first time for everything

Today I did something that I have never done before: 
I took Blythe for a walk.

Most of you are thinking, "So what? Big deal. I'm not gonna read this blog post…" And to those of you I would say: DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND HOW BIG OF A DEAL THIS WAS? Let me explain:

Since I can remember I have been afraid of dogs. Deeply, bone numbingly, earthquake in my soul afraid of dogs. Nothing traumatic has happened to me. There was a scary, black dog that roamed my streets when I was younger, maybe he is to blame? Maybe I watched "The Sandlot" one to many times? Maybe, just like others are afraid of snakes, or spiders, or the dark….I was born with this fear. 

It is a crippling fear because dogs are EVERYWHERE. It is not "socially acceptable" to be afraid of dogs. Unlike snakes, if people have a dog for a pet, they don't expect to put it away when you come over. Leash laws are flimsy things because people think, "Really? A leash? But my dog wouldn't hurt a fly!" To make matters worse, you probably are aware that dogs have a keen sense, which means they can figure out when something is a little off/ someone is terrified nearby. They generally want to come check out that terrified soul, so naturally if there are 50 people in the vicinity, I am the one that the dog comes toward. 

I wish I could explain more clearly what happens to me when I see a dog loose, or a hear a dog bark, or know one could possibly be around: It is more than panic and it is more than fear. My palms and armpits start to sweat, my hands quiver, and at times my knees almost give out. My heartbeat picks up and I am in full fledge flight mode. If you have ever been near me when this has happened, you also know that it means a vice grip on your arm, leg, hand, or back is coming. 

If Brent and I came into a chunk of money I know immediately where it would go: to fence in our back yard. Sometimes I'll take Blythe outside but I don't wander too far from the back door in case a stray dog comes roaming onto our lot. I very rarely hang up clothes on my awesome clothesline because I'm afraid I'll get stuck too far from safety. 

I have tried to get over this fear. I have come leaps and bounds. 

My sister-in-law has a dog, Beta, and I have now been around Beta for 7 years. I can now walk in a room that I know Beta is in. I can touch Beta on the back. I can't, however, really "pet" Beta, and I will not sit on the floor if she is in the house. I cannot take a nap if I know she is around, and if she looks me in the eye, my old fight or flight responses kick in. Seven years with a dog I know I can trust, and she can still make me want to cry. 

Many people at many different times have said, "You just need to get a dog, then you would get over your fear." I WANT so desperately to get over this fear. So, for Christmas a year and a half ago Brent got the surprise of his life when I told him we could get a puppy. He picked out a beautiful reverse brindle boxer. We named her Margo.

She lasted two and a half days in our home.  [The "whole story" is HERE about halfway into post. More pictures HERE]. I could NOT do it. And I really made an effort. 

I now believe that if I truly want to get over my fear, I would need therapy. And I say that as unsarcastically as I can. 

Now to my big accomplishment today. I don't go for walks by myself because of my fear. I just don't do it. It isn't worth it. There have been times I have wanted to, or the [very] few times I've thought about going for a jog, and I just don't do it because I know inevitably I will run into a dog. There are now a few blocks in town that I know I could *probably* walk without seeing a dog, but I only will walk if I have no other option. 

That being said, taking a baby for a walk in a stroller is a wonderful thing. The child is calm and happy, the parent gets exercise, and both get much needed Vitamin D. But poor Blythe only gets to go for walks when others are visiting, or when Daddy is home in the evenings. 

Today we stepped outside though and it was a beautiful morning and since Blythe is, I believe, on the verge of teething and a little bit more finicking about what she wants to do these days, I thought I should give the walk a shot. Just last night Brent and I had walked down our street so I knew what to expect. I planned on walking two blocks south and saying hello to some friends, then walking back [cause I wasn't about to get unrealistic about what I could accomplish]. 

So I strapped B into her stroller, she gurgled some happy sounds, and I rolled down our driveway and took a right. My real and only test was three houses away. I knew if I saw a dog at my neighbors' that the owner would be right there, as they only let their dogs out for potty breaks and are always nearby. No dog there so we moved along. I was three houses away and began to hear the barking. My palms began to sweat and I death-gripped the stroller handle, but began telling myself, "Kels, you KNOW these two dogs are on chains. They always have been on chains." 

But my fear was too real.

The huge white dog began running and lunging and barking, which got the other dog, a german shepherd, in on the fun. He too began barking and lunging. "They are on chains," my brain chanted, but then my mind played tricks on me: last night the white one had been chained to the playset in the yard. Maybe what he was regularly tied up to was faulty so they had had to move him. But now he was back to that normal…faulty…spot. He is a big dog and I just knew…I KNEW in my soul… he could tear his stake out of the ground if he wanted to. 

All of this happened in less than a minute, but that is all it took. 

My right knee buckled and I had to lean on the stroller to support my weight for a second. I began thinking of escape plans, or what I could do if they did get loose. I knew I would need to protect Blythe, ultimately, but didn't know if I would have the courage. You would not have known it was a cool morning any longer if you would have seen the way I was sweating. 

I couldn't turn around and go home because I was past the dogs now. I didn't know if the alley behind those dogs contained other dogs, and didn't know if I could take the risk. So I thought, if I get to my friends I'll just tell them the situation and they can walk me back. They would understand. I walked one more block and knocked on their door. 

They weren't home. I got out my phone to text my dad and see if he was working. In moments of crisis girls always think of their father if they were raised right, no matter how old they are. As I got out my phone I realized how badly my hands were shaking. I could barely peck out on the keyboard, "You working?" 

He didn't respond. I took a moment to gather myself and turned back onto the street [because in small towns you walk on the street, not sidewalks]. I told myself to walk one block back, and then take a left, go around the house with the dogs, and then turn back to get to my house from the back way. I found a substantial stick before I made the detour, and i recited a verse I learned in bible drill in the fourth grade: "What time I am afraid I will trust in Thee. Psalm 56:3". My eyes darted back and forth frantically the entire way home, and I spun my neck around every moment searching for dogs. I finally reached my house, and barely had enough strength to push up the steep driveway. 

My phone buzzed and it was my dad. I called him and told him what had happened and he didn't laugh but said, "I would have come. I need to get you something to carry if you want to walk…" 

"Yeah, like mace or something?" 

"No, like a gun." And he was serious. He knows my fear. 

But I told him I had survived, that he didn't need to get out his "flying panties" [ask my sister about that], but that I didn't think I'd be going for a walk alone anytime soon. 

"I understand," he said. 

And I think that's what I need: people to understand. I really, truly am terrified. It is not a joke, or something I do for "attention." I am petrified to my very core. 

But I am proud of myself for attempting the walk today. It was a big step…and one that assured me I am doing the right thing by finding activities for B and I to do at home while I'm by myself :). 

What about you? Do you have a fear that is irrational but you just can't shake it? 

*And just so you know, the simple act of writing about my walk made me start shaking again
** And to those of you who have a dog and do understand my fear, thank you for always making the effort to put your dog up when I'm near-- I know your dogs are like family members to you, but I thank you for understanding.  


Alisa said...

If you come to visit me (again), I promise I will put my dog in the basement!!! BTW, I think you need mace :-)

Samantha Nesper said...

Kelsey, I completely understand. My own dog, which is small, becomes uncontrollably excited when she sees other people and starts lunging and barking. We can't seem to correct it, and I'm always worried that she's frightening someone beyond her or my understanding.

That being said, I have a very real, very silly phobia of moths. Just thinknig about them too much makes me want to vomit, and I will often sprint in a home and night covering my hair for fear they will come near me underneath the porch light. Everyone laughs, and I do, too, when it isn't happening, because we all know it's irrational, but that doesn't make my fear any less intense when one flies by me.

momiss said...

I used to be afraid of spiders. Then one time I was alone and had to kill one myself. My knees shook, but I did it. I hit it as hard as I possibly could. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be full of babies. I was so scared I killed them too and then I felt so bad, plus I had to clean up dead baby spider mess that I had made! It did get me pretty much over it, though. I am not suggesting you try this method or anything, do I need to clarify that? LOL
I still hate touching raw meat. It makes me GAG. But I just buy lots of those little see through gloves. Good luck and while I do not wish you to shoot any dogs, the fear might dwindle considerably when you know you could if you had to.

*carrie* said...

Thanks for sharing, Kelsey. I'm sorry if we've ever made you feel silly in regards to Reggie.

I feel similarly about flying. The crazy thing is that in my twenties I flew a ton. Three times to France, Hawaii, lots of trips to CO and other places to visit family.

It's now been 4 1/2 years since I was on a plane and I don't know when I will again. Obviously, as in your situation, I can't avoid flying forever. Especially since we have family on either coast. But I get the same kinds of panic you described when even thinking about being on an airplane. And like you, I've never had a really bad experience. But I AM claustrophobic, so that has a lot to do with it. I'm terrified, for example, of the teeny tiny plane bathrooms.

Whew--there's my long answer!

bridger said...

thanks for sharing your story, Kelsey. We had a guest home from college with Laura that had the same challenge. She was from Mongolia where dogs were trained to protect the families so there was a genuine reason to fear them.
I have seen a lot of people overcome these phobias with the help of a therapist and it would be great if you decided to do that. I think anything that is keeping you from enjoying your life and can be helped, would be worth trying to get rid of. I just want to encourage you to do the therapy thing if you can. It will open up so many possibilities for you and Blythe. By the way the pictures of her in the post are adorable.

Michele said...

I have come across fromCarries blog and I also want to encourage you to meet with a clinical psychologist who specialises in treating fears and phobias. No shame in it at all and will open up your life and that of your daughters - lifes too short to live in fear and it really is very treatable.

I am a psych (in Australia though) and the methods used are v gentle/at your pace you wont be pushed into something scary. Most psychs use "graded exposure" and relaxation techniques to step by step "expose" you to the feared event or object using, coping plans/Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

That said well done for going it alone today and coping

and PS your little one is super cute