I’m now prepared to open up a little bit more about my PTSD and Flicka.
The other day, after being home alone (Flicka excluded) for more than 36 hours, I began to run into some difficulties with my affect regulation.
It was getting later in the evening, and my mind was beginning to wander into dark places. When my mind wanders in that manner, I begin to shut down and isolate. This maladaptive behaviour causes a further spiral within me, and, almost always, it’s in my best interests to reach out to someone within my personal support network for assistance. Usually a good night’s sleep in a safe and secure environment helps me to get myself back on track, and I’m thankful that I have some wonderfully supportive friends who are willing and able to provide me with a safe harbour during my difficult periods.
The challenging thing about these periods is that I usually only get a short warning that difficult times are coming on, and, to be honest, I’m not terribly good at identifying the warning signs until it’s too late. I’m trying to get better at understanding the warnings; however, it hasn’t been a particularly easy task for me.
Part of Flicka’s role on my support team is to be a first-line of defense when I’m beginning to spiral. Anecdotal evidence from other individuals who struggle with PTSD, and who have trained service dogs, is that their dogs are able to help them stabilize, at least in part, during difficult periods.
When I finally realized, around 11:00 p.m., that I was in a sticky situation the other day, I tried to engage Flicka and have her provide me with some comfort. Flicka, for her part, wanted nothing to do with the situation.
Unfortunately, after around 9:00 p.m., Flicka thinks she’s done for the night. She retreats to the front door area of my home, and stretches herself out along the cool tiles on the floor. This is when her slumber party begins. My family usually leaves her alone at this time because we understand that she desires, and needs, some alone time.
What I didn’t full comprehend until the other day is that late in the evening is when I’m likely going to need Flicka the most because it’s usually at that time of the day that I find myself in difficult times. When it’s just Flicka and I at home, this challenge is further compounded and is something that I need to be more aware of. I don’t know what it is about late in the evening, but this is, historically, the worst time of day for me.
When I was struggling the other day, and Flicka was non-responsive to my efforts to engage her, I began to think that she was defective. The big flaw in that reasoning is I did not fully appreciate that Flicka has her own emotions and needs too, and she’s not a pre-programmed mechanical canine. Regrettably, I was expecting her to be one. I’m now wiser to this, and have realized that I’m going to need to provide her with some training around how I’d like to interact with her late in the evening.
Since the incident the other day, before I go to bed now, I have Flicka come into my bedroom and we spend some quality time together. I’m hopeful that this will condition her that she’s also potentially on-duty during the time she thinks she’s off-duty.
I’ve reached out to my friends at National Service Dogs, and they’re brainstorming with me some ideas to work on this.
Through the process of trial and error, I’m learning that working with a service dog is not a science. Instead, it’s more of an art that takes an on-going work effort. I’m now trying to more appropriately manage my expectations around Flicka and how we can work together. The test will be when I’m in a similar situation to the one I found myself in the other day. I appreciate that my bond with her is still in its infancy; we’ve only been together for 10 weeks so far, and we have some more growing to do together as a service dog team.
I got myself out of the situation the other day by calling one of my support persons. She came to my home around midnight, picked Flicka and I up, and took us back to her place for the night. Safe harbours/safe houses are a blessing for individuals struggling with PTSD. Thank you for your help, dear friend! The next day, I was, for the most part, back on track.