It is official –
I am the proud owner of a dog with a 10-minute attention span. If any of you have a toddler, you will understand! It makes me laugh out loud. The biggest difference however between Poppy and a 1-year old child, is that mine has teeth that love to chew! And anything and everything is fair game. Soggy tissues lying on the road and Mom’s shoes are her absolute favourite.
How does a brown eared woof change the way I can recover from a stressful week? In very practical ways as it turns out.
I should start by explaining (for those of you who don’t already know) that I work in theatre. Not the medical kind – I work in entertainment theatre – backstage rigging lights and designing lighting for a living. It’s where I get my #LightingGirl from and it’s a job which I love deeply. It has quite literally saved me and brought me back ‘into the light’ over the last few years.
This week I fell apart as exhaustion piled heavy. Exhaustion from work. Like bricks into my bones – mounting to a crescendo of tears and an unexpected intensity that rattled right through me. Normally this would have turned into an all-powerful migraine and I would have had to climb into bed for a few days to recover.
I had pushed myself too hard at work once again – yes – trying frantically to cram about 100 too many things into a single day without checking in with my mounting anxiety. Technical get in weeks in theatre are like this. Well known in the industry as ‘hell week’ it’s the final push to make sure that the curtain goes up on a production we are proud of.
It was my first ‘theatre hell week’ with Poppy in my life and she has made all the difference. In the past I would have crashed into my bed after opening night and not emerged for days. Literally sleeping away the anxiety and stress of my work. Not eating or even bathing. A dead end crash. A kind of shut down that only those with PTSD will fully understand.
I’ve been making theatre for 23 years now (give or take) – you would think I should have it all figured out by now! And you would think I would have developed some better coping skills! And yet, every show that moves in has a new set of demands and creative challenges. The long hours don’t help either. It’s forced me to look some old beliefs straight in the eye this week. And to give some real credit to Poppy and Charnell for making a difference.
I didn’t retreat to my room or have a complete meltdown this week. I won’t lie, there were a few tears, but then there were also long walks with my doggie and games to play in the sunshine. Things that made it all a lot more bearable!
For too long I’ve used work as an escape from the real world. When the chips are down and the countdown to opening night looms, I’ve done everything, and anything needed to make the ‘show go on’. But some of those days are rough. Filled with creative temperaments, deadlines and my own determination not to show anyone I’m taking strain.
This is an old place for me. Since I was raped. In an absolute determination to get my life up and back again, I’m terrified to show anyone that I can’t do it. And by ‘it’ I mean anything that is laid down as a challenge to me. Surviving rape is not enough for me. I’m determined to show everyone it hasn’t changed me and that I can still do what I love – making theatre.
It is a belief that I know needs to be challenged. Of course, being a rape survivor has changed me! No one after all expects someone recovering from a serious car crash to prove themselves! We are all made different by the things we survive. And whilst it has changed me, it is clearly not a neon flashing light above my head that defines who I now am!
And it begs the observation, in a paradoxical riddle of sorts: how necessary it is to show up for our traumatised selves when we aren’t feeling so loving toward our own hearts. When we feel like we’ve failed. Or in my case, when I feel like my cracks are exposed.
Rape feels like a burden. No it doesn’t feel. It is a curse. Like a wildly inconvenient, annoying, traumatising, unwieldy companion who’s always with me. Why can’t I just be “normal?” Oh, to be normal again. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished for that.
In those dark and low moments, I look around at other, more “normal” people and feel a stab in my gut, a hot twinge of jealousy, for I want to keep up with them. I want to walk alongside the pitter-patter of their quick-moving steps and chatter and vibrate success.
So, I’ll tell you a secret. Sometimes when I am utterly exhausted after a long day, I slide onto the couch petting my woof’s brown ears – and I think to myself, Yep. It sucks to be a survivor. But here’s the thing. Poppy never knew that old me. She just knows me as I am now – and she loves me as is. Unconditionally.
And the truth is, I can’t keep up with ‘normal’. I’ve never really been able to. I move slower, quieter, stranger. Being a survivor means that I want my movements to mean something. I want to surrender and feel it all. I didn’t survive to not make a difference now. I want to pour my soul into making theatre that matters and feel ecstasy when the show receives a standing ovation. I want to listen to shatteringly beautiful pieces of music. I want to hold space for my tears and my joy.
The truth is: I am a survivor.
That does not make me fragile—and there is such strength in realising this today.
So, I wonder, is it really such a bad thing that my needs look different than other people’s? That just maybe my PTSD is forcing me to look at my life differently. I mean, the world roars on at a seemingly impossible to maintain fight-or-flight state. People blur through their lives and bulldoze through moments that might mean something if they stopped to open their ribcages and feel their hearts shivering with life inside.
And I think about how softness could be so welcome…
- Our need for rest, our thirst for intuition, for magic and mystery, for love.
- For dripping blood orange sunsets, giant cups of tea, and crying for no reason.
- For long walks with my Poppy on days that I would have (in the past) crashed.
- For the visible and invisible things, that are so precious, like liquid gold to our souls.
In a world that moves a million miles an hour and talks loudly, blasting me with one blaring version of success, that’s intense and flashy, maybe I can create my own definitions of what productivity means. Of what a good day means. Of what fulfilment and happiness mean.
Poppy reminds me of this every day since she’s arrived. Nowadays a ‘good’ day for us might be quite simply that Poppy gave my Kitty Buddy a ‘kiss’ again or that nothing valuable has been chewed up! Or that I didn’t have to crawl into bed. These are small but significant moments. And such a shift for me from where I was just a few weeks ago.
Because for survivors like me, it hurts to run around like a floating head with no body. It hurts to push past our limits. Stress affects us intensely. Crowds can feel overwhelming. Loud noises can just be too damn much. And through it all, perhaps through sheer trial and error at times, we learn to swim with the currents inside us, rather than painfully against them.
Slowly, like trickling of a steady rain, I’m beginning to value being a survivor. I’m learning to protect it. Poppy has taught me that when someone is willing to just be there with you, through it all, that is love. This treasure within. The stubborn softness I refused to let die. Despite everything that was taken that night. There remains a tenderness, and it flows through me in gushing salty waves.
I’m beginning to care for it.
And maybe it doesn’t happen in a singular decision, but many small, beautiful ones. And perhaps there are times when I’m not sure exactly how to love or care for my survivor self. And that’s okay.
But slowly, like the unveiling of a sunrise, hue by precious hue, maybe one day I’ll begin to see that my survival is not a burden. Or a curse.
It births beauty. It gives way to luscious quiet, to vivid high-gloss imagination, to art, to truth, to ancient wisdom that drizzles through me when I least expect it. It’s given me a woof friend for life who will never leave my side. Or who at the very least will help me figure this all out. A walk, a chewed-up shoe and a paw print at a time.
Poppy offers me a gift everyday – quite literally ‘lighting up my life’ with her energy and love. I know now that in lighting that lamp for me, she has brightened my path.
And it’s delicious to sink into that gift.
To take care of both Poppy and myself.
To honour this friendship with my dog.
To honour the trauma with awe.
To see it for what it is.
Not a burden.
I need to remember