Uni’s Week Really Sucked

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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.

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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.

Nope.

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 …

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Chilling Out and the Dog Days of Summer

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This week, partly because my CBT is beginning, I’ve had homicidal PMS rage (which is still better than sobbing uncontrollably) and my therapy is ending, I’m trying to chill out.

Seriously, I find Sherlock really relaxing. I’m sure the decaff mocha helps. Also running into friends by accident, especially when one of them is the most-beloved Bramble, giver of unconditional love and hugs, really does give you perspective. Sometimes serendipity is awesome. As is the chance to run the dogs on Eaton Park, somewhere I’m coming to love more each time we visit.

Ditto having a good long chat with my guide dog instructor about medication issues relating to Uni’s long-term health problems and having my frustration validated. I like validation because it reminds me that I can actually be right about things, especially when it comes to Uni/the cats and my own life. I’m all for improving my self-worth, though that does mean being around other people (loneliness isn’t helping my anxiety, indeed it appears to be fuel for the fire). The dog days of summer, however, are all about taking things a little easier, especially in 26°C heat.

Speaking of dog days ….

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She suits the bandana, yes?

I’m actually quite pleased with myself, while I’m yet to get my head into Stranger Things, I have been listening to books and writing. I sent off “Washed Up Upon the Shore” to my crit group this morning and I’m hoping to submit it to a specific market next week if they’re still open. The story is stronger now though still imperfect (and this is like draft five) but there’s something in it which I still love. But I have high hopes and that’s something, especially as it’s been a while since I sent a story out into the wild.

On The Broken World front, I’m getting words down. Mostly it’s key scenes but this is draft one and so I’m trying not to care too much, just get the words on the page. Order can come later and that’s actually helping; stressing out over things I should need to control is a big trigger for me and I’m tried of panicking. This book is is no hurry, it’ll be born when it’s born. End of.

And, in truth, I’m loving writing it. Jaada is a big part of me, without being autobiographical, and she’s such a fun character to write. She knows she’s a part of a story but everyone has roles to play and hers, well, it’s a doozy.

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The Collective Nouns for a Group of Guide Dogs

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A while ago, at archery, I was discussing what you’d call a group of guide dogs (unicorns are, according to some ‘a blessing’ while you can also get a ‘murder’ of crows). I decided three or more was a chaos, for the most literal reason, especially if they know each other or don’t and randomly meet on the street. Guide dogs have this thing where, if they see another dog, they drag their owners over to say ‘hi’. It’s something to do with what one of my friends calls Uni’s ‘neon bra’.

So, today, I started thinking ‘what would five or more be called?’. I’ve decided it’s an apocalypse.

Ten or me? That’s a doom.

A doom of guide dogs, it would seem dark but it totally covers how naughty our hounds can be in others’ company. Right after the last picture was taken, the dog on my left (a delightfully hyper hound called Rambo), second from the right, broke free of his human and made a go for it. Oh and Uni stomped on my left foot with her claws, I was left wondering if she’d broken my smallest three toes on my left foot. Then Jasper, on my right, stood on my other foot. I had to hobble through the supermarket on the way home.

Today was an awesome day, people came from as far as Cambridge to a little back garden in Dereham to raise money for guide dogs. It was an awesome event in which dogs were petted, hugs and generally made a fuss of. Oh and I won a bottle of wine, a bag of specialist dog food (chicken and rice which is what you give a dog/cat when they’re ill. I could have done with that the other day when Uni threw up three times in as many minutes) and an adorable guide dog puppy plush. Oh and two more for Marie’s kids (we were, at this point, cheering, at the statistics of two girls winning two toys).

The best part was I got to share today with some of my favourite people, some of whom came from Norwich (with their dogs) just for this event. It’s a nice change given normally I’m the one who does all the travelling. I don’t begrude my friends (or the impromptu taxi service) but changes are sometimes nice. Gods know I’m knackered now though. My toes aren’t broken but they are going to bruise nicely for the next few days.

Thanks, hounds.

But it was fun, even for the screaming kids and the people who kept trying to steal Uni (apparently she’s super lovable). A nice pub lunch, getting all my errands done in just the right amount of time, not getting too wet (though it poured down at least three times just to spite us).

Fun.

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The Creatives’ Guide to Living With Bipolar Disorder: Hey, My PTSD Triggered and I Can’t Write (Fiction)!

These two help.
These two help. A lot.

Well, crap.

This weekend has been all about my PTSD. Normally I can keep it locked down because I know my triggers and actively try to avoid them to the extent of all others. Control is everything, as if the medication I carry on my person and the friends who know why certain things have such a devastating effect on my mental state.

I was anticipating a nice weekend of lie ins and writing, chilling out with Netflix and just trying to get over the last of my chest infection.

On Saturday afternoon, a disturbing period in my past got raked up and then I had to endure the annual Mother’s Day hell of ‘be nice to your parent because society/family say you have to be’. It was never going to be a positive mix.

And my ability to write went up in smoke.

Like literally.

Then I bought some alcohol because it tastes better than Valium which put paid to my editing.

I don’t drink and edit, so I didn’t edit and I couldn’t write either.

To summarise: while I was training with Uni, I endured a slew of abuse from my instructor. He started, innocently enough, by enquiring why I thought it was okay to use a disabled loo (erm … well I am disabled; also I had extensive gastric surgery which has left me incontinent and without a gallbladder). To deflect, I asked him if he’d ever tried getting a dog into a stall in the ladies but I was mortified he thought it was okay to enquire about something so personal.

Then I qualified and got really sick; to the point where quick visits to Norwich and safe places were the only way I could rebuild my stamina. Especially as I had, technically, qualified. He thought otherwise.

In the end, it was so bad I refused to work with him, actually ringing his boss and demanding someone else. Our relationship ended when he spent fifteen minutes screaming at me in the street outside a shopping complex. People walked passed, no one came to my aid and he actually thought it was okay to shout at a mentally fragile (which he was well aware of) blind woman who was coming to the end a stressful period of training. Also getting a guide dog is mentally and physically hard as hell, there’s so much to learn and I qualified in just twelve days, as opposed to the ‘usual’ three weeks.

Then, after leaving me for half an hour to sob into my dog’s fur (which felt like a punishment in itself, being left on the naughty step), he took me into the shopping mall to do some final training and ended up leaving me in an unfamiliar corner of the mall. He just lost his temper and stalked off without so much as a by your leave.

Oh and he threw some paperwork at me before stalking off. That was, thankfully, the last I ever saw of him.

This event was the final trigger event for my post-traumatic stress disorder. I kept an eye on this person’s career, dismayed to see them rise in the ranks after my abuse was effectively ignored by Guide Dogs themselves. I now have a much lovelier trainer who I trust and did so much to repair my confidence, he’s a tremendous improvement in his predecessor and has always been there for me, from Uni being attacked to our more recent middle-of-summer-and-hottest-day-of-the-year catch up. This guy even cleaned up Uni’s heat-induced vomit for me … twice.

But back to the weekend. A fellow GDO told me my original trainer had resigned and it all came flooding back. Especially when I was directed to a public, assessable by anyone who knows this person’s name, Facebook group in which he detailed how his treatment of me and other GDO’s I know was tantamount to abuse. He apologies to me, personally, but he has no idea I’ve changed my name and did so in a place where I never would have seen it, except for someone telling me about it.

Oh and Guide Dogs apparently know about this group, he’s certainly told them and appears to be trying to create a place where GDO’s can be disillusioned together. I admit, I’m not enamoured with Guide Dogs, they’re far from perfect and dealing with many aspects of their day-to-day stuff (mainly relating to food and Uni’s vital medication) are a pain in the arse. That said my instruction from New GDMI and the office staff have never been anything but helpful and lovely.

If I’m disillusioned by the charity then it’s all because of my original instructor.

It transcended into ‘trigger territory’ a couple of hours after I discovered the group when he tried to justify his treatment of us by informing the assembled Guide Dog Owners he’d invited to the group—many of whom were singing his praises in a way which made me feel physically sick—that said treatment was unofficial Guide Dog policy. Oh and yes, it was also abusive.

Well duh.

I’ve met lots of mobility instructors. Some are lovely, others harsh but never in a malicious way. They do it because you have to start work with a guide dog on a certain step, with them seeing you as head of the pack and dominant. My experience with this person was distinctly sadistic, a power play that hinged on me being in a position where I was beholden to this person because of Uni.

They had to power to giveth or taketh away—and I genuinely believed he was going to punish me by removing my guide dog, just because he could. Plus screaming at a vulnerable woman in public is, in no way, anyone’s unofficial policy. It’s a terrible thing and certainly shouldn’t happen during such a vital time in the establishment of a guide dog/human relationship.

The kicker was his mention of depression. His own mental state apparently trumps the abuse he heaped on me and others, vulnerable visually impaired people that he knowingly abused for kicks. I accept he was in a shit place but where does he think he left me, exactly? My PTSD trumps his depression because he’s a part of the reason I have it.

So yeah, not good. I’ve actually made an appointment with my current instructor because, as well as wanting to talk about some of Uni’s newer quirks, I want to look him in the face and see if my original instructor is spilling bullshit. The whole thing has left me feeling ill, right in the pit of my stomach.

And then a family member started sending me passive-aggressive texts trying to guilt-trip me into someone who directly triggers my PTSD. I’d just taken my sleeping medication so wasn’t actually in a position where I could do much more than text. They always do this because, apparently, I need telling when I’m upfront. I don’t do phone calls, I certainly don’t do birthday/festive/Hallmark holiday phone calls.

I choose not do pay attention to these things because I have a reason. It’s a conscious choice that I made for my own sanity. And my sanity trumps anyone else’s attempt at making me feel like a ten year old who needs to be told things. I will text but I have a hard enough time trying to remember what day it is thanks to the sheer volume of medication I’m on. Literally I rely on my FitBit just to tell me the date, otherwise I simply have no idea.

And Mother’s Day, it’s a really hard day for me (nearly as bad as my birthday). I need to ignore it because otherwise I’ll fall to pieces. Again my sanity tumps everything else because I like being semi-sane.

My PTSD normally manifests as panic attacks or anxiety. This one decided to bubble up as an intense fear and anger due to the guide dog related stuff. Uni picked up on it and her mood changed, even as she plonked herself down right next to me. Even this morning, still dealing with the aftermath of a slew of text messages, she kept nudging me with her nose, her way of going. Uni might be a tart but she is also, very much, mine and almost painfully in tune with my moods, constantly going: ‘Hey, I’m here. It’s okay’.

I am so glad of her.

I have a best friend, and her beautiful guide dog, who are always there for me. I got to explain this morning and receive reassurance, as well as the benefit of someone who has been through the guide dog selection process and so is familiar with it. Both dogs spent this morning with their noses in my lap or snuggled against me. Bramble, in particular, adores me and she’s one of the most loving creatures I’ve ever met; she knew how traumatised I was and did everything in her power to try to help me get out of my funk. Looking at her makes me want to cry, she’s that compassionate and a completely unique treasure of a dog.

But not writing, it stresses me out, not being able to even more. I got into Starbucks at 7, having made it through snow and the pre-dawn cold. Monday is my day to sit with coffee (bad move, number one), check Submission Grinder and Codex and catch up on The Walking Dead. It’s an ingrained ritual which sees me update my diary, review stories, write or do edits while listening to Spotify. I value the quiet, the chatty baristas and, right now, the half price coffees.

Starbucks, first thing in the morning, it’s my sanctuary. My own personal coffee shop. I like it.

But this morning I just couldn’t write. Even Valium didn’t help (aside from to take the edge of my anxiety).

I’m painfully aware that anxiety poisons my muse, it’s not actually the anxiety rather it’s being unable to focus or distracted by whatever is bugging me, which prevents me writing. My Asperger’s doesn’t help, in fact the fixation on problems makes my anxiety worse. Blogging helps because it’s not fiction, it’s fact and I can choose the subject matter (hence the slew of blog posts; this one alone is nearly 2k in length and heavy on the catharsis).

Blogging is still writing so maybe I need to clarify that and insert (fiction).

But I also know tomorrow is another day, the words will return, as will my muse and it’ll be okay. I just have to hold on, take my medication and wait it out.

Tomorrow is another day.

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