When you’re randomly stalking your BFF’s Facebook feed for golden retriever and German Shepherd puppies and you come across a familiar face. Unis’ been rehomed now but I knew it was her before I read the caption.
So it’s time for an update, it’s been a couple of weeks and I currently have a D on my foot, which means I’m stuck.
Send help and chocolate!
But, seriously, spring is … erm … springing. We have blossom and my windows are open/the Sonos are on half-pelt. Life’s okay.
My foot is going to sleep. Crap.
But, yeah, I survived London and Easter. S’all good. My mood has been relatively stable which is nice, though my anxiety remains through the roof. Not so good but it’s a work in progress. Shall we do this through the medium of bullet points, just for brevity?
- London was awesome. I really enjoyed it. I’m still paying it off but it was worth it.
- Hidden Figures is even more awesome in the cinema. Bonus for having an actual American with me who can explain the whole political mess around it and the Space Race. Also, it makes me want to go back to my Space Race on an alien planet novella.
- I am writing. My current focus is still on the Atridia books, specifically on a short story I’m calling “Bindings, Seen and Not” about a neutral gender bookbinder living in a city under state-sanctioned non-binary gender oppression.
- The Handmaid’s Tale was amazing … and severely triggering. I want to watch the rest of it (I think there are like ten episodes). I’m not sure I’ll be able to though, it’s horrifically foretelling but incredibly relevant. I know a lot of people are noping out purely because of anxiety issues with the content.
- In election news, I’m noping out. Due to a bureaucratic cock-up relating to the Great Name Change, I’ve been kicked off the electoral roll and won’t be back on it time for the local election. I’m very angry about this but also glad I caught it as I do want to vote in the general election next month. I just don’t want to have to listen to the election kerfuffle until then. Aside: I know it’s a cock-up because they have ZERO records of me under Old Name either and I’ve lived here for a decade and voted, both in person and postal. They also have no problems sending me Council Tax bills in my new name. It’s a work in progress but I don’t expect it to be resolved in time to vote locally (I have re-registered to vote and intend to give someone at Electoral a serious talking to about the legalities of this, I’m registered as a head of household and am not dependent of anyone else so there’s no reason for me to have been removed).
- There’s no ETA on the guide dog front either. Sigh. The cats are picking up the slack though. Bramble and Gismo hugs are also helping.
- I got an update on Uni’s progress and she’s doing so well. She’s happy and has a beach. That’s all I can ask for.
- My mood has been yoyoing but nothing too hard-core though I managed to really trigger myself last weekend. It was unpleasant. Oh and I’ve been obsessing again, mainly on buying things, Field Notes and food. Oh and Midori, of course. But I’m starting to argue out reasons why I should wait (example: my phone is due an upgrade but, instead, I’m going to go sim-only for a few months/til the end of the year as it’s cheaper).
- Money-wise, I sat down and worked out my income and did a spreadsheet. I’ve worked out a rough, date by date, payment plan and should be debt free just after my birthday. I even budgeted in a new Limitless card and my rent. 2018 should start out with a nice, clean, slate. If I can restrain myself and focus on the Big Picture.
- At some point, I’m going to write that book on bipolar or, at least, how to manage things like money while dealing with the mood swings.
- I’ve decided to teach myself bookbinding (I started learning it a couple of years ago), thanks to the help of YouTube. Actually, I’ve been a lot more crafty of late; mostly laminating stuff and experimenting with little things like making postcard-sized pictures for my fridge (mostly of upcoming movie posters and inspirational quotes) or laminating stuff for friends. I am now the proud owner of an awl, a craft knife, cutting map, guillotine and haven’t yet done myself any serious damage. Go me. My task for this week is to learn to saddle stitch and learn how to bind my own notebooks for my wallet (there’s more variety in terms of paper and cover colour). Plus it keeps my brain quiet which is the biggest thing.
- I cancelled my gym membership. The pressure of attendance (I’m not an evening person, especially not when I ‘have’ to do something I don’t want to do) and my continuing plantar fasciitis had been driving me nuts. Said PF was getting better, then I went to London. Sigh. On the upside, I’m not missing the place and much prefer walking around Eaton Park with my guide dog owner friends and their hounds.
- I’m eating better food. Simple meals which are easy to cook and fast (or involve the minimum amount of prep). This week it’s garlic and bacon pasta with chorizo and lots of herbs. Healthy and tasty.
- My faux Midori wallet is working beautifully, as is the free diary I got from JP Books (though it runs out in September and I kinda want a dated one. Dates are hard.). I’ve been playing with the inserts and now have a zipper pouch, a kraft folder and a notebook inside each other on the first string and my diary and expenses ledger held together with a band on the second. It works perfectly. Oh, I added a Neo Queen Serenity tiara charm onto the string and it sits beautifully on my yen coin.
- Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is freaking awesome. End of. I didn’t look at my watch once AND I’m going back tomorrow.
- I’m looking forward to so much TV and so many movies. I have tickets to Alien: Covenant and Wonder Woman already. I’m actually going to the cinema physically and ordering in bulb because the Odeon site only lets me book two performances ahead online (in person I can book loads). It’s annoying and cramping my social life.
- Doctor Who is actually kinda good this season.
- American Gods starts tomorrow. YAY!!!!
- I’m managed to keep on top of household stuff, though I’m yet to put my washing away. Small steps, Asha, small steps.
- I’m back in therapy and it’s helping. Reddit is helping more in terms of a support group which is just odd but so welcome. Ditto my very closest chosen family.
- Ramen is still awesome.
- I finally got my hands on a Lindt 1kg Gold Bunny in the post-Easter sales and I don’t regret it. Not for one second. 😀
- We are Groot, people!
The weather is oddly mild for December, indeed I currently have the windows open and the heating off while my dryer does its thing. The sun is bright and it feels about as far from winter as we can get.
I’m having a glorious couple of days; yesterday I watched Doctor Who all day and today I’m beginning the annual Game of Thrones rewatch. It’s a time of peace, quiet and reflection. Oh and coffee, alcohol and going through my packed fridge full of food. It feels weird without a dog in the house though, especially as I missed my Christmas Day walk with Uni. D came with me as far as the main road and then whined from the safety of the B and B’s garden while I went into the garage to get myself a coffee.
And by ‘whined’ I mean yowled so loudly the people filling up their cars could hear him and were probably wondering what was being disembowelled.
Christmas Eve involved Norwich and it was nice, drinking coffees, catching up with other GDOs and having far too many mochas. Norwich was actually quiet, though all the restaurants were packed. It was nice having the morning to just read stuff on the internet and run into old friends I’ve not seen in ages (and who have also defected to Nero’s). D is once again trying to get on Paul’s good side (which is easy) by purring and using him as a human shield so Gismo doesn’t eat him. Gissy won’t but D doesn’t know that so, you know, there.
I ordered myself a second Sonos:1 as two will cover my entire flat. The sound is gorgeous, the apps are a little more annoying but there are work arounds and this is for another post. Even Paul wants one now he’s seen how powerful this little speaker is. I just like the depth of the sound and the ability to play the same song in multiple rooms so it feels like I’m floating in music.
Plus it’s made me love listening to the radio again.
I don’t feel much like writing and I’m trying to listen to that. I had one story I wanted to finish for an anthology call but it’s just not going to happen. The angle is wrong and four days isn’t enough time right now.
I don’t like it but it’s okay. I’m supposed to be taking some time off, right?
This made me cry, like seriously.
Part of dealing with losing Uni is trying to focus on the future. Because if I don’t I’ll just cry again and that’ll get none of us anywhere. Plus the future sustains me.
Also, right now, I have one of these and Ceri is shit at guiding me anywhere:
The point is somewhere, out there, is Replacement Guide Dog and I’m going to meet her one day soon. That instantly makes it real; she’ll be going through her final training, waiting for me. I have a 50p piece I’ll carry with me almost as a talisman until the day we qualify, at which point the money is handed over to constitute a legal contract between myself and Guide Dogs (I liken it to a ten-year hire purchase agreement).
This time around things are a little different and faster. I’ve already had one dog which means several things:
- The wait should be shorter. I spent nearly two years waiting for Uni, having to fight for her. I’m hoping to be matched with her replacement in under six months.
- I have a much better idea of what kind of dog I need, as well as the one I want. The differences between those two things are a key factor.
- I actually have some idea of what I’m getting myself into.
This blog series isn’t just about charting the process, it’s about education. As a result, if you see bolded text it means a term I’m going to use frequently, we have jargon just like anyone else. Most people have no clue how this works, much less what goes into the period between training and qualification. At the same time, personally, I’m in a much better position than I was when I got Uni. First off I know a lot more Guide Dog Owners (GDO’s) than I did when I first got Uni.
This is important because it means I have a safety network of people I can go to if I’m worried or need advice (it’s easier to get ahold of a close GDO friend, for example, when you need a quick query answering). There’s also the social aspect of other dogs; freerunning (letting the dog run off lead and be normal for half an hour) is an important part of their social lives but also us as owners and nothing is more fun than going up to somewhere like Eaton Park with another GDO and watching your hounds do what amounts of ballet while running.
The other thing is, for me, certain dogs (primarily Bramble) help my mental state. Bramble has this thing where she looks at you with Unconditional Love, it can’t be recorded or photographed, it can only be felt. This is because she’s not my dog and is actually quite important. Guide Dogs love their owners but it’s a private kind of adoration, other dogs are required for the oxytocin hit I need to keep functioning. I actually, unexpectedly ran into Bramble yesterday and it really did lift my spirit.
Right now, officially. I’m not on the Guide Dog list. I’m not even an entity. I’m just a blind person with a Sightsaber and lots of friends with dogs. There are assessments scheduled and paperwork to be filled in. Then I get officially placed on the list, the important thing is to now think about what I want and need in a dog so that, when asked, I can give a succinct answer. The unofficial theory is that every extra you add on to the sentence: ‘I’d like a guide dog please’ means an extra month to wait so I’m trying to keep it brief.
So what do I need?
- A short-haired, white/gold bitch, Labrador/mix who is good with cats and escalator trained (aka able to work the Tube legally).
This is important as I never liked how much hair Uni had and neither did she; she was phobic about being brushed and so I had to personally fork out extra money to get her turned into a labrador three times a year. She was happier, I was happier. I’ve also realised, though I knew this when I applied for Uni that black doesn’t work for me. I simply can’t see dark colours well so I basically want a blonde version of Bramble, that means I’ll actually be able to see her on free runs.
I want a bitch mainly because they’re easier to control and generally calmer, more submissive (and therefore should be happier around the cats). I’m resolute on the gender and refuse to move. At all.
Escalator trained is the complicated one. I travel a lot (compared to most GDOs) and while I’m no longer working I do go to London a lot. I like to visit shops, exhibitions and do stuff, especially as London is also a terminus if you want to travel elsewhere (like Bath, for example). Taking a guide dog on the Tube is a pain in the arse. It’s been easier this last six months with TfL’s journey planner and the buses (which Shannon knows in her sleep) but there are still times and places when I need to use the Tube. With Uni I was limited to stations that had stairs/lifts where as most have some form of escalator.
And Uni hated escalators. Like HATED them. She’d do that thing where a cat affixes its paws to the floor and cannot be moved by any force known to nature … then she’d shit herself in terror.
The one thing I want is a dog with a multi-syllable name. My autism means I’m bad with tones (much of the communication between GDO and dog is tone via voice and I suck at it). I’ve improved thanks to Mhairi’s instruction over the last year but having a dog with a name that can be shortened makes my life easier. Uni and I also had our shorthand, oh and the blackmail involved in ‘do this thing for me and I will give you a milk bone’.
I don’t get to name the dog, though there is apparently a rarely invoked option to changed it for something which sounds the same (So ‘Sandy’ instead of ‘Andy’). Initially I hated Unis because it was weird and no one knew how to spell it. She was Uni most of the time, Un when I was in a good mood and Un-lamb when I really needed a hug). She was only ever Unis when she was in the shit big time.
The good thing is my Guide Dog Mobility Instructor (aka a GDMI) is super supportive and knows my quirks, how my depression/bipolar and autism affect me, as well as my well documented hatred of navigating London. It’s one of the rare instances when I can do it far more easily with my cane than a dog. But I do actually prefer a dog. Now, officially, Guide Dogs only escalator train dogs who will work/live within London (which I and others call so many kinds of stupid you can hear it ringing across the nation). I know some GDOs who’ve taught their dogs but it’s still technically Not the Done Thing. I mean, I checked and my local shopping mall has like three escalators … it’s not as is London is the only place which has them. However there are escalators and then there are the Bastard 92ft Tube Escalators.
I’m too old to climb them anymore so a fully-trained dog is essential. The plan is, I’m going to do my training (called Class) in London and I’m going to take my time on it (last time I qualified in twelve days; the ‘norm’ is three weeks). Class was, for me, horrible and stressful, plus I never got to do the advanced stuff. I also did it from home so had to worry about extra stuff like keeping the house afloat, washing and feeding myself. I might have legally qualified but I missed out on a lot of stuff from how to work a dog at night to certain kinds of transport. London offers a dozen different ways to get around and I had to teach myself how to do a lot of them (the riverboat was fun; the London Eye was not).
I might have legally qualified but I missed out on a lot of stuff from how to work a dog at night to certain kinds of transport. London offers a dozen different ways to get around and I had to teach myself how to do a lot of them (the riverboat was fun; the London Eye was not). It’s got plenty of places for me to learn new skills and should also force me to get my head around the buses.
Doing Class somewhere else will relieve a lot of the burdens (as well as allowing me to stay in a hotel in a city with coffee shops on every corner and takeout on speed dial). I’m pretty sure, with a minder, the cats can survive the three weeks without me. Class is also the one time I can legitimately call in favours with friends and ask them to feed/water the Menagerie. All three can, technically, survive feral but I’d prefer they’re reminded where their bread is buttered. Especially if I come home with a new member of the family at the end of it. I’m mildly worried about it but worse-case, there are people in my life who will help me out on this one thing, especially as it’s not a daily thing.
But that can sort itself out later.
For now, it’s the initial stuff and paperwork. In my head, I’m looking at Winter solo and hoping due to the lists/priority status, to be qualified by May at the latest. It’s a ballpark but I’d rather have it, a goal, in mind than sit here panicking because I’m about to go through my most hated part of the year without a dog and just my own wits to sustain me.
So, here we go again.
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.
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 (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?
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 …