Lucy came with me to the Arts & Disability International Conference today. It was a huge blessing to have her with me, well worth the small ‘inconveniences’, like having to take her outside for potty each time we had a break and thus missing out on food and beverage.
When we first arrived, I made the mistake of choosing to sit in a busy area where people were walking or wheeling back and forth, standing around chatting, and even striding over Lucy, who was laying on her mat next to me at my feet. The lights in the rooms were confronting, to say the least. Lucy took it all in with grace and quietude, and she kept a discreet whisker out for me all the time. I began to feel nervous and agitated from the constant noise, movement and frenetic energy buzzing round and round, and Lucy got up to indicate that we should move to a less busy spot. She led me to the far corner on the other side of the room, and we settled down comfortably there, until lunchtime.
Soon, it was 10.30am, and I was thirsty and hungry, but I missed tea because I knew Lucy needed a potty break, and her needs are equal to mine. Later, I had to have a hurried lunch, even though I was famished and the food was really delicious, because I had left her in the care of a trio of young volunteers while I ducked into the lunch room for a quick one, and I didn’t want to be apart from her for longer than I could help it. I didn’t want to bring Lucy into the lunch room with me, as I wasn’t sure how people would react to having her there, this being Singapore and the presence of an assistance dog is still too much of a novelty (or just unheard of).
Why do I bother, people sometimes comment, she’s just a dog, and many people simply do not believe that Lucy is at all useful to my wellbeing. Someone remarked that my having Lucy as my assistance dog is ‘bullshit’, because I look perfectly fine and I can cope excellently well without her anyway. Yes, there is mockery, opposition, inconvenience and even discrimination, and that is why many people with invisible disabilities give up on having an assistance dog or just don’t dare to – but Lucy is worth it. Every step of the journey has been an amazingly blessed one with her.
The thing about disability assistance that non-disabled detractors do not understand is this: assistance does not always (sometimes it does but not always) mean life or death. Assistance is about quality of life. I will not die (obviously – duh?) without Lucy as my assistance dog. I will handle my own anxiety and autistic hypersensory struggles myself, and I am capable of doing so. But having Lucy means my life is enhanced, and I am able to spend less effort struggling and thus be freed to spend more energy living well. The same with Guide Dogs for the Blind, for those who do choose to have them, they make life richer and fuller. Or wheelchairs – and even then, there is a huge difference between a manually operated wheelchair and a powered one, and different functions mean different things to the person needing the wheelchair. Assistance puts us back on track in being empowered human beings.
When I am with Lucy, I do not have to bite down on my jaw so hard, or fix my smile so rigidly till my muscles ache, while pretending I am having a great time socialising – she brings me clemency of spirit and mind. When Lucy is by my side, I sense her Being-ness emanating from her beautiful svelte form, and I smell her warm vanilla scent. A sense of wellbeing settles like a downy silken blanket over me. No exuberant hoppity-hop-rah-rah, just a ‘knowingness’ of deep, intrinsic incorruptibility. My soul is not violated when she is filling the aura around me. What else does she really ‘do’? Plenty. When I am overwhelmed she knows, and she tells me it is time to leave the space, or take a break. The time when, faced with a potentially devastating situation, I was pushed to the brink of despair and began to dissociate, she brought me back with just a paw on my knee. Once, she saved me from plunging straight into a robbery in progress. Someone had snatched the purse of a young lady and was escaping on a skateboard, roaring towards our direction. I was in a state of near shutdown and unaware of my surroundings at the time, and would have been seriously hurt had I taken just a few steps more, but she pulled me back.
Today, at the conference, Lucy was my sensory equilibrium inside our private little bubble, and she alerted me a few times, sensing that I was beginning to tire and fade, and my nerves were fraying. We looked for a quiet room, and found the said room cluttered with bags, laptops and other paraphernalia, there was no space to sit down comfortably and the lights in the room were equally harsh and piercing. Yet another perfunctory facetious ‘nod’ to a most essential accommodation for people with specific sensory needs, or just for people who want some gentle quietude. It seemed more like a messy changing room for staff and volunteers than a place for retreat. By 3.30pm, my eyes began to water and sting from over exposure to those intense lights in the conference rooms, and I was beginning to ache all over too, so I finally heeded Lucy’s call to leave. She is never loud, brash or intrusive, always ever so elegant and delicate in her subtlety, so genteel that I sometimes miss her cues because of my own crude human reverberations.
This was a rather ‘shiny-‘glittery’ event, compared to the simplicity of last year’s, and there were a few gems to be gleaned during the key note speeches. However, I did not learn anything new in terms of concepts, and all the pomp and ceremony meant that it lacked the intimacy and immediacy of the smaller one in 2017. Nevertheless, it was beneficial to find out what others are doing outside of Singapore, a very good opportunity to meet new people in the arts and disabilities, and reconnect, albeit briefly, with others I met last year. I do understand and recognise that the neuronormative world thrives on social-networked connectivity, and, for the sake of my work and vision, which I am passionate about, I am happy to bob along as far as I can do it without too much devastation to my inner autistic sanctum. Increasingly, I am meeting many people who genuinely want to learn more about autism from the actually-autistic paradigm, and embrace neurodiversity. It is heartening, because they are mostly young people, signifying a sliver of hope for the future. This keeps me going. And Lucy. Always Lucy. What would I do without her? I shall have to face that prospect eventually, but for now, I have my Lucy Like-a-Charm. (That was her racing name, and I did not change it because she has been truly like a charm, a cosmic spiritual intervention, in my life. The people who named her for their own profiteering in the vile racing industry definitely had no idea that this name was a prophecy of nobility after the indignity of racing.)
There was one more session to go, and a music performance, two more hours until the programme officially ended, but I packed up and called it a day anyway – it was time to head home with my Lucy Like-a-Charm, because she highly recommended it by then, and I know she was right. She usually is.