Uni was officially retired on medical grounds at my request—and Guide Dogs’ agreement—on Monday morning. She’s currently in holding at their Redbridge facility in Woodford Green being medically assessed. She’s still ill (and blood was found in her faeces). After six very long weeks of continued gastroenterological problems, it was decided that, for her wellbeing, it would simply be the kinder thing to retire her, treat her illness (assuming it can be identified) and then see her rehomed with people who will love her until she passes.
As a courtesy Guide Dogs are keeping me in the loop about her condition, medical issues and her emotional wellbeing (she’s happy and settled in) but I need to say that retiring her, it’s not a decision I’ve made lightly and, oh fuck, it hurts.
Imagine having your heart ripped out and shown to you, it doesn’t even come close. Neither does putting down a beloved pet (at least you have closure and can reassure them as they go peacefully). Uni’s been my constant companion for nearly six years and not having her is … well, weird. This is grief; I know it is. I know it will go away but it takes time.
Uni was a character best described as ‘Einstein with a dash of Moriarty and a bit of Houdini’, she was smart and sassy, she took the piss. She knew things a dog shouldn’t know. Worse she loved people and that was a part of the problem, she wanted her cake and fully intended to eat it. It’s why becoming Asha was so easy, because she was the more recognisable and lovable of the two of us.
Basically here’s what happened:
- She relapsed on October 7th. We were in Starbucks when she started giving me the paw and whining (Uni code for ‘something’s up) and she started shitting liquid as soon as I got her outside. I immediately took her to my local vet who took her in for observation and put her on fluids. At this point I was physically unable to look after her due to the stress so two days respite helped but didn’t solve the problem, even though the vet kept an eye on her over the weekend her, releasing her back to me on the Sunday. She was officially signed off work for at least ten days and the vet arranged for special food for her.
- We’d previously had an appointment booked for the 17th to go down to Redbridge to discuss her case going forward. That was unable to be moved so I had to find compromise.
- Because I’m autistic I need routine; it hurts when I can’t do things in their usual order or be at certain times. So I left Uni at home as much as possible for the maximum of four-five hours. She slept through most of it. I went out to run errands, grab a coffee, chat to new friends and old and do the minimum in a set amount of time to keep myself sane. I do not apologise for this.
- After consulting with other GDOs, knowing it was a quiet week with a single event I wanted to go to (purely for selfish reasons of my personal sanity and needing interaction with friends in a dog-safe space), Paul suggested ‘half harness’ where you put on the neon bra bit of the harness but leave the handle (which is the bit which tells the dog they’re supposed to do stuff) at home. I then used my cane to get around and would therefore be able to take Uni out to archery, knowing she would be happy on a blanket with plenty of access to water.
- On Thursday, she ate cat shit while I let her out to pee. She’d been avoiding the pen due to the associations with bowel movements and pain so I let her go where she wanted to, only realising later that she was actually after stuff in the garden. She was fine but on Friday morning I noticed her straining and knew the jig was up.
- On Friday, after acknowledging she was still unwell, still exhausted, and on advice from trusted sources within Guide Dogs/my circle of GDO friends, I emailed my contact, making it clear I was unable due to my own mental illness and Uni’s continued suffering to give her the care she needed. She required a safe area, better eyes than mine and so I told Guide Dogs I would bring her down to Redbridge expecting them to either:
- a) Retire her on the spot due to her age and the fact rest/food were making no difference in her condition. (My personal option).
- b) Board her for an extended period while tests were carried out (which would still most likely end in option a).
- I followed this up with an email requesting her formal retirement. Because formality. Also I wanted to make sure there was actual room for her at Redbridge. I also may have compared her to my Sightsaber and what I do when it breaks.
- Friday/Saturday were mostly spent crying. Also packing Uni’s things.
- Sunday: I decided it was only fair to take Uni on a short Victory Tour (again in half-harness) so people who cared about her could say goodbye. She got so many hugs and though it may seem cruel to take her out, we both needed to pretend it was just a normal day. We met a trusted friend who agreed with my plan and my motivations, as well as understanding the mental pressure this was all putting on me (remember: my bipolar is triggered by stress). We returned home and I had to reiterate (somewhat angrily) in an unexpected phone call that even though the vet cancelled, we were still coming down to Redbridge and this was in no way related to her pre-existing skin condition.
- Monday: We got down to Redbridge, Uni slept most of the way. There was no coffee. She was however pleased that the vet wasn’t there, they normally poke at her and she, understandably, doesn’t like that. The forms were, thankfully, waiting for me and after I reiterated I felt it was unfair to continue in the current fashion (Uni is a guide dog which means she needs human interaction 24/7), both for her health but also for my mobility and state of mind. The papers were signed; I let them keep the 50p. Then we left, stopped for a drink in her honour and returned home.
This is my last picture of Uni. Frank, that’s the nice chap who I’ve been dealing with, let me have some time to cry and hug her. She looks sick but also like the weight of the world has been lifted off her shoulders. I like to think she’s happy because being a guide dog is stressful. On the way back I spoke to my handler (a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor) and confirmed I wanted to be put back on the list for a new dog. We briefly discussed the details of what I need (a short haired lab or crossed bitch, must be white/gold, must be calm, good with cats and able to work with escalators and the Tube). He affirmed, though we’ve been quietly discussing retirement for a while now, that I’d done the right thing. Had Uni been a dog working in London, she would have retired by now anyway.
I’m meeting him formally next month to fill in paperwork, because Guide Dogs love paperwork, and the plan is to pass me onto the London Mobility Team (because escalator-trained dogs are usually only for inner city blind people). I do go to London a lot, more if it wasn’t so stressful, and so it’ll be a simpler thing to just have them to class and find a suitable dog they feel will be compatible to me. Also, given the clusterfuck that was my previous class I don’t want to train at home or in somewhere I’m vaguely familiar. Norwich simply has too many bad memories.
So, that, friends, is what happens when your beloved guide dog retires. I miss her, I love her to bits, but I don’t regret a thing. This was always about her health, her well-being, but as her owner mine also had to factor in. We’ve always bounced off each other, it’s why we worked so well together. For now I’m trying to explain in as few words as possible to people why Uni’s not with me (someone actually asked me if she was dead!).
Short version: She’s ill and has retired. She’s being rehomed as soon as she’s well enough. I’m waiting for a new dog.
From a personality perspective though, it’s also going to allow me time to figure out who I am. Changing my name was easy because no one really noticed I was there, I was plus 1 to a gorgeous guide dog. Next Dog is going to be different, I’m going to be different and I have a six month wait (ish) to find myself and start my next relationship on the right foot.
Note: I was going to post this last week but never got around to it. I’m posting it now so you can see how hard a decision it was to make to retire her on medical grounds. This next post will explain what happened and deal with the aftermath.
I need to say that because I don’t say it enough. The thing is, Uni isn’t exactly the dog in promotional material; she’s over-friendly, she scavenges, she needs love like the rest of us need air. She’s basically me in canine form which, as much as I hate the person who matched me with her, they did get it right. I bitch about her constantly but then it’s my right and I do love her, lots.
This is her post-run at Eaton Park; this is her truly content and happy, also knackered. Tongue lolling and sated from a pint of fresh water. There was even a ball. Uni loves balls, they’re like her favourite thing ever, especially when she doesn’t give it to you. Unfortunately her version, her personal definition, of Retriever is ‘I’m gonna bring the ball but only to show you, not because it’s yours or anything’. But then that’s part of her charm. Uni isn’t Bramble, she’s not perfect and calm, she’s excitable and loves any deviation to the daily routine.
Last night I had to get my medication so we got off several stops earlier and her tail started wagging, she started—though exhausted and thirsty—being her old self. It doesn’t last long but then she’s not been well. A couple of weeks ago, she got ill from eating something. While she perked up, she hasn’t really been her usual chirpy self. Then, last Friday, she started having problems from the other end to the point where it looked like she was trying to give birth to her own intestines (news flash: this is not an approved dog shitting position).
She was okay, except for the violence of her need to go to the loo every hour, and asking for food (Uni is truly, deathly ill, when you put a bowl in front of her and she turns her nose up at it). But my gut said vet so I took her, asking if this could be connected or a resurgence of whatever she’d had previously. A couple of days of fecal samples (don’t ask) later and we now know what it is.
Technically I can say the word, I just don’t like to. I did to one person and it totally freaked them out. It appears far too often in newspapers with panic attached. The point is, she’s been on seriously hard-core antibiotics all week, I’ve not gotten sick and neither have my nearest/dearest/their dogs (and if this was transmissible, we’d all be down with it and that includes my three cats). There’s a lot to be said for common sense and washing your hands (though I still got the Hygiene 101 lecture from Guide Dogs).
Yeah, six years and one very bout of illness taught me all I need to know about catching nasties from your guide dog. Ta.
Uni’s still ill but this is probably more down to how shit antibiotics feel. When I’m on them, and I avoid them like the plague, I’m very vocal. Uni can’t bitch in quite the same way but she’s drinking water and doing lots of sleeping. She’s still working though her ability to deal with trips home is almost none-existant. I’m hoping this is simple fatigue. We’re waiting on some medication which will help return her stomach to it’s ‘normal’ state (think actimel for dogs) rather than the swirling cesspool. I’m trying to feed her good things (with a little fruit on the side as it turns out she likes melon. Weird dog.) I’m also temporarily revoking petting rights to everyone, bar my closest friends (most of whom have dogs of their own), just in case. Because you really can never be too careful.
I need to say I have the best guide dog ever because I think it’s Time. This has been on my mind for a while; Uni’s nearly 8 which while still young for a dog is the second part of her working life. She’s not as young as she was and I work her hard. We’re out six days out of seven, usually, we go places and do things. She loves being out, being around people (especially if they’re her group of puppies, the humans she’s adopted like Shannon and Marie, as part of our pack; I get no say in this, apparently, so it’s a good job I like the people she picks).
The problem for me is Uni acts, unofficially, as my emotional support. She picks up on my anxiety and by seeing hers, I realise I have to be the stronger one and control my own. Plus dog hugs solve everything. She also loves me, but unlike other dogs, it’s a very private thing. I confess I’m jealous of my friends’ relationships with their dogs, Gismo is very demonstrative (and 45kg to boot) and soppy, Bramble looks at you like you’re the only other person in the world, full on Unconditional LOVE, for everyone. I want to cry every time she puts her head on my knee before she just adores you on this total, absolute level.
Uni doesn’t do that. Uni’s idea of love is to grin (which is terrifying the first time you see a dog doing it) first thing in the morning, to wait for me at the top of the stairs if I nip out without her. She’ll want to play and bring me her ball. Actually, she spends so much of her time, when we’re home, literally on my feet. As close as she can be. Any dog who sits on your feet loves you.
There are many kinds of love.
Plus she’s never gotten me killed, she remembers what her job is. That’s a massive plus.
This illness of hers, while she will recover, it’s kind of hit home that our relationship is coming to an end. Something’s shifted inside of her and she’s Tired with a capital T. She puts on a mask when we go out, a happy face, but when we get home she looks at me like she’s run a marathon.
We have an appointment in two weeks to see her specialist vet but I’ve already expressed my belief that it’s coming up to the point where we call time. The problem for me is multi-faceted; I self-harm in a very unique and twisted way: I try to get rid of Uni because I don’t feel I deserve her.
Yep, totally fucked up. I know.
My bipolar makes this worse, especially during my periods of intense depression.
Except this is different. I don’t want to get rid of her, I’m concerned for her quality of life and that’s the most important thing.
First off, go and read this amazing piece on #NationalComingOutDay by Seanan McGuire. It’s awesome.
I have two things I want to talk about today. The first is my story, the second why I write queer characters. Both are interconnected.
First off, I call myself ‘queer’. I’m bisexual but I’m more into women than men. I find both attractive (accents are a big turn on for me, on the account of being blind, as is intelligence though neither relies on gender). Due to unpleasantness in my childhood and my autisticness, I’m drawn more to women simply because I sort of understand them. Men are weird, complicated and alien. I’ve had a boyfriend in the past but it was short and far too orientated on sex, I need to take things slowly, not rush, and because my sex drive is tied into my bipolar, I don’t have a switch I can just push at five in the morning.
At school I was the ugly duckling, this was in the eighties and nineties where queer and bi, it existed but it wasn’t a thing. Girls were expected to fancy boys, at my secondary school all I saw were opposite sex couples snogging in public and that was it. There were no books and the prevailing trends said male + female = normal.
Yeah I’ve never been that.
By uni, I started meeting openly gay people. People who liked themselves, who were comfortable with their sexuality. I also started reading manga and anime. Just the other week, I got talking to a nice server at a restaurant I frequent who was open about their sexuality. He noticed the Sailor Moon buttons on my jacket and we started talking about Haruka and Michiru as well as the Usagi/Haruka kiss and the gender issue Crystal resolved about whether Haruka was male, female or whether it even matters (it doesn’t). I always identified more with Michiru, frankly, realising I like girls who are graceful and kind, feminine and smart. But this was the first time I’d ever seen a proper queer couple (even though the first time was a manga which decided they were definitely not lesbians because that would be Bad). I realised, mid-conversation, why I liked this fellow was because he was comfortable in his own skin. He was happy.
I realised I wanted to be happy, even though I’ve been ‘out’ for nearly a decade. I finally realised what I was, who I was, when I was living in Exeter and met a fellow gamer girl who was in a relationship. She kinda made me realise that I wasn’t her, nor was I attracted to her but I was definitely not straight. She, of course, realised I was queer before I did.
I’m the oldest child with two cousins and a sibling. My grandmother basically raised me, loving me unconditionally. I’m not close to my family, I can’t be. I made a choice between what was expected of me and my own sanity; I chose my sanity and am much happier for it. Anyway, one day my grandmother asked me when I was going to settle down and have kids (as the eldest and female, it was kinda on me, I think to produce the next generation at least in her head). Now I’ve never wanted children. I get broody but it’s not practical or something I’m going to do this time around.
So I explained I was queer, specifically that I liked women more than men and was happy single and focusing on my new career as a journalist.
The shit hit the fan. Like literally.
My sibling was dating the woman who is now his wife and the mother of his kids. My grandmother, for some reason, decided to ring him and I ended up having a surreal phone conversation. I’m pretty sure he will deny having this and frankly I don’t care: gaslighting is a family hobby. Hell, even my recall of it is so ‘WTF???’ it feels more dream than reality, though I’m certain it happened. My brother was suddenly terrified I wanted to take his girlfriend away, that I was attracted to her.
Newsflash: I have morals, I don’t flirt with people in relationships, they’re off limits unless I know they’re poly/open, and is then-g/f isn’t my type.
But, of course, bisexual people are basically greedy. They want all the sex with all the people, especially the already taken.
I think it took me at least half an hour to convince him I wasn’t interested. I knew his girlfriend, of course, but we weren’t close or even had that many conversations. I only registered she was even still dating him at my father’s funeral. My life had diverged with university, living in Exeter, with going to Harlow to study journalism, that I rarely ever saw my brother, let alone took notice of his relationships.
Eventually it died down and everyone did what they normally do: they chalked it up to a phrase. I am, after all, known for being single. The Parental Unit actually brought it up once, just once, in a pub while I was the other side of a pint, and told me she though my ‘bisexuality was a phase’. Her insinuation being was because she didn’t think I’d slept with any girls that somehow I was just unsure.
Now, of course, you posit that question to a straight person and they answer: “Well, I always knew I was straight.”
Queer people, of course, have to justify their queerness because while it’s becoming so much more acceptable, it’s still seen, vestigially, as being something you choose. I know I’m female and not just because that’s the gender I was assigned at birth. I also know I’m not straight. I’m also happy knowing that I like women and men.
That’s part of why there are so many queer characters in my novels and stories; because they’re a reflection of the world that should be, where gender isn’t important. Love is, trust is. I actually had someone tell me they didn’t like that I wrote so many gay characters; needless to say, that person is no longer in my life and that one, off-handed comment, was what really finished it. Queer characters need to exist, trans characters need to exist, minority characters need to exist, poly ones, disabled ones need to exist because books always mirror the world and the writer who summons them into existence.
So happy #NationalComingOutDay! If you’re already out, celebrate like it’s Pride. If you’re not, be brave and embrace who you are, be yourself and you’ll be all the happier for it. Welcome to the first day of your real life, the one where you’re happy in your skin, content in knowing you’re a good person, that love is amazing, no matter who it is you find along the way.
Be proud of who you are, be happy.
I need to talk about me for a second. And Uni. As a lot of you know, Uni’s spent the last six weeks being ill on and off and it’s worn both of us down. I know stress is THE trigger for my bipolar, especially personal stress relating to animals or people I care about. Uni is the big one because she is, ultimately, reliant on me. This is a dog who takes me everywhere but needs me to take her to the loo. I love animals, especially mine, but I’m a crazy cat lady for a reason
As a lot of you know, Uni’s spent the last six weeks being ill on and off and it’s worn both of us down. I know stress is THE trigger for my bipolar, especially personal stress relating to animals or people I care about. Uni is the big one because she is, ultimately, reliant on me. This is a dog who takes me everywhere but needs me to take her to the loo. I love animals, especially mine, but I’m a crazy cat lady for a reason (aka: you can leave a cat with food, water and an open cat flat knowing they will survive without you). I got the cats when I was still working because I knew, if I had to go on a trip to London or disappear for a few days, they’d still be okay when I returned.
Dogs aren’t like that.
Uni and I we have this partnership, it’s worked beautifully for six years. She has pre-existing medical conditions but we managed them nicely and it was fine. Now, though, it’s become much more complicated.
Worse, I can feel my carefully constructed barriers being worn away by the littlest things: not sleeping well, not getting enough exercise, obsessing over certain foods, the scary, inebriated woman who managed to trigger me (like full on shut down) when she started drunk-raging at a poor cyclist. I live alone, I have people but most of them are blind, in Norwich or have families and their own lives. Uni being sick is the final nail in the coffin, especially as I’m unable to work her for another week, minimum, and she’s going as far as the pen to pee. Tomorrow is the exception (I have a reason to be in Norwich, selfish as it is, and don’t feel comfy leaving Uni that long) as is Monday (when we’re going to see Guide Dogs at Redbridge, just outside London—and talk about Uni and her future/how we can deal with what seems to be a continued issue).
Worse, I feel like I’m the one under house arrest. I’m not, of course, and can go anywhere I wish, right this second, if I wanted to. As long as I’m back within four-five hours (which when it takes a round trip of nearly two of those to do Norwich, doesn’t leave me much time). I can have a coffee, run essential errands but that’s about it. It feels like a chain around my neck and I’m so sensitive to constriction, it’s bad enough that half the time I’m the one who imposes rules on myself.
There’s Dereham, of course. Everything I need is in close proximity, from coffee to Morrisons, but it’s not the same. All the people I know/want to talk to are in Norwich. The baristas who make my coffee are in Norwich, Wagamamas is is Norwich. The safe places in which I find comfort and sanctuary are all in Norwich.
The other issue is my continued singular status. The vast majority of GDOs have families or partners. This means they can continue their lives, knowing their sick dog is, at least, being watched over. I can’t do that. Worse I’m having to play the visual impairment card which I hate to do: Lovely Vet ordered Uni some specialist food and I had to ask if she could have one of her staff deliver it as there was no way I could get to the vet/or carry 15kg of dog food. She was more than happy to do so and I was so glad because it felt like taking the piss, asking far too much, even though Uni was literally down to her last can of food. It, and more tins, arrived this morning so at least she can eat for the next week.
That, in itself, was reassurring enough to allow me out to grab a coffee. Anxiety remains a bitch.
Lovely Vet’s nurse even gave me a life home on Friday because Uni’d just been admitted and I didn’t have my cane. We’d been in Starbucks when she started being unwell, so I called the vets and hopped on the next bus back to Dereham. I hadn’t planned on her being ill so hadn’t thought to bring my Sightsaber with me (most blind people don’t use dog/cane at the same time). I could have gotten home but the circumstances weren’t the safest, even though I’m competent. White canes aren’t just about helping me divine what’s in front of me, they’re also a marker to other people I’m blind, affording me a tiny amount of leeway. Dogs, BTW, afford more.
Dogs, BTW, afford more. It’s like watching Moses part the Red Sea, truly a beautiful thing.
But I’m entitled to a life (I’m saying this more to remind myself). Uni is a mobility aid, not a pet (which sounds harsh but it’s also true; her existence revolves around helping me get around as well as the sideline in emotional support which is an added bonus but not her official function). I like the freedom my Sightsaber affords but me I prefer a dog; the company, the reliability, even with the added stresses. Yesterday I found myself at my usual bus stop, used the ten minutes I knew I had to get in touch with Guide Dogs, and suddenly found myself worrying if I’d missed my bus. Uni is a big visibility factor plus she pays attention allowing me not to. I can do other things but this call took up all of my attention meaning I saw a similarly coloured bus go by and wasn’t sure if it was mine (the added pressure of needing to get back home to her didn’t help). I had a bus driver waiting for his own ride help me out and it turns out the 8 was simply running rather late.
But it scared me because I like to be self-reliant and, at the same time, have had it hammered into me over decades that asking for help is somehow weakness, despite the number of times I’ve been asked if I need help whilst ‘waiting while blind’. There’s a general rule of thumb amongst the sighted that any obviously blind person waiting in the street and looking calm or bored must need assistance. Especially when walking purposefully somewhere and not looking in the least bit lost or confused.
But back to the bipolar/mental health issues. My conditions, collective, don’t instantly mean I can’t have a dog or get another one. It just means I have to avoid the things I know which trigger me. In this case it’s things like certain people, stress, unfamiliar situations, broken things and the associated adulting, violence and shouting, crowds. I find being around friends helps, as do familiar places and my stash of Valium. I know lots of GDOs with mental health problems, including the ones I have which is reassuring; it reminds me that no one is going to punish me for being ill. They just need to treat me with a little more care because I fracture so easily, especially at the moment, because I’m so worn down.
The weirdest thing has been how angry everything’s made me. Rage is, apparently, as much of a side-effect of anxiety as the stereotypical hyperventilation or my shut down response. At the same time there’s also the autistic meltdown aspect. I’ve spent the last month having to be so careful with people and Uni, either because morons feed her without asking me, or just because I don’t want them touching her in case of transmission. On Friday a woman started petting Uni, post shitting, while I was trying to emergency dial the vet and I had to reign it in, cautioning the woman to leave her alone and go and wash her hands immediately as Uni was sick.
No one would touch and obvious sick human but apparently animals are okay because they’re cute.
My worry right now is that this whole mess is going to push me somewhere I cannot afford (mentally, physically, financially, psychologically) to go. I can already sense the signs: the restlessness, inability to concentrate, my self-worth/esteem plummeting. I feel like I’m a horrible, selfish person, for not staying home with Uni but, at the same time, I’m not safe left alone for long, especially not when I feel forced to do so. The worst part of it is trying to find the line between my psychological self-harming (in which I try to get rid of Uni because I feel I don’t deserve her; honestly some kind of physical self harm would be so much easier to deal with) and the fact that she’s genuinely ill. Right now, she’s unable to work and something inside of her has broken, something tied to her love of her job.
My instructor and guide dog friends know the signs, so do I, when I can’t cope but this isn’t about me, it’s about Uni. It’s been about her since she first started throwing up nearly two months ago. But my hatred of myself, my low self-esteem, keeps questioning if this is just me over-reacting even though it really isn’t. Six weeks of illness means something really is wrong and, unfortunately, if Uni was a white cane that broke, well I would have replaced her by now (and I actually said that to Guide Dogs). At the same time I also know not having Uni, it’s basically going to push me into a very nasty place. Even while she was under observation, exactly where she needed to be and perfectly safe, I couldn’t focus, couldn’t write. I was just waiting for phone calls or making them, trying to wade through the red tape always involved with the trinity of GDO, personal vets and Guide Dogs as an organisation.
I felt naked. I felt even worse for using Saturday, knowing she wouldn’t be back, and spending the day out, on my own. Because guilt is a bastard. I knew waiting at home, though, would be even worse and at least I could do the errands I needed to, get my flu shot and eat a decent meal.
The other problem is still a mental one but it’s bothering me more and more; it seems like my memory problems are permanent. This realisation isn’t a new one (and is probably tied to long-term use of either the Quetiapine or the Ambien I’m trying to, slowly, stop taking) but it’s really affecting my ability to write and live day-to-day. I described it to someone this week as having a week-to-view double page spread in a diary with random cigarette holes burned all over the page, obscuring details, conversations, events.
I know who I am and my rigid schedule (currently in tatters) helps me keep some semblance of normality, as does my digital diary telling me where I need to be and my physical one which tells me where I was. Most of the time I don’t know what day of the week it is, let alone the date. It’s why I have a FitBit which shows me the time/date as a default. I can still force things into my memory, into my long term storage, like passwords and people’s names but it takes a shitload of repetition for that to happen.
This is partly why my longer-form work has stalled; I’ve fallen back into short stories again because that’s all I have the memory/energy for. Short stories are walking to the shops, writing novellas are climbing hills and anything longer, well that’s ascending Everest. Added to that I’ve noticed my balance is getting worse, as is my ability to follow people visually (my Zumba instructor, for example, vanishes like the Flash until she stops moving) and I can’t make my body move how I always want it too. I’m wondering if some of this might have been made worse by the Great Swan-dive Incident and that two day concussion. My brain is already damaged (I have periventricular leukomalacia) so I don’t know how much of this is related to my fall, my medication or age. The point is, it’s not getting better.
But at least I know who I am and how I like my coffee.
I’m not sure, right now, how this will affect my writing. I have a feeling, at some point, I might need to get a co-author in to help. I can world build but I can’t retain information long enough to sustain a novel (plus there’s the stress of editing, the issues of proofing while blind and all the stuff between writing and actual publication). At the same time my ability to actually get sentences down on paper is problematic; words are getting lost and misspelled more than is usual, even for me. Frankly I’m ashamed of this than I am my ability to not write longer things. This is why, for now, I’m not publishing (the financial/psychological toll is the other issue). I’m just trying to write with as little pressure as possible. I have ideas, I have short stories that I’m submitting to calls but I’m tired and need to take it easy for a little while. It’s not burnout but it’s so easy to slip and fall back into the darkness. I don’t want to do that.
And Uni remains my main priority until we either get her health under control or look at other options. So yeah, hopefully I should know more next week but for now, this is the state of us. Thanks for reading.
The last few weeks I’ve been trying to take time to focus on me. I’ve been binging my queue, finally watching all of those shows that have been awaiting completion. Mainly The Strain and Hannibal. Oh and pottery shows, because those are calming.
Uni’s been ill again (the vet is running tests). It seems to be triggered when she scavenges something she shouldn’t. She’s fine now, sleeping at my feet, but the episodes are stressful for both of us and I’m convinced her insides hadn’t quite recovered from the last bout three weeks ago. Three faecal samples later and hopefully the vet will get to the bottom of it.
I’m writing though, which is good. Mostly I’ve been trying to get stories in for calls but I’m dabbling with a new alien contact story in which a nomadic alien race called the Orseeth chooses humans they want to talk to. It’s a brief meeting, an exchange of memories, that will end at a specific time when the visitors will return to their travels. 68 humans are chosen to participate, making those in power on our side very uncomfortable because they know, via extensive vetting, none are who we would send if humanity had a choice. The benevolent aliens chose normal people, all of whom have seen darkness, and that’s not going to reflect well on us, as a species.
Which is the entire point, of course.
It’s a character driven story currently titled “The Reason Why” and is in the outlining/first rambling draft phrase. The title is probably going to change (I hate calling stories “Untitled”) but it was inspired by a question I asked myself, for which I’ll never know the answer. My protagonist has questions of her own and, through her conversations with the Orseeth she’s been paired with, she hopes to find an answer. Whether she does or not remains to be seen.
The one thing I am noticing is the weather is changing, the sunrises are glorious and the air is colder. You can still smell the manure on the fields if the wind blows in the wrong direction but it’s getting colder at night, more misty in the mornings. I’m wearing gloves already as my finger joints hurt in the cold. The nights are drawing in, Isis is coming in for longer and I’m trying to eat as many vegetables/cook as much as I can.
I bought myself a new set of pans and cookware last week which is making me want to bake cakes and cook one-pot dinners (pre-prepped veg and chicken thighs are my favourite) in the oven. It’s cheap and wholesome but also lasts two days; there’s enough in my fridge that I can reheat the leftovers. I even brought breakfast (a couple of scones) which is helping my productivity and allowed me to drink a little real coffee for a change, rather than decaff.
I’ve even been playing WoW, gently advancing towards level one hundred. I don’t have the current expansion and only paid for a month of time but it’s nice to just quest. It’s been so long since I played (and it was more for work than fun). It’s relaxing, especially with some snacks and a TV show playing in the background. I can lose myself in a way I’ve not been able to in a long time. Even better, it doesn’t feel addictive, it just feels fun. I stop playing after 45 mins or so and I’m good.
Now if I could just learn to do this with alcohol …
Well, one thing at once eh?
This week I’m trying to get two stories ready for submission to specific calls in the hope they might sell. One is the story formally known as “Infinity Girl and the Shadow” (and is going to be renamed if it kills me) and the other is (also about to be renamed) “Washed Up Upon the Shore”“. The call for the former shuts on Thursday, the one for the later at the end of the month.
Guess which story I’m working on right now?
Yeah, the one not due for another few weeks. But, I suppose, at least I’m trying to write something.
Actually, it’s not that bad; I spent most of Sunday cutting 1500 words out of my magical girl story. It’s pretty close to done and I’m remembered how much I like redrafting when I actually focus on the work, when I cut things because they’re extraneous, it feels like I’m good at what I do and the story is all the more polished for it. Especially as the tilt on this isn’t the and never had been the superheroness (in this case the magical girlness) of the story but how that impacts on reality and the protagonist’s life and relationships.
“Washed Up” (which is probably going to be renamed “Like Pearls, Spilled and Scattered”) is about what makes a person and how purpose can sometimes override memory, personality. Good people will do good things, even if you strip them to the bone, because of who they are in their core. Oh and it’s my attempt at a Lovecraftian story without the Lovecraft but all the magic and mysticism. I’ll definitely be returning to this world, though not the same area.
I just wish it wasn’t so warm out, this really kills my ability to be creative.
Last week I took a bit of a swan dive (I’ve not been talking about it because I’ve been too busy recovering/living life as best you can with a massive hole in your lip and nose). It was an accident but it also wouldn’t have occurred had the road I been walking had been paved properly. My foot caught in the bad paving and down I went like a sack of bricks. The physical scars are healing but the psychological ones are still there and have reopened my personal issue with depth perception and falling over.
Upon telling people about the whole incident, I got two distinct suggestions from a variety of friend-level sources. Can you guess which one was from the disabled folk and which from the non-disabled?
“You need to contact the council, explain what happened and tell them they need to pave the road properly.”
“You should retain a lawyer!” (Pause for, from me: “With what?” and “Hahahahahah”) “And sue the bastards!”
Technically both these statements are correct: I was severely injured, my glasses have been damaged to the point where I’d like to replace them and my headphones too, because there’s now a massive keyed indentation in the back of the volume controls. I’m sure this means said headphones will last much shorter a life than they usually do.
Oh and I could actually sue them … Could being the operative word.
Perhaps it’s my world view, or my knowledge of how broke our councils are, but I won’t and never intended too.
I just intended to raise the issue and ask for the road to be re-paved properly, with asphalt, not concrete.
Now everyone who said these statements, or variations thereupon, did so because they care and were mortified by the image I posted of me, post-accident, bleeding on a bus.
I took this mainly so I could see how badly I’d been damaged (there are no mirrors on buses). I was also in shock at the time, hence the glazed eyes, and had a whopping concussion. Also some small part of me knows when you have an accident this bad, you document it.
On Monday I did what I’d always intended to do and rang the council, within a few minutes of using the ‘blind woman with a guide dog’ card and explaining the depth of the damage to my nose, my lip, my pride and other parts of me which are now healing nicely. I got the City Council (who maintain the particular road which tried to kill me) to start an insurance claim (which will be handled by the Council Council). I explained, knowing how broke our councils are, that money wasn’t my ultimate goal, other than to replace what was damaged/cover the cost of the extra medication and emergency supplies I had to buy in order to keep on healing nicely.
All I really wanted was for them to pave the road so this doesn’t happen to other people.
Ironically, I know from experience, that sometimes a pay off is much, much easier.
So why, you ask, is this post headed by shiny Odeon guest passes?
A few months ago, Marie plus kids and Mhairi and I, plus dogs, went to see Ice Age: Collision Cause. We all like animated films and Marie had a groupon for five people. It was a free-ish trip out to watch a kid’s movie and (as a film) it was a fun couple of hours. Not the best movie but the Neil deGrasse Tyson cameo made it for me. Totally worth it.
Anyway, we experienced one major problem: the sound.
Both Mhairi and I are stupidly sensitive. I know it’s technically a myth that your senses compensate when you lose one. Except it’s not that: we pay more attention and, when you’ve had eye conditions for your entire life you get pretty good at hearing specifics like a bad baseline or something which is just too loud. I have autism so prefer to artificially blunt my hearing, most of the time, with music and earbuds. It allows me to distract myself enough to be able to focus on functioning and using my remaining sight, as well as ignoring crowds of people.
Mhairi can’t do that and she, and Bramble, were in physical pain for most of the film. Even Marie, who was for the purposes of this argument, our control group, agreed it was too loud. We assumed it was down to the work being done on the cinema over the summer but resolved to bring it up, because the cinema staff are probably, by this point pretty desensitised. So, afterwards, we hailed a manager and explained there was a problem with the volume in that particular screening room. We’ve seen perhaps a dozen movies in other ones with no issue but that one is just set to VERY loud.
We were instantly given passes and gently fobbed off. So we left, have been spending the passes very economically, to see a lot of films (including Finding Dory in the same screen and, not realising it, we both questioned if it was too loud). Yesterday we used our last one to see Kubo and the Two Strings . It was only when we got into the movie that we realised it was still loud, though this time both of us had audio description headsets the volume was still far too high.
The movie was awesome and I loved it, used to the sound and able to cope with it probably because I love shamisen music and a good movie soundtrack makes everything a little easier to deal with. Mhairi had to nearly deafen herself in order to hear the audio description track so afterward, we conferred, I realised it was the same screen, and so we went to Deal With This.
Dealing with something is when disabled people finally lose their rag, politely, and decide, something needs to be done and ‘no’ or being fobbed off is not going to happen. I let Mhairi take this one because she’s good at being politely annoyed and is the one which the much more sensitive hearing. We explained the problems had and while passes were appreciated, we weren’t actually doing it for free movie tickets. There’s a problem and I’m dying to get a Limitless card, explained I, so I want to give you my custom but we, because there’s always two of us, don’t want to have to worry about being forced to use one screening room out of perhaps 20 which is going to make us ill because of the sound.
This is the thing: most people who have a disability don’t want money or empty promises (though with Mhairi on the case Odeon is going to fix this, I’m certain of it).
We just want to get the problem solved as soon as possible.
Yes the passes are nice but they’re like a band aid for my nose, just a temporary patch and not a fix for the problem. A fix is all we want, especially as me and my companions have become regular and enthusiastic movie goers.
Here’s hoping, then, on both fronts, that the actual issue is addressed and sorted.
Because that would be nice.
I got bored and when I get bored, I design covers. Though this story is technically a proof of concept novella-thing (I have like 9k right now, it’s easily going to cross the mandatory 12,500 SFWA barrier into novella territory) for The Things We Remember, I also have a second novella in mind, The Lies We Tell (which is set in 2028, about nine years later, and deals with the start of the Terran Schism and Second Contact).
I’m, frankly, loving writing Remember as this allows me to get into the head of Astraea, my blind New York lawyer (no jokes please) and also establish her timeline. Especially as the other stories she narrates, all novellas, are individual cases set in different points in her life and career.
This story, though, it’s about her pregnancy and the stories she tells her unborn son. The lives, the fragments of memory she’s kept locked away, but remain with her due to their importance or, sometimes, their normality. This is interspersed with the modern day as she moves from discovering her pregnancy, celebrating her niece’s bat mitzvah and telling family to and giving birth.
I’ve already written the last scene but the fun bit are the italicised sections, each a different life. Oh and I do like this cover, though it’s sadly inadequate due to Canva’s limited font-manipulating abilities, especially as the one for Lies is the left side of the same image, a much more troubled, stressed looking side to Astraea, which mirrors what happens when the Ashterai reveal themselves to humanity and she volunteers to be in the ‘hey I’ve been pretending to be human but I’m not’ vanguard.
What do you think?
I’m going to be posting this on Patreon so if you want to read it, you can pledge for content, stories and what not here: https://www.patreon.com/ashabardon
On Friday, I could smell it hanging in the morning air. the change in temperature, in intensity. Autumn’s coming. Autumn has a smell, a feel, just like rain does (as Doctor Who taught me, this is petrichor) but I’ve never found the word in English for the smell of a changing season.
Unless you’re in Starbucks, when the smell of autumn is most definitely PSL.
My year is connected to Starbucks because I spent so much time in there and is mostly tied into the latter half of the year with PSL and the Red Cups. This is a happy time of year for me, even as I hate the entire of winter. I could almost feel my Seasonal Affective Disorder waking up, like a snake in my stomach.
But the sunlight, the running of the hounds, helps. Exercise isn’t my favourite thing but I enjoy walking sedately throwing balls for dogs, meeting other walkers and having coffee with Mhairi. This week I think, counting today, we will have free run the dogs three times which must be some kind of record.
They love it and, frankly, so do we.
But autumn means other things; a shift in clothes, layers and my beloved, comfy rust red cardigan. It means thicker skirts and boots, new socks (all black) because I keep losing half of mine, always one foot and never the other.
But, as Shannon reminds me, this is also a time for re-starting work and new projects after the lazy summer days where it’s too hot or nice to work. She was asking me which of the seasons I favour and it’s always been the transitory ones: spring because it means winter is dead and finally buried and autumn because of the colours, the cooler weather and the abundance of blackberries on branches (which Uni loves).
Apparently, though, she loves them only when they’re on said branches or thrown at her. Not delicately placed on a platter for her to nosh on.
Fine, Uni, be awkward.
I find myself reaching for jackets, for shawls and wraps, wondering if I need to invest in some more skirts (I have two winter ones). I wonder when I’ll have to put the heating on, when I need to change the Direct Debit so I don’t go into massive debt over winter. I can feel it coming, whispering on the wind.
Winter is always coming.
This year, though, I’m not going to let it own me.
Poor Uni hasn’t had a good week.
It started last Friday during lunch out where my friend Marie got to see what life with a guide dog is really like (aka the abuse we need to put up with from cretins). Seriously: she genuinely had no idea that people still believed—erroneously, I might add—that assistance dogs are somehow forced into working.
Anyone who has a dog, particularly flatties, knows this is dog poop.
Uni loves working. Okay, specifically, she loves the fuss, attention and compliments, I’m just a sideline into getting those, though she hasn’t yet got me killed and genuinely does look out for me. We’re, collectively, one of the more open pairings and allow most people a chance to pet Uni, bonus points are awarded for those who ask/who have children who love dogs.
Uni’s tarty attitude is part of her charm, she’s aware of her specialness particularly when coupled by her ‘gorgeousness’ which is the one word everyone uses when confronted with her. This is also why most people remember the dogs’ names and not their humans’. I’m just as guilty as this but given a choice between spending my day with dogs or humans, I’ll take the hounds, especially if that happens to be Bramble, most beloved of all guide dogs.
Anyway, it was a good day until this woman—whom Marie nicknamed ‘the old hag’, I neither agree with nor condone this but she chose her words well—started making eye contact with Uni. She was behind me, as was Un. Marie and I were happily chatting over very nice lunches. I assumed Uni was begging as she’d moved so tapped on her nose, told her to go ‘down’ into a lying position and returned to my pork carvery.
I’m trying not to feed Uni as much, as I’m poor and not feeding her means a smaller portion/skipping a starter = less money spent. Plus she behaves better when she’s not expecting a side of meat or a Yorkshire. Most places we go into bend over backward for us though and Uni likes Jarrolds because it’s busy/she gets a literal bucket of water before we’ve even sat down.
Marie and I are chatting, mostly about my desire to learn to knit and we decide it’s time to move out, I turn around to put Uni back into her working gear. She’d been off-harness, as she is in the picture above, because that’s more comfortable but you can still tell she’s a guide dog as she has a ‘DO NOT FEED ME’ sign on her lead (which fails more miserable than I do). She was sporting a nice bandana and wanted for nothing but my dinner.
Woman as I’m bending down to clip Uni’s ‘neon bra’ (Marie’s idea; I love it): “When did you last give that dog water?”
Me, a tad confused, guestures to the bucket and ignores her.
“When did you last feed her?”
This, FYI, isn’t a good way to start a conversation with a guide dog owner.
Me: “Excuse me?”
“When did you last feed your dog?”
A bit shocked but trying to be polite. “I don’t see why that’s any of your business.”
“She looks so hungry.”
Stunned now, tired and sensing confrontation: “She’s perfectly fine, thank you. Does she look underfed?”
Uni is a 30kg flat coat cross golden retriever. She doesn’t look starved in any way shape or form. Except for those big brown eyes, of course. Plus her hair is growing back in so if anything she’s starting to look larger than she is. Uni wasn’t at fault in this at all.
“I suppose they don’t have any choice, being dragged out.”
The next table have noticed, murmurings beginning. Righteous anger is starting to flood my soul as I channel my terrifying and beloved friend, Mhairi (who eats people like this for lunch): “You cannot force a dog to do anything she doesn’t want to do. She chooses to do her job and loves it.”
I know this because Uni has spent all morning, in Marie’s company, wagging her tail and generally acting noble and showing off because there’s a adopted member of her pack around (other members include: Shannon and Beloved Niece).
Woman gives me a look, not believing a word of it. She’s decided I’m abusing my dog and there’s no changing her mind. I half expected her to state she’s going to call the RSPCA (newsflash: not the right charity) which someone declared they were going to do to me several years prior.
The neighbouring table say things I don’t recollect, bar that I wanted to hug them for being supporting.
I’m raging in my fury by this point but also calm. I know the accusations; I also know the answers.
I am calm in my righteous anger, tell the woman she needs to educate herself more about assistance dogs before daring to decide a working dog is in anyway being taken advantage off. Neighbouring table tells her she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I pat the elderly gent on the shoulder as I pass him and whisper: “Thank you!”
We leave hurridly but not after I speak to the staff, who apologise. I have no idea if they took it further.
I’m rattled; Uni knows this. Marie is absolutely furious on my behalf. I’m left, though, not with a sense of ‘I did the right thing’ but a pressing desire to ring Peterborough, which is GDO code for ‘speak to Guide Dogs for validiation/make them aware in case The Woman does indeed have enough brains to find the right charity and call them’.
I’m not doing for validation though, even as I know I’ll get it. I’m doing that because it’s me versus a complainant. I’ve been falsely accursed before, as have others I know because some member of the public’s decided a repremand was ‘harsh’. Mhairi, for example, seldom repremands Bramble but when she does she doesn’t shout, she goes Full Scottish and that sounds terrifying. It triggers me but I also understand the reason for it, which somewhat mitigates the terror. Mhairi has much less vision than I do which means Bramble has to work harder and her not paying attention could have much nastier consequences than simply walking into something.
Five minutes later they hug and all is forgiven but the repremand must be given or the dogs think it’s okay. It’s how the relationship works. Think small child and a fire but the GDO is the one who will get burned.
I sometimes shout but I can’t do low and menacing. I’m much better than I used to be, nor am I the only one to be accused of shouting at the dog. Indeed I was reminded a few weeks ago, after someone with a dog was reported (matching my description) swearing. Like full on f***ing and blinding at their dog. I will swear, but in conversation and never AT Uni. I also have an alibi and there are a lot of middle-aged, short, overweight women in Norfolk with black dogs. I’m reassured that I know for certain it wasn’t me and that everyone matching that description got phone calls that morning.
We moved to Caffe Nero and I ended up having to call my instructor, who is lovely and busy. I hate bothering him but couldn’t get through to Peterborough but he confirmed I acted in the right (yay!) and mentally logged the incident. Done. Uni was rewarded with fuss and even more water, as well as dog biscuits I use to bribe her. But it was Marie’s first taste at how we’re sometimes treated and she was mortified, both for me (I’m, frankly, used to it by now) and Uni.
Fast forward to Monday; thanks to running Uni and Brams at Eaton Park over the weekend, my anxiety about dealing with people had almost dissipated. The first few days after an incident always makes me anxious but today is a good day because Best Geek Friend Forever Shannon is down from London. I’m calm, despite the fact she’s coming on a replacement bus and it’s a Bank Holiday (never a good combo. Ever). This isn’t Shannon’s fault and I reminded her that it’s a sign of true Britishness if you know never to travel on trains on Sundays/Bank Holidays.
Shannon arrives, an hour late but ‘on time’ in terms of her bus, and we’re there to meet her. It’s a hot day, Uni has had all the water should could want, has been sat in the shade, in in full bandana-mode and I’ve just dumped a Venti cup of tap water over her to help cool her down. Shannon arrives, Uni goes into full on ‘OMVFGs it’s YOU’ mode. She dances, there is joy.
Then she throws up. Twice.
A woman gives me The Look but vomit it something I’m not legally required to deal with. We move away, I assume Uni’s just Excited (because she does it with a capital) so we head back into the city to meet Mhairi and Lorna and go to Wagamamas for lunch (yay!). Things are going awesomely; we have food and Uni is sitting with a bowl of water on a nice cold stone floor. All is well; then she starts making a noise all pet owners will recognise.
Mhairi assumed she was peeing and told me to her outside except it was all the wrong colour. Plus it wasn’t vomit; it was bile. There was nothing in her stomach at this point. I took her outside; she shakes, all’s well. We apologise to the lovely staff who come and clean up the biohazard mess in a packed restaurant. I’m filled with shame and starting to wonder if something’s up; Uni is still her excited self and being obedient so we finish our food.
Ten minutes later, more of the same comes out of her, this time in EE.
At this point I realise Uni is in fact sick. Common sense fled and (despite having her Vet Book on me, which would have allowed me to walk into any surgery in the city and get them to look at Uni), we decide to go home. I’ve specifically told Mhairi, if this happens again, to physically drag me to the nearest vet. I was assuming. you see, that it was heat stroke, for which a vet can do nothing, except make sure she has fluids, is drinking and has time to recover. Uni wasn’t dehydrated, she was drinking when water was offered and she seemed her normal self.
She threw up again on the bus, thankfully just before we needed to get off. I apologised, the bus driver was awesome about it and Uni seemed better by the time we got home. I put on the fan, open the windows, covered her in a wet towel and rang my vet, glad of out of hours. I got to talk to my vet but didn’t realise my surgery was actually open (I assumed it was like the NHS where the on-call surgery changes weekend to weekend so, for example, when I had toothache, I had to go to Wroxham instead of Aylsham). I assumed, even if they needed to see her, I’d have to take her half way across the county.
Frankly, I’ve never needed out of hours before. This sounds like I’m justifying but you have to understand I come from a background where things were either ‘treated’ (aka guestimated/diagnosed wrongly using a process of elimination and only then bothering a GP if the ailment persisted).
Vet was reassured that Uni was drinking like a fish, more than she usually would even in the heat, and I agreed to see how she was and bring her in first thing the following morning. No food would pass her lips until then which Uni didn’t seem too bothered by. She spent the afternoon being fine, obviously very under the weather and not vomiting. We went to Zumba, leaving her dead to the world and looking distinctly ‘ill’ (black dogs don’t do pale). She came and slept with me during the night but seemed okay; I had to do an emergency clean up because, being the angel Uni is, she doesn’t tell you when she’s ill and had thrown up on the mat by the door a couple of times (which is why I have a doormat/plastic matting combo).
I cleaned up and took her to the appointment. She was much improved by this point and the treatment was standard: an anti-emetic, a quick check of her backside to make sure it wasn’t colitis (which she’s had and even I can diagnose; it’s nasty as). We traded diagnoses and decided it was either heatstroke or she’d eaten something which disagreed with her (aka scavenged). I couldn’t remember her doing it but then she’s a sneaky bugger and I am blind. The point is, she was much improved and I got three tins of the dog food equivalent of chicken and rice for her.
Five minutes later, as we had to walk the mile home due to missing the bus, she brought up yellow bile and I was reassured. Green is bad, yellow is just acid reflux easily cured by giving her something to eat. Her stomach was empty, ergo the yellow nastiness.
We gave her the day to sleep it off and that was what cured her. No pressure, no undue exposure to the heat and a chance to chill out. The injection stopped the vomiting, she kept the food down and her body reset itself. Cured.
She’s now fine. We’ve taken her on another run, she’s chilled out and been her normally, happy self even as she’s been clingy. That’s a symptom of post-sick guide dogs, they’re like small children in that they need hugs and reassurance when they’re under the weather. She’s been voluntarily taking to the shade, content with large quantities of water and a ball stolen from Bramble. The run did her good as it’s the one time when she’s not working, can socialise and not be a guide dog. Watching her run with Bramble, especially, is like watching canine ballet and the day was made even more special by our first/last picnic of the summer.
Sometimes it’s the little things … and the dog biscuits.
I’m just glad she’s okay, frankly. She’s so seldom ill that when she is, it really hits home. Especially as she goes into ‘brave little soldier’ mode so you can’t tell until she’s Really Sick that she’s even under the weather. Between abuse and vomiting, it’s been one tough week for her so I’m pleased a new one is beginning and we can move on as fast as possible. Though I do still have to go into some places and hope they won’t remember us purely for the vomit.
One thing at a time …