Thursday, February 10, 2011

Who Let the Dogs Out?

     Fear. How many times do we let fear get the best of us? Let it wreak havoc on our minds and leave us unable to function normally? How often do we give in rather than overcome?
     I will be the first to tell you that I do this more often than not. In this case, my fear is very much concrete. I have had this fear since I was around five years old, and some have even labeled it a "phobia" due to its intensity. I don't like to advertise it, and besides, if you get to know me at all, this definitely comes up at some point. It's inevitable.

     I am afraid, no, petrified of dogs. 

     I first learned the word "petrified" in junior high. Once I heard it, I latched onto it, knowing it was the perfect word to describe my fear. Other words have been added, including "terrified" and "phobic" yet "petrified" encompasses all these things and more. The thesaurus reads (in synonyms for "petrified"),

"afraid, alarmed, anxious, fearful, frightened, frozen, have cold feet, immobilized, in a cold sweat, in a panic, numb, panicky, scared, scared stiff, spooked, terror-stricken, terrorized, unnerved."

     In a nutshell, that is me around dogs. Actual live dogs. Not pictures or movies of dogs (just to be clear). Now, I know that writing something like this could cause issue, as some people don't understand how an adult could have a fear like this. I understand that. I wish I knew why it still plagues me as well. This is just my story, and hopefully, there is a happy ending someday. :)

     As I said before, this fear began when I was just starting school and involved a large dog I didn't know at a park. From then on, dogs were the enemy. Since then, if I know there is a dog around, my heart starts beating quickly and loudly in my ears, my stomach ties up in knots, and I feel sick. My whole body starts shaking so badly, that at times my knees start knocking together. I usually end up crying as well. 

     As a child, I was met with varying reactions to my fear. Some were very compassionate and would hold their dog around me or put the dog in a different room/outside. Others were not so kind and chose to let the dog run around me while I tried climbing up any adult nearest me. (If I ever did that to someone reading this, I apologize.) I don't begrudge those who didn't help me. They just didn't understand. 

     In my teenage years, I could obviously no longer climb on my dad's shoulders or scramble onto the back of a family member. Instead of going into crying hysterics, I would freeze whenever I saw a dog (or refuse to get out of the house/vehicle) and when my parents or whoever pushed me, I would panic/get angry and turn into...well, a big meanie. Even now, in the rare occasions that I am forced to face my fear, my reflex is to get mad at the person nearest me and lash out. 

     I think the biggest part of my fear is that I feel alone in it. I don't mean that I feel like I am the only one who has the fear, but that I am the only one around me who understands  it. Recently, my mom pointed out it wasn't true. My mom and dad have been going through it twenty one years too. They've been the ones I've climbed on, pleaded with, and yelled at. My brother and sister have also had to learn how to deal with it.  My friends too. Anyone that I am close to has had to hold a dog, make sure a dog is put away, or help me calm down after I've had an encounter with a dog. It takes its toll on everyone.

     When I was in Europe in the fall, one thing I noticed was that I wasn't afraid of the dogs there. I was jumpy at times because most dogs are so well trained that they do not even need leashes, but overall, I was calm and in control when a dog crossed my path. I started to wonder why that was. It wasn't like a conscious decision to "get over" my fear, but somehow, I was doing that. I thought at first that maybe it was because the dogs there are so well-trained, that I wasn't nervous. That was before I went to Copenhagen. 

     One day, I was walking through Copenhagen with a friend, looking at all the touristy stuff by New Harbour. As we walked, I saw a stray sea dog coming towards us. It looked like a sheepdog.  I was a little nervous, but my friend was talking and I didn't want to interrupt her. I kept my heart rate at a decent level and tried to show no signs I was scared. We passed by the dog...and nothing happened. It kept walking. I was amazed at myself. Something like that back home would have frozen me in terror. 

     I decided after much thought that the reason I did so well over in Europe had two reasons. 1) I was alone a lot without my usual "support group" of family and friends to help me when I crossed paths with a dog, and 2) I didn't want to look foolish in front of the people I was visiting. Since I can't go live in Europe just because I am not afraid of dogs there, I started to research what it would take here to get me over my fear.

     There is therapy for this. I am not the only one out there who struggles with this fear. But it involves a dog park. I live in a small town, and there is no dog park near me. Plus, I don't feel comfortable asking some stranger if I can pet their dog, followed by playing with it two weeks later. (Although perhaps that is normal at a dog park. I have no idea obviously.) That idea was nixed then rather quickly. 

     I am still looking for ideas or suggestions. I really do think that enough is enough. My sister is being of great help right now. She has a dog that lives indoors, and tonight, I went in the same room as the dog (a big deal), and she didn't even have to hold him. He just laid there calmly. I got less than six inches away too. This is progress for me, as her dog is a lab and can be pretty hyper. (He is an eight month old puppy and full of energy.) 

     I know my family and friends will continue to help me work this out. I know this fear can be removed, if I am willing to work on it. And I am. Starting now.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

An Old Haunt Revisited

Most people don't stay in their hometown to attend college after high school...but I did.

Most people don't stay in their college town after they graduate from college...but I did.

It can't come as a surprise then that it feels odd to visit old haunts, as Anne would say, around the university. Memories flood my mind as I pass by the buildings or see groups of college kids walking down Franklin to eat on the square in between classes. Was I really them just last year?

For the first time since Finals Week in May 2010, I walked into the Student Union Building today. I purposely avoided this moment for months because a) I wanted it to be a majestic moment when I did go back, such as a reunion with friends and b) it just feels weird going back since I've graduated. Everything feels different.

There was no angelic chorus when I walked through the door, no bright lights making a way for me. If anything, there were a few rays of sun reflecting on the snow. I walked down the stairs in a nearly empty building and found my way to the ATM, which is why I was there in the first place. Another dash in my majestic return. No friends awaited me. Only some dancers, and from the way they were dressed and the music they were listening to, I am assuming they were swing dancers. I found the right ATM and almost laughed out loud. The poor dancers had put their laptop between two of the machines and taped computer speakers to the top of the two ATMs. Unfortunately, I needed one of those ATMs. They had to wait until I was finished with my transaction before they could continue. I felt awkward going through the process to withdraw money. Oh, and did I mention the ATM was using some sort of dial-up connection? I can equate it best to retrieving money from a machine and having someone behind you waiting in line, only times that person by six.

Although I did not have the beautiful return to Truman like I wanted, running into the arms of friends who have moved away and seeing professors from past classes, what happened today reminded me how much I loved being in college. Why is it that we rush through life trying to get somewhere else instead of enjoying exactly where God has placed us?