Monday, April 4, 2011

30 Days Of Truth Challenge | Grow Where You're Planted | Day 4

Day 04 → Name an area in your life in which you would like to change. What steps can you take this week to affect that change?


Isn't this such a loaded question? I could talk about the weight I want to drop, and how I can take longer walks or eat less bread. Or I could tell you about my obnoxious habit of poking at my poor husband when I'm bored, and how I should probably stop before he has a heart attack or divorces me. Really, there are any number of things I could talk about wanting to change, and any number of ways in which to affect that change, but wouldn't that be just more of the same?

Real change is something not easy to do. It involves a depth of honesty and self-reflection that, frankly, most of us just aren't ready to face. And some things? Some things, you can't change the way you wish you could, and facing that reality takes even more strength, and yes, humility.


The single most frustrating thing about being me - the thing I would change in a heartbeat, if I could - is the anxiety condition that I bear as a scar of a childhood of abuse at the hands of my father. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder manifests itself in many different ways, and each person afflicted has a different experience than anyone else with the disorder. Many symptoms are common to sufferers, but how they combine and affect daily life varies greatly. For me, while I have many different symptoms, I handle daily life fairly well. I go to church, small group, to the post office and the grocery store, and on dates with my husband. I can hold a conversation with a stranger, and maintain long-term relationships. What people don't see is the toll those and other activities take on me over the course of a day or a week, and how certain activities are beyond me completely in some circumstances.

When someone knocks on your front door, what do you do? I know my own reaction...

Who is it? What do they want? Do they mean me harm? Is it still light outside, or is it dark now? What if they are hiding behind the bush beside the door? What if they jump out at me? What if they shove open the door and attack me?What then?? No, no, I'm being silly; no one wants to hurt me, just calm down now. But what if it's someone I don't know, and they want to sell me something or convert me to their religion? How can I get rid of them without causing offense? What if my fear of confrontation takes over and I spend money we don't have? For Pete's sake, I couldn't even say no to that little redheaded 4th grader - and I hate pie!! Or worse, what if it's someone I know, and they want to come in?? That grabby lady at the store yesterday really took it out of me, and I just can't face anyone right now; what if I start crying? And they're not someone who knows or understands why I would just suddenly do that?? Dang it, there's the door again... Maybe if I just sit really quietly they'll think no one's home-- no, wait, the car's in the drive. Would it look weird if I carried this frying pan to the door with me? Maybe if I pour some oil in it first, they'll think I was about to start cooking something - how horrible would it be if they knew I had it because I'm too freaked out to answer the door unarmed?! There goes the doorbell again...

Most of us enjoy feeling clean, and showering is a daily routine for many. Some people dislike showering for various reasons; maybe your shower stall is tiny, dark and cramped, or maybe you have low water pressure which makes shampooing shoulder length hair more of a chore than a tool for relaxation. But I doubt many dread showering because even the thought of it makes them shake from head to toe with dread, break out in an icy sweat, or have violent flashbacks that they can't quite understand (which makes it even worse).

Do I sound dramatic? I'm sorry. I wish I could tell you I am just making all this up for sympathy or new readers, but I'm not. Even writing this down, knowing that people who know who I am in real life will see it makes my hands tremble and my breath quicken; I do not write because I am brave - I write because too many people like me, who suffer symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and paranoia, are misunderstood simply because no one steps forward to say "I feel that way too, and we all have very real reasons to feel like we do."

What do I wish I could change about my life? I don't think that's the right question. You see, the things I've experienced in my life have affected me powerfully, and not just in ways that cause me grief. Because of my experience as an abused child, my heart is soft towards others who suffer. I am more ready to run to the defense of the helpless, even though doing so resurrects my own painful memories. No, I wouldn't change the things that have already happened to and around me; I am who I am because of those things, and I wouldn't change that for anything.

But change is not a bad thing! Does embracing who I am because of my experiences mean that I have to accept debilitating phobias and crippling anxieties? Absolutely not!

For most of my life, I simply avoided things that made my life difficult, or that provoked a negative fear response. But over the last year, I realized that living a life of avoidance and isolation is a poor way to live, and I resolved to do better. So I got a dog.


This is Butters! In conjunction with my physician and therapist, Nick and I decided that acquiring the use of a service dog was in my best interests. Unfortunately, the only people in the United States who can acquire a psychiatric service dog are members of the Armed Forces who are diagnosed with a mental illness as a result of their service to their country. Thankfully, it is legally permissible to train your own service animal, and use them without restriction, as long as they meet the legal requirements to act as a full fledged service animal. So, armed with a prescription from my doctor and a letter from my therapist, I adopted an eight week old Chihuahua / Fox Terrier cross breed puppy last March, and began training him as my service dog.

The details of how to train your own service dog could easily take up a full month of posts, so I will refrain from going into detail right now. The main thing, for this discussion, is that Butters's job is to act as a tool that I can use to calm myself down when I have an attack of anxiety, or when I begin to feel paranoid. When I answer the door, he comes with me, and provides a visual reminder that I am safe (he would never attack anyone, its purely a me-thing). If I am having a hard time showering, he hangs out in the bathroom with me while I do my thing, and I talk to him to distract myself. When I need to go to the grocery store, but the thought of all those aisles and people freak me out, I put Butters in his service harness, and off we go. When I flew home from Kansas last summer, he sat on my lap all the way home.

There are other things I can do to make my symptoms easier to bear. An open shower in a well lit bathroom relieves the feeling of being trapped, and an front door with a peep-hole or window allows me to see who is there before I open the door, greatly relieving my paranoia. Sitting in an aisle seat, or at the back or a room often works to relieve unpleasant feelings, as does giving myself plenty of time to get places and settle in, instead of rushing around which makes everything worse.

These tactics don't always help. Butters is still young, and can't go everywhere with me yet; no one would like it much if he started crying in the middle of a movie because he's bored, or begged at Olive Garden, or sniffed ankles during church! He stays in the car or at home in those situations, because he simply isn't ready for that level of service. And while taking him for walks has allowed me to enjoy the outdoors without trepidation once again, there are days when his puppy exuberance is just too much for me, and trying to get him to walk in a straight line is more stress than it's worth. Some days...well, some days it doesn't matter how well behaved and on point Butters is, because I wake up feeling anxious and unsettled, and absolutely everything - from an innocent remark from Nick to another driver looking at me as they pass me on the road - sets off a horrible chain reaction of anxiety and physical symptoms that leave me trembling and unable to form a coherent sentence. Those are the days when I have to make a choice - participate in my life, and risk a serious meltdown, or stay at home and wait for it to blow over.

Every day brings different situations and different choices. PTSD is a chronic illness without a cure; I live with the scars of my childhood every day. What I choose to do with my days is up to me, and I choose to live them to the full extent I am able in each situation, and to thank God that I have the opportunity.

This week, I will take my dog for a walk

To see the full Challenge list, click here.
To see Day 1, click here.
To see Day 2, click here.
To see Day 3, click here


  1. Thanks for sharing, Alena. Just keep doing your best. :) You're doing well.

  2. You are going to help so many people with these posts... keep it up! Love reading them!

  3. Thanks for the encouragement, both of you! :) Jessi, I really, really, really hope so! ♥


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