Living with an Invisible Illness with a Very Visible Dog – Part Two (approx. 8 – 9 minute read)

If you’ve been following along you know that we’ve moved away from all things familiar and we’re building a house. It’s been extremely difficult because I’ve never lived more than sixty kilometers from where I grew up, but I think I’m doing pretty good.

Ever since we moved here we’ve been going into “town” to do laundry and pick up groceries once a week; mostly on Thursdays. For the first month or so, Gary, my husband would stay with Laddie, my service dog and me while we did the laundry, and then we’d all do the grocery shopping before heading back home.

As time passed, and the months rolled by, I got more comfortable with my surroundings and Gary started leaving Laddie and me to do the laundry while he did the running around. It made a lot more sense for Gary to do the running around while I was doing the laundry because it meant we were taking less time away from building the house.

Now don’t get me wrong because it was really rough at first and I had to ask Gary to come into the laundromat to check out who was there before he left me alone. If I didn’t feel comfortable, he would stay with me until I did. I started bringing my journal, so I could write about how I was feeling instead of acknowledging the people around me, and it really helped – still does. I’ve found that when my head is down, and I’m not making eye contact with anyone, people pay way less attention to Laddie and me.

Honestly, you’d think that people would get that he’s a service dog and that he’s working, but his jacket makes people curious instead of deterring them from making contact with me. It’s awful …I even had a cashier in the local hardware store walk towards us and ask us if it was okay to give Laddie a treat – with TREATS in her hand!!

Gary isn’t even allowed to give him a treat and here was this stranger approaching us and as well trained as Laddie is, he couldn’t help but be interested in the delicious smell emanating from this person walking towards us. I was absolutely mortified because Laddie started wagging his tail and turned away from me and almost immediately my anxiety started because I had absolutely no control of the situation and neither did Laddie.

In fact, I had to scold him to get his attention back on me and you’d think that would have given her the hint that she was out of line, but no. Even after I told her no, she kept coming at me exclaiming that he was so beautiful, and she just wanted to give him a treat.

She even felt the need to explain to me that they were good treats, but I digress…

This week I decided to go into town to do laundry by myself, it wasn’t really a choice, it was more about practicality than anything else. The weather’s turning cold and we still need three to four weeks to finish the house before the city will let us live in it and I’ve come to the realization that taking Gary away to help me do laundry isn’t conducive to getting our house finished. So, yesterday I woke up feeling pretty good; especially mentally and decided that even though it wasn’t Thursday, I was going into town to do laundry.

I’ve learned over the last decade or so to push myself when I’m having a good day, and to back off when I’m not. I’ve found that it causes less stress; therefore, less physical illness, and it’s a good way to challenge myself and help me to get the best out of my life, even though I’m a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), survivor. So off I went.

The drive into town went fairly well and I only gave one guy the finger for following me too closely (that’s a story for another time), but as I got closer to town my anxiety started to get the best of me. I tried to focus on my breathing, but I have a lot of trouble trying to concentrate on my breathing when I start to get anxious, so I turned on Evanescence so that I could sing. I love singing and when I sing, breathing seems to come naturally, so I cranked the tunes and sang along with Amy Lee; the lead singer of Evanescence for the rest of the drive.

When I got to the laundromat the parking lot was full, so I knew it was packed. I thought about turning around and going back home but quickly dismissed the idea because I knew I would be disappointed with myself if I didn’t at least try to do this by myself.

I walked through the door, spotted an empty washing machine and headed towards it; I needed three machines, but one would get me started. I walked over to it and told Laddie to lie down in front of me, and he did, but he started rubbing his head against the ground as he always does when he first lies down. I know it’s because of the harness he wears when we’re out and the fact that he hates it, but he needs to wear it to prevent him from pulling. Unfortunately, a lady standing about ten feet from me noticed what Laddie was doing and she tried to spark up a conversation by asking me if his Halti/harness was new?

I didn’t think she was talking to me at first because I was lost or at least trying to get lost, in my own world, so I heard her repeat the question and that’s when I realized she was talking to me. It’s strange because Laddie was the only dog in the room and part of me knew that the question couldn’t have been for anyone else, but I have a habit of zoning out when I’m stressed. I turned to look at her and said no, he hates it, and then I went back to loading the washing machine – hoping she would get the hint and stop talking to me.

I finished loading the machine, all the while feeling extremely conscious of the people around me. I knew that once I was finished loading it, I was going to have to look for more empty machines, as well as a place for me to sit. So, I dragged out the task of putting detergent and coins into the machine for as long as I could.

Once I was done, I looked around to find two more machines close to the one I’d already chosen, but like I mentioned the place was packed, and I had to use machines in different areas of the room. Which for most people isn’t a big deal, but all I could think about was what if I forgot where a load was, and there were a couple of times when I panicked because I honestly couldn’t remember which machines I had put my stuff in.

Once I was finished loading the last two machines, I spotted a chair that wasn’t that close to anyone else’s chair, so I headed over to it and sat down. I instructed Laddie to lie at my feet, which he did and then I proceeded to pull out my journal, so I could bury my nose in it before anyone else tried to spark up a conversation.

Unfortunately, or should I say, fortunately, the guy sitting in the chair to my left asked me how long I’d had Laddie? I turned towards the voice, wondering where this conversation was going to go and saw this kind old face smiling back at me, and the answer spilled from my lips before I knew I was talking. Then the kind face asked me why I had a service dog and the answer to that question spilled from my lips just as quickly and it was actually the truth.

When I’m feeling as anxious as I was in that particular moment, I usually tell people I’m training Laddie. I’ve found that it’s the easiest answer to give people because it usually ends the conversation, but for some reason, I told him that I had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and how I ended up with the illness.

Unbeknownst to me, the lady that had asked me about Laddie’s Halti/harness was listening in on our conversation and when the man got up to check on his laundry, she came over to me and told me that she’d recently been diagnosed with PTSD.

As she told me about her diagnosis and how relieved she was to finally know that there was a name for what has been ailing her for decades, she started to cry and when anyone cries around me, I cry - I just can’t help it. The next thing I knew we were standing in the laundromat, tears streaming down our faces, totally oblivious to anyone around us. We realized that we’d found a connection because of PTSD; something that usually alienates us from other people and the next thing I knew I was giving her my contact information and telling her to call me.

Who would have thought? I challenged myself to push my limits and nothing bad happened to me, more importantly, I’m pretty sure Laddie and I ended up making a new friend.

Stay safe and stay strong. Thanks for following.