So I have been trying to write recently but I have had a writer’s block. I feel like it use to be so easy to get random inspiration, sit down with my computer and Bam! new blog post. But lately I don’t know what to write. I’ve been dealing with some med changes and it seemed like every time I sat down to write I would get mad about the topic and end up writing a rant that I can’t post. I don’t like posting rants because I feel like that is not what this blog forum is for. I started this blog to share my journey of what it is like to be a service dog handler in today’s society. Looking back I have shared funny stories of ridiculous encounters, I have shared personal stories of my struggles and I have helped to inform others about Mental Health and Service Dogs. The only thing is, recently, I feel like I have less stories to share. I don’t run in to crazies as much as I use to or so I feel. Then I got to thinking about it, have other people really gotten better or have I changed?
I thought this was a fitting time to discus this because this weekend, on the 12th, it will be one year since I met Bella. On Monday the 13th it will be one year since I took her home and everything changed. I’ve talked about how in August of 2013 my life was flipped upside down and I was put in the hospital for a mental illness but when I got Bella a few months later, my life was thrown into another world entirely.
At first, everything was so overwhelming I still couldn’t leave my house. The few times I did, I struggled with the newness of holding on to a leash while pushing a grocery cart and trying not to roll over 4 furry paws. I struggled with the stares and the looks I got whenever I entered a room. I dropped more than one plate trying to balance keeping my new (still learning with me) service dog in one place while putting food on my plate at buffets. I walked with my head down, staring at Bella, worried someone would come up and question whether Bella was real or not. Not to mention the end of the honeymoon period with Bella when she decided to test every command and try to see what she would get away with. I was a mess.
Don’t get me wrong; She still was a major help then as she is now. In fact, I will never forget the first time Bella alerted me in public. I was in Walmart with my mom and sister-in-law about a month after being paired up. We were walking down the crowded Christmas decoration aisle and 3 kids swarmed Bella. They kept running by me. Next thing I know, Bella was taping my foot and pulling me away. I sat at the end of the aisle having a panic freak out with my service dog sitting on my feet licking my hand. I hadn’t finished the steps of teaching her how to do that for me yet and was in shock and aw. It was probably the first moment I realized that she really does help and I could face others with her by my side.
Those months following the match were still difficult. I remember that 4 weeks after getting Bella, I called my mom sobbing. I kept saying how Bella had to hate me, and I had no clue what I was doing. I am a fraud of a service handler. I shouldn’t have her and we should take her back. I hate admitting that now. But that fear of letting Bella down helped to push me. As I started getting use to things I got more confident. I learned how to handle the stares, I learned how to respond and taught Bella how to respond when some one reaches out and says “pretty puppy can I pet him.” I figured out that if I stood tall and walked like I belonged, people questioned us less. It’s interesting because I don’t remember ever having this confidence before getting Bella. While she was trained for many other things, I never would have dreamed that one of her biggest tasks was going to be helping make me the best person I can be.
I look back now and I wonder when I fully changed? I realized recently that it’s not so much the acceptance of others I was looking for and finally found, because sadly that will never happen and people will always judge. What happened was that I found and accepted myself. I accepted that I have an Illness, I accepted that sometimes it is okay to stay inside and not push yourself when you feel like you can’t do something and that some times that push you need is a furry nose pushing you out the door. I accepted that while others may disagree, I need and want Bella in my life. And most importantly I accepted that every flaw, every milestone, every characteristic I have, Including my furry side kick, every single one of those things is what makes me the Person that is writing this blog in hopes of informing or inspiring at least one person. They are all what makes me, Valerie Rose Menning, and I am learning that, that is pretty awesome.