I understand the need for finding people whose stories resemble your own, for it can give some of the greatest advise, support, and understanding of what is to come. I understand being uncomfortable with sharing such a personal side of yourself with strangers. I have also faced too many times in my life the feeling of judgment that often unintentionally comes from well meaning people who are trying to make you see and embrace their views as a tool to your survival, who come off as curt or arrogant if you do not come to share their view. (I must say it is truly disheartening to be searching in your own way for the positive in you and your own enlightenment only to be told by another how unenlightened or negative you are.)
During my struggle, I tried many different avenues in an attempt to find some sort of therapeutic path which worked for me. I grilled doctors and nurses for explanations of every aspect of my brain surgery, treatments, predicted outcomes, recovery expectations and timelines. I analyzed percentages for survival, brain damage, and living at a diminished capacity. I read papers, scanned blogs, and stalked survivor forums. I inhaled books I felt might shed light or be indicative of what I would need to face. I talked honestly and openly with friends and family. (I spent massive amounts of time with one friend in particular venting out the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all.) I listened and communicated with other survivors. I saw a therapist. I sat in on group therapy sessions. I actually walked into a couple of churches to sit in the stoic silence and talk to priests, which was a miracle in itself. I even attended a couple of random Anonymous meetings to feel less alone. All in the hope of being better able to deal with the feeling of existing in something that felt like I was living in a downward spiral beyond my control.
To be honest, not much helped. Friends and family helped the most, but after a while I started to feel like a burden for not having survived better or healed quicker. I tried to remain open, but the more structured these attempts were, the less they had a positive effect on me. As much as I tried to gleen from each, they left me feeling very lonely, like an interloper in the world. No one's story was quite like mine. People seemed to be facing one major problem at a time, while to me it felt like I was being bombarded by a thousand life changing events at once. It was paralyzing.
Then unplanned and unsought therapy slammed into me. Someone, who I knew only in passing, offered me her dog. (My mother had always had West Highland terriers, so I had grown up with them.) This woman had a cute one, which I always commented on when we crossed paths. She remembered this and when she needed to find a new home for her dog thought of me. I was not really in a position to take care of a dog. I could barely get out of bed some days. But Westies are expensive and turning a free one down seemed wrong, considering how many times my family had saved up for one. And he was a cute one. I convinced myself at the very least if it didn't work out, my mother would adore having another one. So I adopted Trooper and he came home with me. (However, he was quickly renamed the Irish Rogue since I had heard people tell me "I was being such a trooper" for so many months, that at that point just hearing that word irked me.)
Despite his cuteness, he was instantly a mistake. Joyful and rambunctious. He needed me. He needed walks, attention, and taking care of. I couldn't take care of me. Doing a load of laundry at that point resulted in me needing a nap. A little totally dependent creature was just plan exhausting. By the third day, I was plotting how to get him across the country to my mother and wondering who I could bribe to take him in the meantime. But he was cute.
I would come home dragging. Waiting, beyond giddy, his sweet face would beam with happiness to see me. I would lie in bed too hurt and tired to move. He would want nothing more than to lie still with me, utterly content to snuggle gentle and patient. I would get up to walk him because he needed me to. I would take him to the dog park, because he wanted to run when I couldn't be anywhere near that athletic or entertaining. His bond to me was instant, his loyalty and devotion complete. It was exhausting, but he was cute.
One day, about a week into being his caretaker, I was standing in the middle of a grass field at the dog park. I was a pale, zombiefied version of myself, exhausted to the extreme, just standing there immobile. And he was literally running circles around me. Around and around, at top speed, this white blur of happy freedom. It was relentless, he did not tire. He just ran with a purity and freedom that was a little incomprehensible at the time. I never moved and he never stopped. It actually was exhausting me to witness it.
But then right there, in that field, in the halflight of overcast weather in the Pacific Northwest, in the middle of a doggie tornado of circling, it struck me that he didn't care that I wasn't running with him. He was happy to run around me. He didn't notice I was tired. He just noticed I was with him and it gave him joy. He didn't need me to be perfect or whole or unscarred, I was beautiful to him and he was thankful for me just the way I was. He didn't need me to be brave or positive all the time. He just wanted me to love him.
The Irish Rogue became my therapy. Me and him in cahoots and healing. "Run Run" became our game. Me standing still and him running around me. We became a family. Me and him together, neither of us alone. A rescue dog rescuing a survivor who didn't realize how lost she had become while just trying to survive.
I learned from him to accept myself more readily, to forgive my limitations more easily, and to remember to find joy in the smallest of things. He showed me I was still capable of being me, even though he never knew the me I once was, and that I mattered. He reminded me to keep it simple, when things became too complicated. To relish any giggle amid tears. To smile when you feel it, even if it is fleeting. Most importantly, to accept love whereever you can, whenever you can, and however you can, because it makes all the difference.
He also taught me that therapy is essential to healing and growing, but that each person has to find what works for them. It is beyond personal what helps you survive and it can not be dictated by what has worked for, or is expected by, others.
For me, it was a little happy dog. Therapy with four little feet. (He become official later, as a doctor prescribed Emotional Support Service dog. Beneficial to emotional health and physical mobility.)
For others, it may be the light through a stain glass window and prayers of a church. Or bad coffee and 12 steps. Or camaraderie in a group of other survivors. Or a twisted lotus position and mantra for Zen. Or a hike up Kilimanjaro. Or a good book. Or a bad movie. Or the understanding lended ear of a friend.
Search everything. Embrace anything, no matter how small, that helps you survive it. Throw away, without judgment or remorse, everything that doesn't work for you and find what does. Listen to others' experiences and take from them only what you need. Open yourself to the experience. And inhale.
feel free to follow the irish rogue, he loves the attention, plus, like I said, he is pretty cute.
on facebook - www.facebook.com/irish.rogue.77
and on twitter.com - @_theIrishRogue_
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