It is 3:54am as I begin writing this, and am doing so because I am now wide awake thanks to the fact I just experienced a vivid nightmare that I couldn’t quite rid myself of as I woke up.
You know the type of nightmare, where you’re in deep but for some reason you’re jolted awake yet when you open your eyes there is a good second where you can still ‘see’ it all around you. For that quick, and it is quick, moment you believe your nightmare has joined you in the real world.
Hence I woke in a panic. Sat straight up. I’m sure I must have cried out loud a little. It all happened so quick… Because guess who promptly came to my rescue?
The moment I sat up I heard the sound of Edgar running across the room to me. Before I could properly register that fact, he had started to circle me pressing his whole body up close and licking my face. I managed to calm my breathing, relax and then lay down. Edgar circled one last time, then joined me. His face resting near mine, still maintaining contact.
All this happened in what was probably under two minutes.
It seems, as sleep will now elude me for the rest of this hour, a perfect time to share with you on some of the specifics of how Edgar helps me.
This dog does more for me in one day than years, and I literally mean years, of therapy ever did for me. You see it isn’t just Autism I live with, there are a few other things, and add depression in the mix too it can be a dark concoction stirring up in my mind.
I won’t lie to you. This isn’t the easiest thing for me to admit…
Edgar is absolutely my lifeline and my best friend but he isn’t always enough to pull me out of my mind.
There have been days where the knowledge of him needing a walk, some play, just wasn’t enough to get me up off my living room floor. Those are the dark days, and I wish I could promise him they won’t come again but unfortunately that’s not a promise I can keep. But that’s not what this post is about.
Even those days however, where I could feel I was letting him down by not getting up, never did he beg me for a walk or a game of tug, he didn’t even ‘ask’ to be let out to toilet. Dog owners know what I mean here when I say these things, dogs have a way of telling you what they want. Edgar never did during those days. He just stayed beside me.
The first thing Edgar does for me each day? He’s there as I wake. I open my eyes, and moments later he will have noticed and be right on me, excited for fuss.
This happens every day no matter what, and it’s a nice little wake up call to have if you ask me.
With Edgar being my first dog, and not growing up with or around them, I’m not entirely sure if how Edgar has fell into the role of therapy dog is normal, or if he’s one in the minority.
Let’s begin with the panic attacks. Not fun, and horribly complicated when you suffer from them regularly. You learn the warning signs as time goes on, but you become less capable of predicting what can bring them on as the fear of one means you’re in a constant state of some kind of anxiety.
Generally when out and about, as long as I have Edgar with me, I am able to keep my anxiety in check. I focus on Edgar. We walk, we play.
When I can’t fight it back however, Edgar takes over. His first move is to always make contact with me.
When walking (I will never know how he picks up on my feelings at these times) Edgar will start to slow down and look up at me. Sometimes that is all it takes, I stroke him and tell him ‘I’m ok’, then on we go. However if that doesn’t work, his next move is to jump up into my side. Repeatedly. I honestly believe this is his way of slapping me back into reality! He does this until I stop walking. He then positions himself making it clear he expects fuss, which he receives, and then waits for me to calm myself and again announce to him, ‘I’m ok’.
Regarding panic attacks, wherever we may be, that is Edgar’s routine. If the first one isn’t enough, he will move to the second and if that isn’t enough the third and so on.
Jump into me
The success rate is 100%
All occasions end with me telling Edgar, ‘I’m ok. Thank you bud’. Then me receiving a doggy kiss before we continue on with our life.
There is most likely a more scientific and official word to what I’m about to describe. I choose to call it the manic though, and I will continue to do so here.
So the manic…. I’m not sure how to describe it, especially as this isn’t the post to get into the ugly reality of it.
(It was here I left this piece for the day. Hoping that during the time away from it I would decide how I wanted to proceed)
I’m going to put it into perspective of how debilitating experiencing a manic episode is for me.
Now, I live in an almost perpetual state of fear at having a panic attack. Yet I would choose 24 hours of having two panic attacks an hour, than spend 10 minutes manic.
Sounds a bit extreme I am aware but just trust this is how I feel.
I need to get to the point, which is how Edgar helps me.
When I’m manic. It can manifest in different ways.
- Uncontrollable crying. Manic crying. Almost to the point of screaming to be honest. Rocking happens, and covering my head with my hands.
- Anger. Just pure anger. At myself.
- Detachment. Still and silent. Staring into space for up to 5 hours. This one I am very happy to say I have only experienced once since the arrival of Edgar.
To put it simply, the manic is what happens when I can no longer internalise my mental difficulties. Suddenly my disability is rather visible.
Oh… I suppose I have just described what it is!
Right there is another reason why I’ve chosen to write and share my story. During the process I have been putting things together, putting things right in my mind. Writing as it turns out is great therapy.
To quote Joss Whedon
‘I write to give myself strength’
Again. Back to the point.
Contact isn’t his first course of action when it comes to my manic episodes. I’m not ‘present’ enough to notice if he is leaning against me.
He mouths. Or nips would be more accurate, my hands. My legs. Just enough to wake me out of it to physically still myself. Once I’m still, he gives me the space to try catch my breath. To stop crying, screaming or shouting if that’s what I am doing. He stays in the room (these almost exclusively happen at my house) but doesn’t get in my space.
After some time and if unable, or just unwilling, to calm down from this point. Edgar barks.
He begins by circling the room, barking a couple times here and there. This is where I do tend to begin to come back. If I’m not quick enough, Edgar will stand right in front of me and bark in my face. This works and is where he will initiate contact. Just leaning against me.
You could say Edgar’s bark is my alarm. That bark has saved my life and I tell you this with no exaggeration.
As I begin to get over the manic you’ll find Edgar in front of me, not pushing for fuss but happily and gratefully accepting it when I begin to pay him the attention.
By the end of it all, we are both tired and ready for a good sleep.
Because this doesn’t just take up 5 minutes. I kept the description there short, but a manic episode can last up to a hour. During that time, never does Edgar leave that room. Never is his attention not with me.
When the manic is over, the ending is a lot like the panic attacks.
Me hugging Edgar, giving him a big kiss and saying
‘Thank you Edgar. I love you’.
These are only two of many ways Edgar helps me. Two situations where he has learnt on his own and put into action how to help his human. It took ME a while to figure out he even did these things, and then I put together that he did them in a particular pattern!
Dogs are magnificent. All dogs. If Edgar did not help me in the ways he does during my panic attacks and my manic episodes, this post would still exist because just by being in my life, Edgar has made it a life. The details would differ, but the post would still be about how he helps me.
This is where I am going to tie up this piece. Not because that’s all, as it certainly isn’t! There is more to share of Edgar’s story. But if you remember, I started this piece because I woke from a nightmare and Edgar ran to be at my side to comfort me.
Well coincidentally, especially considering I took time away from writing for the day and it is now 10:59pm, I can feel Edgar beside me ‘running’ in his sleep. He is grumbling too. This usually means in around 5 minutes he will wake up with a jolt.
Which means in 5 minutes I’m going to have to return that gesture and comfort him. So until next time…