Anxiety, PTSD and Stigma
I work as a dog trainer for a living and it’s a fact that as such, I run a risk of getting bitten at some point. I have been bitten a few times through the years, I have a protocol that if the dog has his vaccines up to date, I simply soak the wound in dawn dish soap daily for a week after the bite.
With the most recent bite I got, I actually ended up at an urgent care. I suffered three puncture wounds and lots of bruising on my leg. The worst part physically was the tetanus shot.
Mentally though… I ended up in a war zone for a while. Something about this bite triggered a deep anxiety in me. The dog came bursting through a door without any walking gear, she was barking and the moment she saw me she lunged and latched to my leg. Her handler simply had no control over her. The dog had to be tackled to be removed, she continued attempting to lunge at me until I was able to escape from the room and out of her sight. I had not done anything wrong. I was not in an area of the facility I was not supposed to be and the dog was known by the handler to be reactive to strangers. It was a bad situation, mistakes were made, but I was completely innocent in the whole ordeal. However, as it goes when traumatic events happen, certain parties got dramatic. Rumors flew that I was going to sue people. I was accused of cornering people and interrogating them. Lots of ridiculous stories were told. I went from feeling safe and part of a team of people, (though I was the new kid), to feeling like an outsider. It was a downhill slide of mistrust and fear about certain ways to do my job.
I was deeply wounded emotionally. I had been here before and the feeling of familiarity was NOT welcome. There I was, minding my business, working with my animals and suddenly out of no where, I was attacked and then those responsible for the attacker blamed me for it. I felt myself wanting to shut down. It was not fair.
I spent the next several months jumping every time a dog barked while standing near my leg, even when the bark was a friendly one. I found myself untrusting of other handlers with dogs.
I ended up with tension headaches because I was working around dogs who periodically bark through the facility all day. My neck ached from holding my shoulders up out of anxiety about my work environment.
I dreaded going to work…. and I LOVE what I do!
I got proactive and forced myself to work around barking dogs and work through my issues. I spent several weeks recovering my mind and reactivity to barking dogs. I counter conditioned myself by petting a dog I knew was friendly each time I heard barking. I had learned about conditioning, counterconditioning and desensitization from training dogs. I just had to be resourceful without I applied my own skills to myself. I kept my Great Dane with me as much as possible to comfort me. He was good at body blocking barking dogs from me. My student dogs spent time on and off tether working with me and helping me get back my life and love for my work. It’s been a process and I still have setbacks, but I am improving.
I still WINCE when a dog barks near my leg and I sometimes get a knot in my throat about it.
The lump is not about the dog bite, the lump is a result of a stabbing heartache that reminds me, I was attacked and blamed for it. Not just when the dog bit, but every time I was abused as a child. Sometimes the barking triggered a memory of when my father hit me. Other times the barking triggered memories of being attacked and raped in my sleep. I hate that my issues are so intertwined. When the dog attacked and bit me a few months ago, her barking as she lunged became my new trigger. I was immediately conditioned by her barking, that an attack follows. An attack that I can’t stop from happening. An attack that I will have to wait until it’s over before I can escape. With my PTSD it worked like dark magic and my mind was FLOODED with nightmare memories.
The drama surrounding being bitten did not help my issues at all. It fed my anxiety, hence the tension headaches. My stomach was upset daily and I caught myself thinking this was normal.
It is not NORMAL to have headaches, upset stomach daily or dread going to work. Especially when you love your work! I am making peace with the fact my situation will change soon enough and I will still be doing the work I love. I don’t need people in my life who were ready to say things about me without even knowing me first. I have refused to speak about the “Incident” and there are those who believe the rumors they heard about it. Someday they will learn they cannot defend a lie, or the whole thing just won’t matter anymore.
I continue to work with my dogs daily and on myself. I have lived with mental illness long enough to learn that fighting against it is a losing battle. To all my friends who have found yourself in a battle for your life with your mental illness, know this…
We are not mental illness, but it is us. And we aren’t anything less than badass for learning to live with it instead fight it. Our lives are spent fighting against the world it shouldn’t be spent fighting ourselves. When something is YOU, that means YOU are in control even if that looks like out of control. It’s YOU’RE out of control, no one else is. You decide who takes this journey with you, you decide how your life looks with or without the therapy and medications used to manage what is YOURS.
I am the sweaty palms of anxiety, I am the face of PTSD and I am the cold darkness of depression.
I am also a damn good dog trainer. I am a passionate being and one hell of a mother.
I am not limited because of my mental illness, I am enhanced and stronger despite it.
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