Stress Happens

I've thought a lot about blogging again. It really takes brain power to write things people want to read, or really great pictures. It seems my interest in either of those things has fallen by the wayside for many months. Part of it was the "BIG MOVE TO THE CITY" and part of it was a lack of actually training the dogs to have something to post about. The dogs and I have spent a lot of time being busy, stressed, overwhelmed, and just plain burnt out. I've been to the doctor because I was sick, they've both been to many doctors for not feeling well and it's finally all ready to spill out.

As I was driving to Tim's house last night (for those not in-the-know, he's my boyfriend, and he's pretty awesome... he is with me after all) I took note of the self-stimming I was doing. It's a stress induced habit I've had for as long as I can remember. When I'm not stressed, it happens never. When I am stressed, it happens multiple times per day. When I'm on the "other side," the downward/good side, of the stress-bell-curve, I self-interrupt and laugh. With a few mild changes along the way, my self-stim has been pretty much the same: I drum my fingers in a very rhythmic pattern on my thumb. Let's just say that it happens almost daily since I've moved to the city. I really only started to realize it again a couple weeks ago though.

Why does anyone care about my autistic characteristics? Because I've realized in the last week or so that not only has my dog been significantly over threshold nearly every single day since the move, I have been too.

You see, the dogs and I come from a place where the sounds at night are crickets and coyotes and frogs in spring, summer, and fall. In the dead of winter, there are no noises except maybe the crackle of a fireplace, or the occasional snowmobile. Sirens outside mean a tragedy is happening within hearing range and if it gets closer you start to worry about the neighbors. (And let me tell you, any house within a mile or so is considered a neighbor because otherwise we wouldn't get to use the word!)

Running. Bailey's favorite past-time.
We weren't accustomed to the overwhelmingly constant noise and stimulation of city life. As a matter of fact, aside from going to hang out with my gym buddies 3 mornings a week, the only time I really saw other people is when I made a point of doing so. Work was mostly harmonious and while a lot of my day was spent interacting with people, I also spent a good chunk of it hanging out with some really good therapy. If something stressed me out, I took a mental break outside with one of my favorite board and train dogs, and that was acceptable. We also had an assortment of clinic cats, adoption cats, and the owners' dogs to pet and cuddle. I never realized how much of an impact those animals really made on my sanity.

Ruca adored being able to run full tilt without a care in the world.
When this big move to the city happened, I made the mistake of asking myself, and Bailey, to just take the plunge. As a result, all we could do is try to keep swimming. The longer we lived here in that state of mind, the worse we got. She has a history of being a reactive dog. Through training, medication, and dedication, I was able to show her in obedience, agility, and rally successfully for a couple years with just a few modifications to help us both be successful. 

As for myself, this new job I signed up for came with some requirements I was not prepared for. I was expected to be alert and focused for nearly 8 straight hours. My day job is helping adults with developmental disabilities gain employment. The way the program runs, and apparently the way many programs run, is on the absolute minimum of staff possible. Everything is about "numbers" meaning we have to keep the correct staff to person served ratio constantly. There are no traditional breaks, and I get a paid "lunch-half" as long as "numbers are good." I was so mentally exhausted for the whole first month or more that I had to come home and take a nap. Every single day.

I didn't really take it all in and process it until last Wednesday, when the Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist we saw was an advocate for my dog. All the stress I was experiencing accumulated and it reflected on my dog. Not only were we both having a difficult time coping with all these changes, but I started to fail her in pretty big ways. I put her in situations I knew she couldn't handle, because I thought for a few weeks that increasing her physical exercise would help the situation, or that just enough stimulation in general would tire her out. Bailey was thrown into situation after situation that sent her over threshold, in an honest (but half-brained) attempt to help her. She became a dog I had never known. Her dog reactivity threshold was so low she couldn't even see a dog down the block without staring, circling, and wuffing. (As previously mentioned, this is a dog who had successfully competed in obedience and agility for years, with nary a glimpse of reactivity.) Going over threshold nearly every single day meant that she never really "came down" from that adrenaline high. She then developed separation anxiety. To the point that on multiple occasions she was howl/scream/barking for hours on end and there was nothing I could do about it, because I had to be at work.

So we had to make changes. I accepted the fact that we'd all be staying in more, in the bedroom. I sent Bailey to stay with my mom a couple of times in order to let her actually relax for an extended period of time. And I gave myself a break. I really didn't have to do ALL THE THINGS after all. I took more frequent trips back to my happy-place-home-land with the dogs. Just to breathe in the fresh air and hear familiar sounds.

Buzz enjoys just walking through the tall grass.
Last Wednesday, Bailey and I saw Dr. Duxbury. It was the most relaxing and enjoyable learning experience I've had in a while. We got some homework, some different advice, and a new medication to try on an as needed basis. Bailey and I even did a bit of work last night out in public and she was awesome, because our brains were in the right place. When she told me she'd had enough of working, I listened and took her home. 

Life has been a lot better these last two weeks. It has slowed down to a bearable pace, and we've been able to enjoy it. I knew city life would be hard for us, but I had no idea just how hard until it really hit me like a ton of bricks. We're moving past it and hopefully I've learned enough from it to help us all cope a whole lot better, at least until a living situation where we aren't exposed to so much stimulus, is found.
We are really trying to embrace city life. This was taken on our front retaining wall.