenever a car went by.

I was pleased, proud, and impressed with him. That was “the good.”

Betsy and I were both tired. She’d had to do lots of extra biking to deal with our slow, erratic pace, and then haul ass back to the van up a steep hill. She didn’t bring her bike back because it would have been difficult to fit in the chair and dog and bike. Her plan was to just take us all home.

I, however, felt bad that Barnum was not getting a chance to run around off-leash at the pond, so I asked if we could go to the pond, and I’d just stay in the car, and she could do just a short walk with him there. So, off we went. I asked, “Do you want to go to the POND?”

And he whipped around and stared at me with his ears all perked up, and his eyebrows raised, and his nose about half-an-inch from mine, and then he leaned toward the dashboard, as if that would get us there faster. He only whined very quietly, twice, on our way there. This is a huge improvement from when he used to jump and bounce and whine with excitement about going to the P-O-N-D.

When we arrived, he did a very nice sit-stay before unloading, and while he did not sit immediately when I asked him after he jumped out, he didn’t pull, and he did sit after three or four seconds, which is loads better than he ever did before. I c/t and he stood. I asked for a sit again, which he did, asked him to stay, took off his leash, asked for eye contact, and released him. He was perfect!

Betsy and Barnum went off down the trail and I settled in to listen to the pledge drive for our local NPR station. (I actually enjoy their pledge drives more than most of the programming; I know, I’m very strange.)

A car pulled in next to me which had a beautiful great Pyrenees in the back. The person seemed to be waiting, as did the dog.

Eventually she got out, and we recognized each other. She farms nearby. We chatted about our dogs. Hers is a stray she recently adopted, apparently a great Pyr/Maremma mix.

He was absolutely gorgeous, with such a friendly face and softly waving tail. He seemed the picture of mellow doggy pleasantness, which just shows you that 1. looks can be deceiving, and 2. that I need to relinquish my foolish habitual assumption that a dog that appears friendly in the moment is an entirely safe dog.

At any rate, she said she had a friend coming who had several dogs who do all sorts of dog sports and such, and they were helping her dog learn. That all sounded terrific, I thought, and was wondering how I could hook up with her friend for more doggy community.

Her friend drove up. Three mixed-breed dogs of various sizes came pelting out, and all the dogs romped happily together. I hoped that Barnum would behave well with all these dogs and not refuse to come back because he wanted to play.

My thoughts always go first to my dog’s behavior.

Next thing I knew, I heard a lot of serious barking. It sounded like one dog barking a lot, and I didn’t think it sounded like Barnum, but I wasn’t sure. He’s usually very good with other dogs, ranging from excellent to overexuberantly obnoxious, but never aggressive. However, he has barked at people a couple of times in the past (though not in several months), so I was concerned. I was also worried about the possibility that he was on the receiving end of the barking.

I got out of the van and called, and Barnum came running. He accepted some treats and then ran partway back, where Betsy appeared, to play with a smallish dog (about 30 pounds)  that looked a bit like a fox. Betsy walked toward me, Barnum and his friend bowed and bounced and chased — in Betsy’s direction.

The small dog slammed its  entire body sideways into Betsy’s knee, hyperextending it. This is the same knee that was injured (by hyperextension) last winter, preventing her from being able to do most of her preferred outdoor activities last summer. Quite reasonably, Betsy landed on the ground and cried.

I was sitting on the ground with her, asking her about her knee and about what the barking had been about. She said the white dog had been barking at Barnum and gone after him, and that Barnum had cowered and run away. I was concerned about Betsy’s misery over her knee, but glad that Barnum had not acted inappropriately. It didn’t seem like him to run and cower, but he is a lover, not a fighter.

The little red dog’s person showed up and called her. The person didn’t seem at all concerned that Betsy and I were sitting on the ground, and that Betsy was distressed.

We got into the van and went home. Betsy hobbled inside to get my other powerchair, since we’d decided to leave the dead one in the van. Once inside, I took off Barnum’s hunter orange vest (we heard a gunshot just before we left home, even though it isn’t hunting season) and leash, my shoes and socks. Barnum went to his favorite dog bed, by the window, and collapsed. That’s when I saw the droplets of blood on the floor.

Betsy hobbled by to avail herself of a package of frozen peas and said, “He’s injured. There’s blood on the floor.”

I told her that I knew and as soon as I’d put on my slippers, I’d assess the situation. There was a huge smear of blood on the window now. This explained the hiding and cowering!

I didn’t think it was his paws because of the location and shape of the blood drops and smears. I put my hands on either side of his mouth, and one came away clean (okay, it was slimy but not bloody) and the other came away bloody. I was about to open his mouth to check his lips, gums, and teeth, when Betsy said, “I think it’s his ear.”

She was right. Apparently, the great Pyr had bitten Barnum’s ear, though it took me a long time to figure out what the damage was, because of all the fur and blood. I know from a previous incident (when I nicked Gadget’s ear with the clippers, and it bled for almost a day!) that ears are very vascular and bleed profusely, which makes injuries there difficult to assess. I called the ER and they told me what would necessitate a visit. I went back to investigate more. (Thick, black fur and dark red blood on Barnum’s body part that he least likes having handled made for a difficult cleanup and assessment.)

At first I thought it was bitten through, and that I’d have to take  him to the ER — Betsy and I really did not want to have to do that — but when my PCA came tonight, she got me stuff to clean the blood off more thoroughly and then fed Barnum hot dog pieces while I trimmed the fur and cleaned the area. It seems to be a simple laceration on the outer flap of the ear. I think I cleaned it reasonably well. Once it forms a scab, I’ll try to clean more hair out of it. I don’t anticipate needing to go to the vet unless it gets infected.

Unfortunately, I don’t know the last name of the friend whose dog bit Barnum, and we know nothing about her friend, whose dog knocked Betsy over. (If I had a dollar for every story I’ve heard about dogs playing who knocked someone over! It’s a well-known dog park hazard! Makes me glad I’m seated!)

While we were attending to Barnum’s ear, my PCA said, “Wow, what a difference!” I didn’t know what she was referring to.

She said, “He’s licking my hands! Before, if you offered him a treat, he was like, “Oh, okay, if you want. . .’.”

I’m very tired, and I feel bad for Barnum’s ear and worse for Betsy’s knee, but very pleased with my little dude who is growing into such a nice, well-behaved dog. Now I want to find a friendly dog — preferably a few — whom he doesn’t know so this doesn’t become a reactive issue due to a single-event trauma. I don’t think it will, because he just loves other dogs so much (he was playing with another dog right after it happened), but you never know when a phobia will blossom. Better to take preventative action.

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, very likely SDiT material

The Fans Have Spoken!

Life is good. I have a warm, wet, slimy bouvier beard in my lap. (Bouvier beards are required by Dog’s Law to be gross. The Dutch nickname for the breed means, “dirty beard.”)

Now I have to worry about all the ticks he’s probably brought into the bed with him.

This May has been terrible for ticks. Appropriately icky for Lyme disease awareness month. Betsy, all my PCAs, and I have all found them on ourselves at least once, most of us have had one attached, though briefly.

I will soon put up my post on how to tick-check your dog. Meanwhile, please remember to tick-check yourselves. Very important.

Back to my amazing week. The response to my questions about Twitter and Facebook have wowed me. Thank you! I’m now tweeting with several of you! Very cool. I’m still learning how to say everything in 140 characters or less. (You may have noticed, brevity is not my long suit. No pun intended.)

I’m slooooowly starting to build a FB fan page. I will let you know when it’s up.

The auction is almost over. It ends in less than three hours! Some exciting bids have come in this evening (while I was taking a nap, mostly!)

Thank  you so much to everyone who has supported it!

Note: If you really want the thing(s) you bid on (including my stuff), please check the site, because some of you have been outbid and may need to snipe! (That’s a term I learned from Betsy, who sells on eBay. She tries to do it when she buys, but we have a slow internet connection, so it’s tricky.)

I’m extending the deadline for a couple of days for you to get your comments in at my other blog post. Because . . .

I would like to be able to thank you with an e-click or tweet-click from me (I have it as a wav file now, too!), and/or a thank you postcard (Sick Humor Postcards or Barnum card) from me in the mail, and/or if you’re interested in the After Gadget Jackpot, please go to yesterday’s blog about it and comment.

Random tangent: Postcard postage has gone up to 29 cents. I didn’t this, and have been part of a creative-postcard-sending circle, and we were all doing 28 cents of postage. Oy!

I know several of you have bid who haven’t commented yet. But I don’t know everyone’s other handles and names and e-addies, so it’s too confusing for me to try to put in your names, myself. (And if Barnum chooses you, and you don’t want the book or whatever, that’s fine! I won’t force it on anyone!)

Betsy has agreed to be judge when I have Barnum pick out the winner. (I plan to video or photograph the event.) She has pointed out that I either will need to put the pieces of paper face down, so Barnum can’t read them, or to have a serious talk with him about ethics, so he doesn’t choose someone intentionally. After all, if Dumbledore’s Goblet of Fire can be hoodwinked, you never really know if you have an impartial judge (lying across your feet in your bed, snoring).

Can you tell I’m a bit giddy by now?

I have experienced wonderful sisterhood this week working with the other women to help our friend.

I have been totally blown out of the water by you folks.

The whole experience has given me new hope — in making and keeping friendships, in maybe being able to work more, in learning I can do things I didn’t realize I knew how to do. I thought I was just going to volunteer a few hours to get things going. Just shows to go ya.

I tried to make our group of Feisty Sisters an Apology-Free Zone, because there were always comments like, “I’m sorry my typing is so bad, I’m having seizures,” and “I’m sorry I wasn’t around yesterday, I was only awake for four hours,” and “I’m sorry I couldn’t do my shift earlier, I was in the ER today.”

I guess that’s my “Lyme disease and MCS awareness month” note for this post. The above dialogue is a pretty good indication of what it’s like to be in a group of women with Lyme and MCS. We’re really sick, and we’re so used to it, and to people “not getting it” (and because we’re women), we think we have to apologize for ourselves all the time.

When I would remind the gals not to apologize,they would apologize for apologizing! People would “like” me saying, “Don’t apologize,” and they would apologize themselves, the next time. Somebody else would “like” me telling them not to apologize, too. Good times.

Okay, snipe away. I’ll see you on the other side.

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT?

P.S. Don’t worry. Barnum still knows what a clicker sounds like. We’ve been doing a fair amount of clicking-from-bed all week.

longest day ever? barnum: fixed. chair: fixed?

last night i spent 2.5 hours shaving barnum down with betsy. he looks surprisingly sleek; we didn’t do as bad a job as usual! (pictures to come.)

I went to sleep at 3:30 a.m.

woke at 6 a.m.

rushed around to get out the door with betsy and barnum by 8 a.m. and with loads of stuff for our long day.

dropped barnum off at the vet for neutering (more on this soon), a soft rag that I slept with against my skin to make his overnight stay easier, instructions for x-rays of his hips and elbows while he “under” as well as a request for trimming matted fur between toes (he has thickets of fur everyeveryeverywhere!).

betsy and i drove 2 hrs to dave, the guy who built my pchair (more on him and his organization, later, too), for repairs. dave’s workers never showed, so we spent The Entire Day waiting for various people to be able to do various things on the chair: betsy and dave and dave’s wife debbie, and dave’s neighbor, and whomever else he could cobble together, to help work on repairs. since the chair was out of the van, i spent almost the whole day sitting in the van being exposed to eau du city chemical exposures: smoke, diesel fumes (commuter rail and cargo trains went by every twenty minutes or so), some sort of horrible burning smell, very nice-but-fragranced people, etc. i used up my entire supply of oxygen tanks (four!).

at noon, i called the vet to check on barnum and was told he was recovering nicely.

at a certain point, i had to get very creative about how to relieve my bladder in the van. post for another time.

all this free time sitting in the car gave me a chance to clean up the debris, learn how to use my cell phone, and learn how to use my gps (which i’ve had over a year and never tried before; it was extremely useful for finding places to eat and then getting home).

at 4:30 i called the vet again to check on barnum, ask how he was doing, did he behave well, was he resting calmly, was he cooperative at the beginning, was he on pain meds, did he seem comfortable? yes, yes, yes. ok. wanted to ask her to tell him i loved him, but didn’t think that’d go over.

around 6 or 7 or 8 pm (who can keep track anymore?) dave’s brother (sorry, can’t remember his name) was able to do some of the finishing work on the chair repairs, then i tested it, then betsy and dave’s brother tweaked it more, based on my body/positioning needs. i tested the chair. we packed up.

we had to stop for another bathroom break and a snack (whole foods market) because, silly me, i had only packed lunch for us, not lunch, snack, and dinner.

all day long i longed to go home and see barnum, then remembered there would be no barnum at home. such a strange, lonely, wrong feeling to think of coming home to no dog.

we finally arrived home at 11 p.m. we had been on the road for 15 hours. i’ve had 2.5 hours of sleep.

betsy helped me bathe and change — to get all the chemical residues off me. i have a migraine, but we were both impressed that it took until about 8 p.m. for the migraine to hit. i started writing this blog to unwind so i can sleep. i keep dozing off before i can hit “publish.”

i’ve been up now — and “going” — for 20 hours. i think today was the first time i’ve been in a grocery store in  years? definitely first time in this new chair. found out whole foods does not carry adult diapers (story for another time).

don’t know yet if the chair is entirely fixed, because it will need some field testing, but several things were discovered that were wrong with it and repaired, so that’s definitely a good sign.

betsy had been adamant that if she spent the whole day out with me doing things, things needed to get accomplished, although neither of us ever thought that “the whole day” would really be the entire whole completely full day, like it was.

but here are some things we definitely got accomplished:

– barnum is “fixed” (neutered)

– the pchair leg rests have been readjusted to fit me better  (fixed?)

– various chair wiring issues were discovered and repaired (fixed?)

these are all accomplishments!

hidden background: for the past couple of weeks, betsy and i have been discussing if we are breaking up. we have felt like we don’t want to, yet there are certain needs we cannot meet for each other, which has been true for many ears. this has been another major heartbreak i have not been blogging about, mostly to protect betsy’s privacy.

but two things became very clear to me today:

1. all day i was missing barnum and looking forward to seeing him when i got home, then realizing he would not be here when i came home, and when i arrived home and he wasn’t here, i just knew that no matter what, i cannot live  without a dog in my life. it’s just wrong. i love barnum. he is my dog. whatever else happens, that is True.

2. no matter what happens with betsy, i love her, she loves me, and we must continue to be family and be in each other’s lives, whatever form that takes. we belong together. i need her in my life like i need a dog, and she understands that’s the best thing i can say about a person. i am leaning toward some unconventional definition of relationship, partner, family, etc. we will have to see what we can come up with that works.

i told her this on our way home — that we just have to stay together, in some form — after making her laugh so hard for so long that her driving was erratically unsafe. the humor primarily involved a gluten-free, dairy-free chocolate cupcake i bought her as a thank-you gift for the day.

i also told her that i had realized we had to be together, one way or another, when i was in the whole foods bathroom. we have decided i should go to whole foods bathrooms for all my major relationship thinking and decision-making.

i have no idea when or how i will recover from this day.

blogs to come, eventually, on the continuing decision-making process about barnum’s future as my SD, the neutering (these are related!), how the chair handles now that it’s been tinkered with, all with pictures and videos, hopefully, when i am functional again.

or, what passes for functional, in my life.

please please please please may i sleep, long, hard and undisturbed by migraine-induced nightmares and the dogless house.


sharon, the muse of gadget, and barnum (sdit?) now a few ounces lighter

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