October Update

October is one of my favorite months right now. The weather where I live is spectacular, there are all kinds of outdoor festivals, and it’s the height of pumpkin spice season! It’s also the month before National Novel-Writing Month. Starting November 1, I will be joining thousands of amateur and professional writers around the world in an attempt to each draft a novel. The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

Galadriel Coffeen and I will be drafting Book 02 of the Shallic Sea Chronicles, right before the 1-year anniversary of Jubilant’s publication. After successfully rescuing the missing ambassadors and breaking up an Alokite slave camp, Wren and Kelta return to northern waters in search of the warlord responsible for reviving the slave trade across the Shallic Sea. The Shallic Order sends along a representative to hunt down the rogue mage helping the slavers and running experiments on fathom snake bones, and both Wren and Kelta face difficult decisions about their long-term career plans.

It’s tempting to bask in all of this excitement of future writing projects and glorious October sunshine, but before I get too far along in my daydreams let me catch you up on Greta’s rehabilitation progress. Our Recent trip to Oregon was a big test, and revealed a lot about how far we’ve come, and where we still need to focus future training efforts.

How did Greta Do?

Based on her performance throughout the entire 12-day trip, I can confidently say that her baseline anxiety level is lower than it was even three months ago. Her guide-work, when she felt calm and safe enough to execute it, was sharp as ever, and the amount of time she spent guiding was greater than the amount of time she spent on alert by a long shot.

We encountered some rather dramatic obstacles, including a literal K-9 unit convention passing through the security checkpoint at the Nashville airport at the same time we were.  I’m so impressed by how the TSA agents used walls of passengers to keep all the dogs politely separated from each other. They handled the chaotic situation with unflappable professionalism.

We encountered a lot of pets in every airport we passed through, and Greta successfully ignored about ¾ of them. And by the time we were on our return trip she felt so comfortable in airports that she was in “guide mode” for 80% of our trip. I wasn’t at all surprised that she retained her comfort with airplanes and jet-bridges, and her instinct to guide me to the rear of restrooms where the handicapped stalls usually are located.

You can read Last week’s post to see how Greta handled our kayak trip. Halfway down the river we stopped and did a sort hike through the Redwoods National Forest, where Greta guided me around truly gigantic arboreal obstacles like the pro she is. We had one shockingly unpleasant encounter, which is worthy of its own post so I’ll tell you about it later, but overall the trip was a great success.

Anneliese, at five feet and nine inches, stands in front of the cut cross-section of a Redwood log. The diameter of the log is at least 4 inches taller than she is. Greta, a chestnut-toned German shepherd dog, is dwarfed next to the stick that is clearly too big to fetch.

Greta and I did walk on the beach together, and  She put up with being squished into the back seat of a sedan with two other long-legged adults for hours and hours reasonably well, and loved chasing waves of the Pacific.

How did I do?

As discussed in This post, difficulty with one partner produces difficulty for the other. Greta and I both have anxieties to deal with. I’m disappointed to say that I did not do as well as she did. Or at least — that’s how it feels. Thank god that our feelings do not circumscribe reality. There’s so much more to consider.

I felt as if I were on one long, 12-day training session. It was exhausting, having my body function on high-alert status for that long. On the trip to Oregon, I experienced anxiety at a level I had only previously encountered in textbooks, and I hope to never feel it so intensely again.

I felt light headed at one point. My heart raced constantly, I felt my hearing (which is my peripheral vision) partially overwhelmed with what I expected to hear rather than what I was actually hearing. And by the time of the announcement of the last delay out of Seattle…I remembered all I’d eaten in almost 2 days was just 2 salads! That might have ad something to do with it.

Feelings do not define reality.

Before this trip, I had gotten to the point where I felt reasonably confident in Greta’s behavior, and strangers’ reactions, during outings as long as 3 hours. I was taking Greta out 2-3 times a week to places where I felt emotionally safe in order to practice trusting her as well as giving her opportunities to practice her focusing and coping skills.

This vacation was 12 days of unfamiliar settings with lots of opportunities for failure and outside judgment. And lots of opportunities to really put my own coping skills to the test.

Practicing Mindfulness while working Greta allowed me to notice minute changes in my body that signaled when I felt safe or threatened. Gratitude journaling in the morning helped me reflect on successes from the previous day that a good night sleep revealed hiding beneath a pile of self-judgmental thoughts. Lots of time spent moving out-of-doors allowed my body to absorb vitamin D and hyper-oxygenate and attune to the lower concentration of human emotion around me.

I experienced counseling in motion.

It’s always nice to  know for myself that what I preach is actually practical. I enjoyed seeing how my coping skills interacted with my symptoms in the moment, and how journaling transformed raw memories into patterns. Most importantly I appreciated feedback from others confirming Greta’s progress. We’re on the right track, we’ve made great strides, and are ready for a more challenging routine at home.

A week after we returned I met up with the dog trainer to talk about our path forward. We’ve agreed to make our lessons bi-weekly, with Greta and me making more trips out and about in between lessons. One other result of the trip was the discovery that Greta, like most dogs, is afraid of open-riser stairs. And there just happens to be a flight of open-riser stairs downtown near my favorite local tea shop…which would make a great place to end lessons, don’t you think?

This week your favorite blindfluencer challenges you to write down three things you’re thankful for each day for a week, then re-read your gratitude journal entries. How does this reframe the way you reflect on your recent past experiences?

2 thoughts on “October Update

  1. I have to applaud your courage here: it takes a lot of guts to be able to lay out your fears and vulnerabilities like you have in this blog. Especially as a counselor, someone we might expect to have fewer troubles or way better coping mechanism than the average person. Bravo for showing us some of your worst struggles, but also showing us that we are not alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your appreciation. I guess when I was writing the post I didn’t think about that potential stigma because among therapists there isn’t any regarding self-disclosure. But then, there’s probably more stigma among clients than therapists lol. But…doctors get sick, too, and the ones most driven to find cures are the ones who’ve suffered. I hope people recognize suffering among professionals as inspiration rather than a handicap.


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