milestone

I am exhausted, but most chuffed. We both had a challenging morning, an adventure! To me, whatever achievement I have attained is always celebrated in my mind with a great sense of relief, half disbelief, and complete elation. It doesn’t matter to me how they measure in the neurotypical social systemic realm, every single realisation of strength is a milestone along my wonderful journey. Now, with Lucy by my side, I have someone to share my successes with in an intimate way that will never be possible with another human, a sensorial-spiritual affinity that needs no words.

So, what did we do today?

We made a trip to the shops together. Simple? Yes, but a monumental task for us both. Consider the realm of hyper senses, which is where we both begin our existences. First, the 1.5km walk uphill. Remember, Greyhounds are built for speed, not long distance trekking, and I have an inflammatory autoimmune condition which affects my limbs and joints. It was a warm and sunny morning, and Lucy was panting by the time we arrived at the shopping centre. It was our first time there, just the two of us. We had been for a trial run with Lucy’s service dog trainer on Tuesday, but this trip pushed us mentally to a different level, especially for me. I am not nervous about stares, though I am aware that many shy people or autistic people hate being stared at. I really don’t care either way, I guess this is the finely honed performer in me speaking. I am more comfortable performing in front of a huge crowd than engaging in chitchat with a group of people (even if I knew them) at some gallery opening. What was challenging was the internal sensory responses to external stimuli.

Bright lights in shopping malls always give me a headache. Anticipating human contact also makes me fearful. I held Lucy close to me. I knew she too would be uncertain, it wasn’t our usual kind of outing, and to be honest, which dog naturally prefers a shopping mall to the park? (Myself included.) We made it through to the veggie and fruit market store, and then a security guard approached. The usual, “No pets allowed” thing, but he was just doing his job, so that was ok. Some people, wait, most people, neurotypical people, do not read. She had her bright garish yellow jacket on with what to me is a giant sized label that declared her status as “SERVICE DOG,” it is such an ugly piece of apparel, how could anyone not notice it and flinch? Apparently most do not. So, I told him she is a service dog, and I showed him her identification card (yes she has a cute little photograph on her ID card to certify her as service dog!). He was doubtful, but polite, and eventually he was won over by my own confidence. Even if he wasn’t convinced, he decided not to get into any entangled argument with me. Benefit of the doubt. That is fine.

I began to bravely place things in my basket, but my mind was swirling around like a creamy raspberry ripple ice cream churning in a vat. Lucy stayed close to me, calm and elegant, and she did not stick her nose into anything – I was most pleasantly surprised and grateful for that. Then an old lady scowled at me and remarked that I was not allowed to bring a dog into the mall. Again, I smiled and told her that Lucy is my service dog – all nicely scripted and executed. Her husband pointed to Lucy’s vest and pulled her away with an embarrassed half smile. I do wonder at some women, why they cannot just mind their own business, since my dog was behaving like an angel? In fact, I have seen human children behave worse in public places than any dog I have ever known. By then, my head was pounding. I was not fearful anymore, but the sensory anxiety levels were shooting up, I could feel the surge from my diaphragm to my brain, and then sizzling around in the nooks and crannies of my skull.

Nevertheless, I soldiered on. We had come this far, I am not going to give up and scuttle home. Lucy trotted alongside beautifully, the most faithful companion I’ve ever been blessed to have. Performance practice helps. I went into auto mode. Posture is very important, I knew that, and so I reminded myself to keep the body upright, emanating an air of self-assureance – it helps me, and it helps Lucy too. The shutters went down to enclose ourselves inside a protective mental bubble, that is another self intervention strategy I use. It helps to sieve out as much extraneous sensory input as possible. The down side is that it requires a lot of energy. I led Lucy to another mall, to the other supermarket, to get her some meat, for dehydrating and making treats out of. I had a $10 credit to use up before expiry. We saw a homeless man selling The Big Issue, he smiled and greeted us cheerily, we stopped to chat, Lucy has a soft spot for friendly homeless people, and because of her, I too have acquired one. I bought a copy from him – a lordly $6 for me, but it was worth it. The second supermarket foray was better, nobody stopped us and Lucy was ever so good even in the meats department! Then as we were leaving the check out station, an elderly Chinese couple wanted to chat. The old man spoke to me in Chinese (putonghua / Mandarin) but I couldn’t fully understand and our conversation was stilted and awkward, but I think I managed to answer his questions. (English is my first language, and Cantonese Chinese my second.) He wanted to know what breed of dog Lucy is, and then he wanted to know why I needed her. He asked me to write “Greyhound” in English on a scrap of paper, he said he had never seen this kind of dog in a shopping mall. Neither have I, actually. 🙂 They were a lovely couple, but I was mentally spent by then.

I had bought more than I had planned for, and my backpack was quite heavy. I didn’t dare get on the public bus, because I was already climbing into the Aspie-zombie-cloud zone. I was not confident in handling Lucy and myself in a crowded public bus, so I made Lucy walk the other 1.5km distance home. We were again stopped, this time by a friendly group of young people, chatting away about Greyhounds. I was all smiles in performance mode, but I cannot remember what gibberish I had uttered. Lucy was very tired by then, I could tell from her gait and the way her eyes and mouth were hanging. I stopped at the water fountain outside the university library to give Lucy a long drink. She needed it.

Once home, after wiping the baby’s paws thoroughly (this is our routine each time we return from an outing), Lucy crashed straight into bed. I am very proud of her, very thankful for her company, and I am chuffed at our combined achievement!

To celebrate, I had a cold lunch of yesterday’s leftovers, but I was too tired for rice paper rolls, so I made a salad from the vermicelli, cabbage and carrot. I threw in the last of the fish balls, and a generous dressing of Thai fish sauce, sesame oil, mustard, raw crush garlic and home grown ginger. For dessert, I had one too many mini doughnuts.

Now for some coffee and more readings. I need to get cracking with the writing!

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