Thursday, July 16, 2009

Skip this one if you're not a dog owner and/or are easily grossed out...

Because dogs are gross. As many of you know, after being a cat person for most of my life (with the exception of briefly living with my former roommate's rambunctious beagle-hound mix that I never liked), I became a dog-mom to a Pom in December of last year. My Miss Kitty is still the love of my life and gets lots of attention, though you wouldn't know it by looking at my Flickr photos (more than 100 photos of Lulu the Pom and only 16 photos of the cat). But I LOVE this dog. I mean, I really love her. I never thought I could love an animal this much. And here's proof:

I have never changed my nieces' or nephew's diaper because I have a strong gag reflex, but I have cut more dingleberries out of my dog's butt fur than I can count. I pick up poop with a bag over my hand. I let her lick my face, fully aware of where that mouth has been. And more than once I've had to do a bathtub butt-wash on an angry puppy who clearly ate something that didn't agree with her (because sometimes the poop scissors just won't cut it, no pun intended).

The first time Lou threw up, I completely freaked out when she snapped at me when I tried to clean it up because SHE WANTED TO EAT IT. I have since learned how to play keep-away with the dog vomit, dog in one hand and paper towels in the other.

My adorable, sweet-faced puppy took a chunk out of my arm when I tried to move her off of my mother's living room rug while she had a t-bone in her mouth. She made me bleed and I blamed myself, not the dog.

She won't eat dog poop, but her affection for cat sh*t is much like a gourmand's for rare and expensive truffles. We have many outdoor cats in my neighborhood and when Lou takes a dive under a bush while we're on a walk, I know exactly what she's after. Most of the time, I am able to pull her away, but I have had to use a poop bag on my hand to extract cat sh*t from her mouth. Also, if I am not on litter box patrol 15 times a day, I am likely to find Lou somewhere in the house by the trail of clumping cat litter. And since Miss Kitty is purebred Himalayan (i.e. not that bright and very change-resistant), she refuses to use a covered cat box. I also have to keep an eye/ear out for Kitty hacking up a hairball, because Lou likes to eat those too.

Speaking of where Lou's mouth has been, we love to walk in Hampton Park, but I have to be hypervigilant because Lou also adores duck poop. I think if I had a steak in one hand and duck poop in the other (ew), she'd pick the hand with duck poop.

She licks my ankles when I get out of the shower or when I put lotion on. And I let her. I don't know why, because it grosses me out to be clean and then immediately covered in dog spit, but she likes doing it so much I feel bad about telling her no.

I do not want to admit how many times I've played "what's that smell?"

I've taken Lou shopping at SuperPetz and Petsmart and let her pick out her own toys, even if it's a toy like her fleece-covered squeaky man that she loves, but I know he's going to be covered in spit and will no longer be white within five minutes of returning home. And she'll want me to touch the spitty thing and play with her.

I think it's adorable when she farts while sleeping and wakes herself up, even if it smells really bad. I still laugh.

Cats are easy. When I brought Miss Kitty home, she weighed about one pound and was so teeny I initially followed her all over the house. I also thought I'd have to train her to use a cat box. Within 24 hours I realized she already knew how to do everything herself, that one does not train a cat, and that she was the boss of me anyway.

Dogs are a completely different story. Lulu was 8 weeks old when I brought her home and was the neediest creature I've ever met. I spent all of December and a good part of January cleaning up after her, as she peed joyously wherever she stood. I got up three times a night to take her outside in 30 and 40-degree weather. "Crate training" lasted for two days and she has been sleeping on a pillow next to my head at night ever since. There was even a two-week period during which I cried at least once a day because I thought I chose a mentally-challenged dog that would never stop biting me, eating anything she found on the sidewalk, and peeing everywhere except on her puppy pads.

Then the training kicked in and she no longer bites me (except for the t-bone incident), she only potties outside or on her puppy pads, and she's just big enough now so I no longer have to pick her up and put her on my bed when it's time to go night-night. I beam with pride when people tell me she doesn't act like a "yippy little Pomeranian." I say thank you when they tell me how adorable she is, as if I am somehow responsible for her cuteness. I can have the worst day and come home to a wildly spinning little furball who is overjoyed to see me, even if I've only been gone for an hour.

So yes, dogs can be gross. But they're worth it. And now I completely understand all my friends over the years who let their dogs slobber all over them. I get it, and I hope I wasn't too judgmental about it. I feel bad about the times I've visited friends and they've had to patrol their dogs so they wouldn't jump all over me (as I stood frozen with my arms in the air in a "no touchy" position). I welcome it now, really. Jump and slobber away.

Also, if any of my sisters or nieces want to have more babies, I promise to give diaper-changing a shot.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Public vs. private...

I was lucky enough to attend Sara Benincasa's "Agorafabulous" show at Theatre 99 on Friday night. My friend Jason wrote a great piece about her in last week's City Paper and I got to be his plus one (Thanks, Jason!).

To sum up: Sara has agoraphobia, struggled with it for years, and turned it into a comedy routine. I, being a firm believer in handling most of life's challenges with humor, admire the sh*t out of her. After reading Jason's CP piece and a little more on Sara's blog, I knew I had to see the show. And I wasn't disapppointed. You can see a clip from Friday's show and read more about Sara here.

Why this was important to me: I've written personal narrative for years and have turned some of the most painful episodes in my life into humorous pieces. I'm flippant, irreverent, and capable of laughing at myself in most instances. But there are a few "no touchy" subjects for me and panic disorder is one of them.

Like Sara, I had my first panic attack at the age of 18. I didn't know it was a panic attack, but I spent a lot of time over a three-year period going to emergency rooms trying to convince them that I was having a heart attack. I was called histrionic, dehydrated, hooked up to saline IVs and sent home, and finally diagnosed with Mitral Valve Prolapse, or MVP - a common heart condition that about one in four women have, but tend to grow out of in their 20s (I did). By the time I was 21, I was frustrated, self-medicating, and nearly incapacitated by panic attacks that were becoming more and more frequent. Four MDs, two shrinks, and two years later, I was finally given a diagnosis of PTSD (something else I haven't written about because I haven't been able to remove myself enough to find the humor in it). I began taking medication for panic disorder, but discovered I didn't need it long-term, because once I knew that I was only having a panic attack and that I wasn't going to die, I was able to use some of the coping skills I learned in therapy to talk myself down.

One of the reasons I haven't written very much about this is because there is such a stigma associated with panic disorders. I had too many doctors (and friends and boyfriends and acquaintances) tell me "it's all in your head" or "you're being a hypochondriac" that I just stopped sharing. I also stopped going to therapy and went for almost 8 years without a panic attack - through the latter part of my 20s. There was a part of me that even believed I could overcome it with sheer willpower. I'm not a weak person and one of my biggest fears is having other people think I'm weak.

After years of being panic attack free, I started having them again after 9/11, again after my grandmother passed away in early 2003, again after I lost two of my best friends in 2003. It was right around this time that I began seeing a new therapist who really knew her sh*t - in fact, she gave me some information about new research linking MVP to panic disorder. Even with the mild type I had, the MVP "episodes" can trigger a fight or flight response that in turn triggers panic attacks. We also started working on the overall issue of PTSD, and my anxiety became managable once again.

I can't say at this point in my life that I will never again have a panic attack. The few that I've had in the past year or so have been what my therapist calls "situational," meaning that something bad happens in my life, I stop taking care of myself physically as a result, and end up sitting in my car outside of Harris Teeter, unable to drum up the courage to enter the store because I'm sitting in my car having an anxiety attack. Driving is another trigger for me. I've had to pull over to the side of the road because of an anxiety attack. I've also woken up in the middle of the night with night terrors that trigger an attack. I don't take daily medication because antidepressants really didn't work for me; plus I tend to (luckily) have very long anxiety-free periods of time, so I use Xanax as needed.

Back to the show: I was amazed that someone who experienced panic disorder that was severe enough to manifest as agoraphobia could take her situation and turn it into a routine that literally had the audience cackling for an entire hour like Sara did. I admire her for that, I admire her for sharing her most painful moments, and for being open about the fact that she takes medication and credits it for saving her life. I think if more people spoke openly about it, there wouldn't be such a stigma attached. And it also helped me see that eventually I'll be able to write about my own experiences with humor, because I saw that there is a lot of funny to be mined there.

My close friends know about my own history. And the few others I've shared it with are always amazed - I usually simplify it by just saying "I'm slightly socially phobic" - because they've read my essays for years and that Kelly Love Johnson is fearless. I'm a lot more comfortable now than I was 10 years ago explaining that the Kelly who writes those essays is my public persona, like a costume I can put on when I want to, and she is fearless. But the private Kelly is just as screwed up as everyone else. She has self-esteem issues. She doesn't like to make small talk. She is not a fan of crowds. She's had insomnia since high school that is entirely anxiety-based. She's afraid of flying, travel, highway construction, frogs, the ocean, hurricanes, the extreme Christian Right, aging, showing weakness, and homelessness. She also hates writing about herself in the third person.

I think what Sara did with her show is merge the two - her public and private Saras. And I hope to be able to do that myself someday, without judgment, without fear, and hopefully with a few laughs.

And one last thing: When I got a note via Facebook from Sara herself telling me she was a fangirl of mine and has been reading my essays for years, I almost fell out of my chair. It's the most flattered I've been in months and I think I'm going to spend the entire weekend riding that high.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Celebrating Lulu's 9-month birthday...

Yes, it involved a pupcake. She celebrated early with the family the week before. I'm still wearing a band-aid on my arm because she nipped me when I attempted to move her from rug to floor at my mom's house after my mom gave her a t-bone...note to self: my dog is not "food aggressive" (she's "food motivated"), but when it comes to real steak bones, stay away.


Some milestones: She is big enough to jump on my bed (and off of it) so I didn't have to buy puppy stairs after all. She knows what it means when I say "get your ball." She's protective and barks her ass off if a stranger comes to the door (we've done the "no barking" training, but I like that she barks to alert me). I've left her alone for 8 hours and she didn't act out (only pottied on puppy pad and didn't chew any shoes). She doesn't cry when we go for rides in the car anymore. And my favorite: She tells me when she needs to go outside (she used to just go on her pad).

Miss Kitty didn't participate in the birthday festivities, but she refrained from torturing Lulu for the day (drinking out of her bowl, taking over her dog bed), which was gift enough.
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