March 4, 2011

Vanquishing My Wussisms

Wuss:  “Often a male with a low courage factor.”

The Urban Dictionary

Dear Dr. Geisler;

You gave me a lot to think about today and it all started when you said, “You are such a good boy doing your best to work through your wussims.” I know I can be difficult during my acupuncture and adjustment sessions with you and that today I was particularly feisty when I tried to bite you as you gently pushed a needle into my stomach point.

Please forgive me for that, but I can be a bit reactive at times, which is one of the main reasons I’m seeing you. My reactivity has dogged me (forgive the pun) for most of my life and by working with you, I’m beginning to face my demons, the root causes of why I can be such a nervous boy.

But when you used the word “wussim” my brain flinched with a much different kind of reaction.

“Yes,” I thought, “There is a great truth in what she’s saying.”

First, let me explain. I am not quick to warm up to people. Gretchen says I have a “Rule of Five,” which means that I usually don’t allow people to touch me until the fifth time I meet them. With you, though, touching me — to do the osteopathic adjustments and then to put in the acupuncture needles — had to happen from the get-go. Boy oh boy was that ever hard for me, but with your reassurance and Gretchen constantly telling me that you were a “friend” I did my best to overcome my Rule of Five and my fears of people touching me before I really get to know them. Yes, I’m still nervous with you, but even you had to admit I’m slowly getting better.

I know I haven’t completely overcome all my fears. I know that I’m still reactive and cautious. I know that, while I’ve gotten a bit better about the adjustments and the needles, I still have a long way to go. Thanks for your patience. Thanks for not giving up on me. One day I will reward you with a mighty wiggle and a woof — which is something I do when I feel completely comfortable with people.

And it’s not just new acquaintances that make me nervous. Weird sounds or experiences can set me on edge. The other day, for instance, I heard this big clunk on the back porch. I raced through the house, barking all the way, and looked out the window. I barked even more wildly when I saw something foreign on the back deck. It took me a moment to realize (and lots of  explanation from Gretchen) that a crow (my least favorite bird!) had dropped a large steak bone onto our porch. I wanted to go out and examine the evidence, but Gretchen got to the bone before I did. Still, I was kind of beside myself for quite a bit of time after the whole bone-dropping experience.

“Yes, I am a wuss,” I thought, and sheepishly walked back to my bed and pondered the idea of wussisms.

But the more I pondered, the more I looked around at my world away from your office and realized I was not alone in my fears. As you know, I am a dog dog walker and with Gretchen’s assistance, I have walked with a lot of other dogs in my day. I won’t list them all out (you can read all my blogs and find out who they are), but I will instead focus on the dogs who I currently walk with and how they have offered me insight into my wussisms and wussism in general.

Monty is my best friend in all the world. This doesn’t mean I don’t have other friends who aren’t important to me — I do — but Monty’s been there since the first day I got home and has been by my side as a constant companion offering me advice and guidance every step of the way. Monty is confident, self-assured, a tad bit goofy, and sometimes a bit forward. But he also has his fears, just like me. He is afraid of the vacuum cleaner, for example, and when he’s visiting our house and Gretchen decides it’s time to clean, Monty finds the room farthest from where the vacuum cleaner is.

I don’t mind the vacuum cleaner in the least. This is probably because the first time I met the vacuum cleaner it was covered in dog cookies and I was very happy about that. Then, when the big, loud motor started the dog cookies just kept falling on the floor and while I busied myself with cleaning up the crumbs, I forgot all about the vacuum cleaner and the big sounds it makes. Monty never got the chance to be “acquainted” with the vacuum like I did and so now his fears are much harder to overcome.

Rosie is one of my newer friends and while Gretchen was walking her for a long time before I got to meet her, when I did finally meet Rosie I learned that she, too, has fears that she has a hard time overcoming. One of them is meeting new dogs (like me), but from the day we met, we’ve been good friends who enjoy many of the same activities — chasing cats, barking at crows, and waiting for treats from Gretchen’s pocket.

Another fear Rosie has is when people are walking behind her. She always puts on the brakes wanting to check out who’s back there and see if they pose any danger. I think I’ve helped her with this fear immensely because I’m very forward focused and slowly, Rosie is following my lead and not putting on the brakes so much.

This week I tried to help Rosie have new experiences. We even took her in the car (another fear of hers) and went to Seward Park where we walked by the lake and met all sorts of other dogs. She did really well and was pretty happy by the time she got home. Oh, and in the car, she laid down and pretty much relaxed. Hopefully that extra dose of confidence will stay with her like my treatments with you, Dr. G.

Tyson, Rosie’s brother, has many, many fears, but from the moment I met him, I never would have believed it. He’s a very strong fella and always seems to walk confidently through the world.

But Tyson hates to be left alone. His separation anxiety has sent him to the ER on a number of occasions, but over time, Tyson has been really working through his anxieties.

Sometimes other dogs (particularly large males) upset him. I’m not sure what he’s worried about, but I don’t think he sees himself as having the stature that he does. I mean, when others see him they see what I see — a very handsome and impressive boy. Maybe he doesn’t see himself that way and so he feels intimidated by other handsome and impressive boys. It’s hard to tell because Tyson is kind of the strong silent type. He doesn’t share much with me, but that’s probably because I’m not his main dog dog walker.

Still, I’d like to think I’m helping him just by spending time with him each week letting him know that even when he is alone, he has friends who care about him and if he ever wants a comforting phone call or email, I’m the guy to offer it to him.

Woobie, at first blush, looks like a dog who hasn’t a care in the world and for the most part that is true. She is one happy-go-lucky pup, but on occasion, a large dog approaching her or a dog poking it’s nose in the wrong place can make Woobie react. It’s quick and it’s not vindictive, but she surprises me every once in awhile by reacting to dogs we meet on our walks with a bit of a snip and toss of her head. “Hmmm,” I thought, “Woobie isn’t as confident as I first thought!”

But what I’ve really learned from my dog friends aside from the fact that we all have fears, is that we all have different reactions to those fears. Monty faces his fears by hiding from them, which I suppose isn’t facing them at all. Or he shows an obsessive alertness to them. You should see how crazy he gets when a large plastic bag rolls by in the wind or cars splash through large puddles on a rainy day (both of which happened A LOT this blustery week).

Rosie faces her fears by freezing in her tracks. Or she stands up on her toes, her ears slightly back, her chest muscularly forward, and then starts barking and spinning thinking that if she can kill the thing that scares her, her fears might subside. Tyson eats things he shouldn’t and Woobie snips just a bit (but never any more than just a snip) and then backs away.

We’re all complicated. But I bet you already know that, don’t you?

And what about me? Well, Dr. G, you hit the nail right on the head — I do my best to be as brave as I can and I try really, really hard to do the right thing. Still, there are many situations where my wussisms get the better of me and while I’ve come a long way in vanquishing them, I know I have a long way to go. Take Wednesday, for example. After my appointment with you, I was feeling pretty relaxed and confident (that’s what you do for me!) and then Gretchen and I went off to work. Unfortunately, the weather was a challenge. It rained, it hailed, the sun broke through all the sudden with rainbows on the horizon only to be followed by this amazingly strong gusts of wind.

I’m pretty good in rainy weather, but Wednesday’s inclemency brought out a bit of a wuss in me. At one point, I found myself doing mathematical calculations trying to figure out the physics of a 35 pound me in a 50 mph gust of wind. “What’s the equation for the force of gravity?” I asked Gretchen. She didn’t know, which wasn’t very reassuring as I curled my toes into the cement with every step I took. “Will I blow away?” I thought. Luckily, I didn’t, but still there was some fear there and I did my best to work through it all.

Yes, I have a long way to go.

Of course, when I’m playing fetch or practicing all my commands and tricks, I’m pretty confident. Take Monday of this past week. As you know, it was my birthday and I got to go to the lake and play fetch by the shore. While I really wanted to go swimming Gretchen forbade it because it was so cold. Still, I had lots of fun fetching the ball, bringing it back, and sitting in a “stay” while Gretchen photographed my now 4-year-old self and the smirk she fell in love with years ago.

I’m growing. I’m moving forward and as the years progress, I’m finding a more confident and calmer self underneath my layer of nervous curls.

Thankfully, I have you to help me in my quest to face the world more bravely and not let my demons win. I also have all my friends — canine and human — who every day give me love and support, who guide me by example and with their words as I face each day and all the dropping bones that may fall from the sky. I firmly believe we are where we should be in this world and while the journey may seem difficult at times, it is the journey we were meant to be on.

Thank you for being a part of my journey.




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