It is Saturday morning and my wife and I have just returned from dog training. Despite being seven years old, our dog is renewing his puppy training, and learning new tricks but this time my wife is in control rather than me. I find the whole concept of training rather puzzling I suppose. I understand the importance of a dog owners being in control of their dog, too many people have died because of untrained dogs, but it isn’t just about getting your dog to do what you want, it is also about understanding your dog (or at least having a coherent framework about your dog that makes sense) and working out what works for your dog as well as yourself. I feel though that sometimes we are damping down his innate enthusiasm and joie de vivre (usually in order to protect him) and I am saddened if that is so (I hope he is just learning to reign in his excitement at certain times).
Living by myself (at least in human terms) the last week has been a revelation to me. It hasn’t always been easy but the freedom I enjoyed was amazing in that my anxiety levels for most of the time disappeared. This last week has been the first time that I truly understood how stressful it is just being around other people, and also how many compromises I make every day to live a life with others. When I look back it seems the little things were the most important. Things like going to bed and waking up in the morning, deciding whether or when to eat, deciding what to eat, choosing when and where to walk the dog. I particularly enjoyed being able to snooze when I wanted for as long as I needed.
I found that having less anxiety meant that I have more energy to do things that often feel overwhelming. I managed to cut the big apple tree back, cut the grass and wash up a casserole dish that had been sitting there for a while (it was used by my kids but they left it unwashed when they left) that required more effort than normal. I even did a bit of weeding (despite the despair of spring rampage). I even got myself to the local hospital to get an X-Ray which took effort because there is a new system where your GP authorises the procedure and you just turn up anytime between 9am and 4pm on a weekday which is all very patient friendly unless it gives this patient too much choice. I managed to go jogging four times.
And like all contrasts, not being anxious meant that I noticed when the anxiety started kicking in. I noticed that going to work caused me stress and I noticed that I slept less well the night before my family returned. I felt guilty about this, do I really find life without my family easier? The answer is yes and no. One of the things I managed each day was to make sure I saw and talked to a colleague or friend for an reasaonable amount of time (over an hour). I know I need to do this because I can spend too much time in my own head and that can lead to loneliness and depression. My family provide a buffer to this in my normal life but I found out last week that I need space too. I feel as though I am learning who I really am and I need my family to understand that too. I also need to understand what my family needs from me and hopefully incorporate their needs into my life.
It isn’t going to be easy though. Already this morning I knew I needed some me time after the dog training but finding the peace has been difficult. My wife has been learning about the new answer machine I bought yesterday which meant the phones have been ringing and voices have been going off in the background. The noises disturbed the dog who decided he needed to bark intermittently. Eventually I let my wife know that I found the background noise too much because I was having difficultly writing, she asked if I wanted her to stop and after a bit of deliberation, I said yes. She then asked if I had done something regarding the kids. I realised after returning to my room that actually I was trying to tell her I found the background noises were approaching overwhelming levels and that her question (interpreted as a demand) pushed me over and I could only sit on the sofa unable to process my thoughts coherently. After a concentrated effort I managed to return to my wife to let her know what had happened and dissipate some of the anxiety, as I once again returned to my room she asked me if I wanted her to communicate with our child, I replied that I didn’t need questions at the moment. I curled up on the sofa, covered myself in a blanket and put a hat over my eyes hoping to sleep but in reality needing to visualise a calm place to help myself relax.
I started writing again. My phone makes a bleep. It is my wife saying that her mother wanted her to remind me to send her a photo. Another demand. I text back advising my wife that I would have preferred the request came direct because somehow it is easier to receive a demand from my mother-in-law, is it the distance involved or perhaps the frequency? I email the photo from my phone apologising for having forgotten; this takes effort too.
So much effort in such a short-time. I want to escape to peace and quiet, it is sunny outside still and there is a bit of a breeze. There are so many plants in flower at the moment. Instead I am going to a birthday party in thirty minutes. Like the dog I am learning to adapt to the expectations around me but I want to take more control. I need to take more control. There is a bit of me that just wants to cry.