Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Guilt, Greed and Good Intentions

I am in the process of trying to find a new(er) home for my yellow lab puppy Eowyn. I have wanted a dog since I can remember. For years it was impossible because of my city digs and erratic schedule. Then, once I started working regular hours, my landlord wouldn't allow it. Now, with a place in the country and the passing of our ancient cat, I thought "this is the time."

I filled out an application with the local humane society. I was approved and they began to work with me to try to find a dog that would be a good match. The biggest obstacle was that I am away for 10 hours a day, which is a lot for a dog. Mrs. Beckett, a teacher, works longer hours than me, leaving earlier, returning later.

Then a coworker showed me a pic on her cell phone of a gorgeous little yellow lab pup. My coworker's friend's god daughter was trying to find someone to adopt her. I was all over it. Perfect! Labs are good-tempered, smart, good with children, good with animals, considered far and wide one of the best family dog breeds.

Mrs. Beckett was cool to the idea. She has never owned a dog and was worried about the effect on our cat. But I knew also that she loved dogs when she got a chance to be with them and that she would probably melt when she saw a pic. Indeed, she did give in to me. We picked up the puppy last saturday. She was scared and low key that day, not all that rambunctious.

My plan for the pup was to let her roam the lower level of the house while we were at work, leaving wee-wee pads for her until her bladder was developed enough to handle the day. It wasn't much of a plan, but I had faith I'd figure it out. That night, she fell asleep and I carried her up to her crate in our bedroom.

Sunday was the Eowyn show. I tried to give her as much attention as possible, knowing that I would be leaving her all day Monday.

Monday I woke up an hour earlier than I normally do to take her out and give her some play time. She went out for a pee and was back asleep in short order. When I got home all was well, she had used the pads and had destroyed nothing.

Tuesday (which state workers get off), I took her to the vet. He asked if I was crating her and I told him that I couldn't do it during the day because of the amount of time she was left alone. He didn't like this at all and asked why I would get a puppy and, ashamed, I said "I didn't think it through." He suggested I remove the partition in the crate that only allows her room to lie down to give her the ability to sleep on one end and mess on the other.

"Isn't that cruel?" I asked? "What's cruel?" he said, "you decided to get a puppy when you wouldn't be home."

So I started looking for someone to come in during the day. I contacted a pro who would cost 360 a month to come for an hour once a day. I put an ad on craigslist. Then I talked to a neighbor who agreed to come once a day for $150 a month.

Problem solved! Except Eowyn has been wearing me out. I cannot keep up with her needs. Part of the deal with Mrs. Beckett is that I am responsible for the dog, not her, and we've already had some friction with me needing her to watch her while I do something else. Yesterday, Eowyn was up and very active from when I got home at 5:20 to around 11:00. She rested for about an hour in the middle. This has got to be because she is getting too little stimulation during the day. She just does not have enough activity while I am gone, even with the efforts of my neighbor, who took her out twice yesterday.

I talked to a trainer who said the current arrangement will not meet Eowyn's needs. She said if I got someone to come 2x a day, say once at 11 and once at 2, for 45 minutes or an hour each, this would be doing right by the pup.

Indeed, she is already showing signs of separation anxiety. Yesterday, when I tried to put her in the crate for a few minutes so I could make dinner, she went ballistic, which is out of character for her. And she can't tolerate me being out of her sight. To make matters worse, I find myself unreasonably angry with her. Tire out already, will you! I want to spend some time with my wife! Why would you pee on the floor?!! Again?!! Of course, she's a puppy, and she's acting like one.

You might be thinking, "well what did you think having a puppy would be like?" and all I can say is that (1) my heart sometimes moves faster than my head, and (2) contemplated labor is never as difficult as actually doing the work. I am exhausted and both Mrs. B and I are emotionally worn out. I can't spend four or five hours a night with this dog.

And she is a lovely lady. She came to us knowing "sit," and it did not take her long to learn "down." I've also been working with her on "give it." She loves to fetch and shake the life out of her toys. She loves a good tummy rub. She likes best to sleep next to me on the couch, as she is right now. She sleeps through the night in her crate and will not come out until I get her, even though I leave the door open at night. When we first got her she hated the leash and collar and would not walk. Now she will happily walk far and wide.

I feel like a monster. I try to tell myself we've been good foster parents, that another situation will be better for her. She needs more attention than I can give her. I always looked on people who didn't train their pets properly or gave them up with condescension and disdain. "Don't get a dog if you can't handle one. Sure a puppy's cute, but that wears off once you have to take care of it. Morons. I would never get a dog unless I was prepared to take care of it properly." Maybe others aren't as inept and I am not as masterful as I like to whisper to myself.

Mrs. B burst into tears this morning at the thought of giving Eowyn up. I keep second guessing myself. Even now that the word has gone out and it's a matter of time before someone comes forward to care for this little lady, I think, this can work. It will get better. We can do this, right Eowyn? If I change my mind again, Mrs. B. might just(ifiably?) kill me for building this rollercoaster and strapping us all into it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Schizophrenia and Nothingness

Earlier, I was listening to a Buddhist priest of a Japanese sect talk about the overlap of Shinto and Tendai Buddhism. He mentioned the practice of praying to one's ancestors (I think this is Shinto, but practiced by a fair number of Japanese Buddhists). A member of the audience asked whether the priest himself did this. The priest confirmed that he did, but in response to some incredulity by the questioner explained that it was a form of contemplation -- a way to address a problem by invoking the wisdom of elders. Or something like that.

Then he said, "It's not that you expect to hear a voice responding to you saying, 'Tell your son the exam answers are A, C, and 28.' If you hear voices in Japan or the United States, you're schizophrenic."

It made me squirm. His answer was a little bit defensive and a fairly natural. "Sure I pray, but that doesn't make me crazy." Crazy, as we all know, means hearing voices. First, point of information, some people hear voices and are not schizophrenic. Some people hear voices and are not mentally ill.

But what really needled me was that in the world of shamans that shinto and perhaps buddhism arose from (according to this same priest), there was no schizophrenia. The shamans communed with the supernatural. Some people could walk both this and the spirit world.

I had a client who told me he was schizophrenic in that he understood why he was diagnosed that way. He considered himself to be in communication with another realm of being and believed that this power of his made it very difficult for him to function in this world. He saw that he was crazy by objective measurement. So he accepted the antipsychotics. But he described himself as a creative schizophrenic and further conversation with him revealed that he did see things other people could not see. Beings in the room, lights, etc.

I wished for him that he could have been born in a time when his difference was not seen by society as a loathesome disease, but a gift. We treat him as if he is possessed by a demon that can only be exorcised by a cocktail of poisonous magical pills.

Once, while I was talking to him, he stopped talking mid-sentence and closed his eyes. I waited as he stood in front of me, a look of peace on his face. I waited for what seemed like minutes as the chaos of the psychiatric ward swirled around me. And then he opened his eyes and continued the conversation. I asked him "what happened there"? He smiled blissfully and said he couldn't really explain it and then said "I think I was levitating." He looked a little unsteady on his feet and explained that it took a lot out of him.

He was in fairly good shape. There are others whose personalities seem to have been shattered and mashed back together with malice. Incoherence, rage without apparent provocation ("Hello" "Fuck you. Get the fuck away from me."), uncontrollable weeping, hypersexuality / sexual preoccupation (Guess what? I'm pregnant. And it's yours!), debilitating delusions (the toilet is angry with me, so I can't use it). The person may have the constituent parts of a personality, but it is wildly out of whack. Sometimes they can tell you about who they once were. Sometimes they really were.

The severe mental illness I'm describing seems like a sort of mind death or at least mind crippling. It illustrates just how illusory the "self" really is. "I'm a nice person" or "I'm an executive" or "I am Joe Smith" might be true right now, but there is no guarantee that they will be true tomorrow.

Which brings me back to my shenpa when the priest made light of hearing voices. This hit me hard because I identify with my schizophrenic clients. They fight battles you cannot imagine. They face the perilous choice of a lifetime of debilitating drugs or a life battling both the voices and the medical establishment, with no clear path to healing. They stagger or fight through the worst slums of this world and the mind. They are often caked with suffering. I identify with the hopelessness, cynicism, outrage, and avoidance they demonstrate.

And I identify with them because I fear mind death. I fear I will lose my self.

So the priest's joke disturbed me because it reminded me of the inevitability of my death. It was as if someone failed to pay the proper respect to my ancestors.