Elle, One of the Two Hot Reactors In Our House

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I think it’s funny – and sad, too – that my 10 year old Shih Tzu Elle (pronounced Ellie) tucks tail – literally – and runs to hide in our bedroom every time I cook.

There are a couple of reasons she does this: one, since Paul and I have both undergone changes in our careers, I typically get home later than him so he cooks supper most weeknights. Weekends are wild card and typically are take-out or meals in restaurants. So me cooking has become a strange situation to Elle. Two, once, I set off the smoke alarms in our new home when I was cooking. Well, maybe twice. Or thrice. In my defense, I am a pretty good cook but I am an… um…let’s say artistically-tempered cook, in that the act of cooking for me somewhat resembles the Tasmanian devil on an acid trip. Pots and pans pile up, food is flung everywhere and well…sometimes something burns because in the middle of the act of sautéing, I might get a little distracted by a really cute kitten video on my Facebook feed. Anyway the point is, Elle hates the smoke alarms and now “Mom cooking” equals “Fear, Fire Foes!”

Elle spent the first four or five years of her life with very little social interaction with humans (she was raised only to breed before being rescued and then adopted by Paul and I). Thanks to this and some bad genes, she is a hot reactor. The term might be obviously self-explanatory but if you don’t know: a hot reactor is a psychology and medical term for someone who experiences a high-stress response that is disproportionate to the situation. Basically, they lose their shit when the situation is not one that would call for losing your shit.

With Elle, this is literal. She will often react to stress by pooping wherever she happens to be when she is triggered. She also stands rigidly, bracing herself, while she goes in to a high-pitched, rhythmic, hysteria of barking – whether it be at a sudden noise, a stranger or Paul putting on his shoes to go to work. Every single morning.

The girl has a tough time settling down. She paces the house when she’s over-anxious, panting, shoving herself into small spaces to hide, following us on our heels and getting underfoot, bumping in to the other dogs and again – barking at us obnoxiously. It drives Paul and I crazy and it drives the other dogs crazy. Elle has social status among her three canine siblings lower than that of our two cats. Oh yeah: she also eats poop.

At the same time as it makes me want to look for a tranquilizer dart gun, it also breaks my heart. Elle’s conditioning is so deeply entrenched that she cannot help herself. I’ve been a student of dog behavior most of my adult life and especially in my rescue years, but I cannot seem to make much progress with Elle. I do have to say that when I’m home alone or presumably when the dogs are home alone, much of the day she is restful, as she also is once she’s had her barkathon and Paul and I are relaxing on the sofa or in bed. Compared to how she was when we first brought her home, she’s doing great. The lower eighth of all the walls in our family were gray the first year Elle lived with us, because she would not cross a room; she would instead go around the perimeter, hugging the walls tight with her body and thereby leaving a trail of sorts.

Oddly, Elle makes me think of several people I know. People whose pasts have left their scars, who are lovely folks who just happen to be prone to outbursts of anger or crying or…overreacting. I admit that I am one of those people, and in many ways, watching my hot reactor of a dog has helped me be less so.

Unlike humans, Elle doesn’t have language or reasoning to calm her reactivity to perceived danger when there is no danger. She can’t tell herself that she’s misinterpreting a situation, that what her limbic system is telling her is just a story. Because Elle can’t tell herself stories. But we can. Like many people who suffered a trauma in early childhood, I tend to carry stories with me: something terrible could happen at any moment; if I let myself relax or be happy, everything will blow up in my face; I’m not worthy of my own good regard; I can’t trust my instincts….oh, it goes on and on. I imagine if Elle could process thought in a human way, her dialog might be at least somewhat similar.

The good news for me is, as an adult, I get to choose which stories I believe. So when I start feeling like the most unlikable person alive, I can stop and remind myself that there are many people who don’t just like, but love me. When I find myself in an all-day over-reaction to an off-hand comment or perceived criticism or a news clip that trips my switch, I can realize that -to paraphrase Dr. Martha Beck – I am not currently being attacked by a velociraptor and that also, all is well. All my needs are met, I know how to comfort myself, and I can direct my energy to a place that works for my highest good instead of kicking me while I’m down. When something “bad” happens I can let myself feel my emotions and then let them pass through me. I don’t have to be stuck and I surely don’t need to stress-poop. Most of the time. I can take a few deep, even breaths, pat my panicky and puckish inner-child on the head and continue on my way to whatever delights the day will hold. And I can choose to ignore that voice that says, “you’d better not…what will people say?” Or “if you try, you’ll fail.” Because despite whatever wagging tongues there may be and despite that fact that I certainly can -and often will- fail, life is too delicious to hold back from out of social fear. Elle may feel safer hiding under the bed during my cooking melees but she also misses out when our other three dogs keeping me company in the kitchen get treats and samples.

So. I’ll keep looking for ways to make Elle feel more comfortable and calm (while being grateful she has come as far as she has) and ‘ll also continue working on my own hot-reactor status, refusing to believe everything I think and not letting social fear keep me back from the best possible life for me. And maybe as a favor to both of us, I’ll do less cooking.

A Few Hemi Facial Spasm Information Resources

I’ll add to these when I can.

Information About HFS





Where to get support if you have or think you have HFS (you’ll need to request membership; it’s a simple process):

Yahoo Group: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/hfs/

Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/HemiFacialSpasm/

My HFS Journal – Video #1

After a few months of stewing about *wanting* to talk about my Hemi Facial Spasm (HFS) but not wanting to talk about it at the same time…or at least being afraid to talk about it for various reasons, and trying to figure out what it is I wanted to actually say about it and why, I finally decided to make a series of videos about it. Makes sense: it’s a very visual disorder, after all. Thing is, I hate being on video. But…I decided to go ahead and do it anyway. My next few blog posts are going to be HFS related and my videos will go here as well.

Here’s #1:

A meditation

Do you remember you as you were in God’ imagination as he made you?

As you were knit together in your mother’s womb,

As you made the journey into light, with a pull and a slap?

Do you remember what it was to be carried, to be cared for?

And do you remember the first time you became afraid that

No one really cared?

Do you remember being both tender and tough,

Hiding behind a façade of I don’t care


Caring so hard inside you could feel it squeeze the breath

Right out of you?

Do you remember feeling trapped but still feeling

The certainty and uncertainty that things would get better

Once you were grown and on your own?

Do you remember your days of beautiful youth when all you saw

In the mirror was not good enough?

Do you remember longing and wondering before you decided to

Close the door to all of that?

Do you remember when it was that you decided that you

Weren’t worthy

Of much?

Do you remember the first words said to you

That made you forget

That you were once imagined by God?

Have you forgotten you were imagined by God?

Close your eyes and feel yourself breathe.

Let the hard shell around your most tender spots crack open

And fall away.

Return to nothing

Be that. Be nothing but a thought of God

Brought to Life.

Now open your eyes,

And go from there.


Fhowardor a very long while, possibly more than a couple of years, I’ve lived in what I might best describe as a fog. At a remove from most everything around me. That’s not to say that I didn’t occasionally reach out for something solid, or laugh or experience moments where I enjoyed myself or moments where I felt something…sadness, anger, yearning….but mostly it’s consisted of just blah.

As someone who has experienced lifelong bouts of depression and anxiety, of PTSD and fun of  ADD, this fog, this numbness feels both invasive and familiar. Sometimes welcome. It feels like you’ve run out of energy to feel things and it can be a relief to simply not feel for a while. Until the utter boredom becomes overwhelming. Until you find you can’t conect to anything or anyone enough to pull yourself all the way out. Until you look back and see nothing but nothing, and maybe the long span of time you’ve wasted that you can’t get back.  Despair can ensue. To keep from drowning you can numb yourself further with whatever distractions are at hand or you can start groping for solid ground. I can’t even say it’s a conscious choice for me. I just start waking up. Or things start happening to wake me up. I never notice them happening until long after the fact.

Last spring, one of our dogs, Howard, a beautiful and cheerful middle-aged Bichon we adopted from a local Humane Society, became very ill. Whether from a woodtic or bug bite or something else, he developed auto-immune hemolytic anemia,, which has a terrible prognosis. Over the course of a day or two he became lethargic, eventually unable to even get up on his feet.  Of course we took him to the vet as soon as we understood something was very wrong, that he wasn’t simply tired or being stubborn.

Howard’s history before we adopted him is uncertain, but at some point, his pelvis had been broken and had healed poorly without medical intervention. One of his back legs was lame. His tail, always up and wagging, listed to one side. His bladder had been damaged and he had to wear a diaper because he leaked urine continually. None of these things bothered Howard. He was intelligent, sensitive, loving, active and happy. So seeing him brought low from a sudden illness was beyond alarming. With steroids, we got Howard’s red blood cells back up. I started researching how to support his health holistically as well. At one point I consulted a woman I knew through previous work with our animals. This woman is what is commonly known as an animal communicator and she has a true gift. As she worked with Howard’s energy and gave me helpful feedback into how we could help him in his recovery, she hesitated a moment before saying, “I get a sense from Howard that there’s a great sadness in your home.”

I was taken aback. Paul and I had recently moved in to a lovely house we’d helped design and had built just for us. It sits on a little lake and is the physical manifestation of a long-held dream for both of us. We were both well and had every reason to look forward with hope to our future. Everything seemed to be going in our favor. Besides Howard’s illness, what could be wrong to bring a sense of sadness? The communicator told me, “Howard and all animals live in the immediate. Howard is a happy soul and the sadness he feels coming from you is a burden for him; he doesn’t know how to help you. He just wants you to be happy. To laugh. To live in the immediate with him.” When the call ended, I was confused. What was going on?  Was I playing a role in my sweet dog’s illness?

Frankly, I wanted to deny the communicator’s words yet I recognized the truth in them. I should be happy, I thought. I have every reason to be happy; but hadn’t I just a day or two before, curled up in fetal position on the floor in tearless numbness because my heart felt too burdened and heavy to support? Hadn’t I just been going through the motions of life for months and months, pretending, more or less? When was the last time I felt joy? Inspiration? Lightness, hope? Connection?

Crazy, right? There is such a sense of shame that comes from being depressed when held up to what we think of as true suffering. There are people starving in the world. Dying alone. Imprisoned, going through tremendous loss. Unable to defend themselves, living in daily terror. Why should a middle-class, middle-aged white woman who has so very much have any reason to feel sad? How very silly and frivolous and self-centered. Aye, but there’s the rub. I would never cast myself into the role of suffering human. I would never cast myself as someone to feel sorry for or as someone who feels sorry for herself. No, I tuck away my feelings and carry on. I function. I deny. Occasionally things come spilling out in a  bit of a meltdown, but for the most part…head high, back straight, smile glued on.

It was the shame that got to me, eventually. There is no usefulness or redemption in shame, so at some point, you either succumb to it by crawling even further into a hole or you fight your way out, shaking it off, letting yourself be exposed a bit at a time. I gave myself a break. I allowed myself to be human,  to feel. Slowly I recognized that I had fallen out of alignment with God and with Life once again, but that once again also I could return to alignment if I chose to do so. This did not happen all at once; a year later it’s still evolving, but it started there.

Howard recovered enough to spend a couple of months as his “old self,” and I did what I could to lift the burden of my sadness from him. I don’t know how well I succeeded but I tried, Howard. I tried. In September, Howard lapsed back and we lost him. Like all the little furry souls Paul and I have shared our lives with, I hold his memory dear. I talk to him in my heart. Mostly I thank God for him, for working through him and many other things to put my feet back on the path to life and love. With such a wake up call, who am I to stay asleep?





Amidst All the Clamor…

10399978_1211999177253_7456712_n (1)I’ve been threatening to write and then not doing a damn thing about it. Instead, I’ve been spending my writing time all up in my head cowering and listening to the Greek Chorus (somehow I just know they are Greek, complete with white togas and olive branches perched artfully atop their heads) chanting, “She can’t. She shouldn’t. She won’t be perfect. She has nothing to say. What will people think? She wants a Greek tragedy? Well, if she writes that, friends, her lamentations will be heard all the way in Hades…” OK, OK enough with the lame Homeric analogy but you get the picture. My militantly perfectionistic Generalized Other is ridiculous and unoriginal but not without a flair for the dramatic.

Yet in the midst of all the clamor that happens daily in my thinking mind is a quiet, calm center that persists: “I need to write.” Unlike the “shoulds”…i.e. I should be doing the dishes; I should be working out; I should think about getting a professional haircut rather than periodically chopping at my own hair with very sharp scissors and a sense of misplaced rage, or maybe just go back to therapy….unlike these, needing to write, for me, is truth in the truest sense. We are all driven to express ourselves somehow, and writing is how I do it. How it is received….well, that’s out of my hands. Because, I’m (sort of) sorry but I’m not writing for you. I’m writing for me. I have come to understand this more deeply than ever before but it doesn’t make it easier for me to sit down and do it. Writing comes easily. Putting it out there? Not so much. So scary.


Last time I mentioned on Facebook that I was getting ready to write, a friend commented, “Don’t think about it. I think when you don’t think about it, it comes easier.” And thank you Susie. Truer words. It’s usually after I write that I think about it. And lament that anyone might have read it. And dread what they might have thought.

But write I must. I am bursting at the seams with words and at some point, something’s gotta give. So I see my choice as: keep it bottled up or let it all hang out, dangling participles, poorly crafted phrases, offensive cursing, naked exposure of the most tender parts of me and all. This is one way in which I choose to dare greatly and in doing so, trust enough in life that I can tell my Greek Chorus to shut the hell up for a while.






Does Not Compute

11889656_416447535228229_2937825349290151316_nMy mind is such a marvelous computer. From 1968. I like to think of it as one of those monstrosities with its own room, into which scientists and physicists fed data cards with punch-outs. After three hours of light blinking and roaring fans, the computer would spit out the answer, which I think was always “3.”

I’m a little more complex than that, however. When someone asks me a question, like, say, “Do you know where the nearest water fountain is?” My brain goes through computations something like this:

H2O + location knowledge = helpful (- potential error + enquiring person scratching head/no fountain at location) x [did I really see that fountain there or do I just think I did]/general uncertainty about meaning of life (x=Pinterest Board/DIY Fail) +Do they hate me because I’m fat? x complications involving wrong answer = “Um, I’m not sure.”

I don’t know why I must go through these mental acrobatics for the simplest questions but I think it has something to do with the fact that for me, fifty shades of gray is for wusses. I’m all about the 50,000 shades of gray, everyone of them a possibility and not one of them having to do with weird sex stuff. Well, maybe one. Basically I’m eager to please, I like to think I know a thing or two, but I’m answer-commitment-shy. Because you just never know.

Other times, it’s garbage in, garbage out. At work, for instance, I had to learn the phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta etc) and it didn’t take me long before I could rattle off Alpha to Zulu effortlessly and consequently forgot my home address.

Also, although I don’t understand the actual mechanics of it, I can ask someone a question and I’ve forgotten what they said as soon as the answer comes of out of their mouth…yet other times, someone says something fairly inconsequential, really, and their words are engraved on the surface of my brain. No; literally, I can see the words, like the writing on Moses’ stone tablets. And I’ll think about them and think about them. I get little mental pictures that I can’t shake off. It’s entertaining sometimes, but other times, it’s pretty annoying and once in a while it’s disgusting.

Just the other day this young woman who is in my training class at work – she is sweet and I am always kind and attentive to her because I feel like she may not have always been treated well in her life. So yesterday, our class had a little potluck lunch to celebrate our “graduation” to the sales floor next week. I brought dirty rice and it was a little spicy so I warned everyone. The girl I’m telling you about thanked me for the notice because she has a health issue where she can’t eat spicy food. Okay.

Anyway, she sat by me while we ate and was sort of going on and on so I thought I’d steer the conversation. I asked her what type of medical condition she had that prevented her from eating spicy food. “Do you have IBS?” I asked. She said no, she didn’t have IBS. She said, in the same tone and manner you’d share that you were going groccery shopping after work, “Whenever I eat spicy food, my anus gets swollen and burns.”

That gave me a lot to think about.

My thought process was something like this:

Is that really what she said? +Oh my God I’m trying to eat (-anus?) x I don’t know what to do with this information/obviously she thinks this is normal dinner table conversation + Don’t react! (y=maintain friendly/casual tone)  {ref to: img1}. Img 1= I don’t want to think about it/I’ll never be able to stop thinking about it.

If your mind operates anything like mine…you’re welcome, my friend. Misery loves company. I can only hope something else diverts me, like figuring out why this brand new laptop of mine has image driver problems, but it may take something a little more stimulating to do the job. And I never know what that’ll be, because thousands of data cards get fed in to my mind on a daily basis and I never know which one will get stuck.


Here I Am


I’ve been thinking a lot about this post: what I should write about, what images I should use, what tone I should set…and after a while, as with many other things, I overthought it. Which led to many false starts before I concluded that writing nothing at all was far better than taking the wrong first step., considering first impressions and how you can really screw those up. And THEN…then you break the internet and eventually wind up in a van down by the river hiding from disappointed readers wielding pitchforks and torches because they’ve been incensed to the point of mob violence by your lack of a proper introductory blog post.

Well, folks, at long last I have decided to risk it all by saying Hello. It’s me. I’m glad you’re here and I hope you keep coming back so we can continue to have the kind of fun that can only exist between a blogger and those who feel obligated to read at least one of her posts so they won’t appear rude in case she ever asks them if they did. Because I’m smart enough to know that no one but family and really, really indulgent friends read the first hundred or so posts of a new blogger until she comes up with the perfect Pinnable link about how to clean your toilet with nothing but baking soda and a feather duster. Then everybody in the world reads that one post, disproves the tutorial in the comments and makes micro-aggressive comments regarding the author’s credibility before disappearing once more into the mist.

Still, it’s all good because blogging sort of feels like having a one-sided conversation with your very best imaginary friend who happens to be tied to a chair in your kitchen so she can’t get away. That has its appeal as you can well imagine.

So keep checking back, all right?  I’ll keep a kitchen chair ready for you.