Unable to speak

I’m looking up all the information for flying with my service dog again because I need my current therapist to write me documentation allowing me to bring Toby with me over Thanksgiving. I have done this several times before (before every trip, since I always carry a copy of the paperwork in case I am challenged), but I am too disorganized to save it somewhere. Maybe this time….(hahayeahright)

And before you ask, yes, I am 100% legitimately allowed to fly with my dog. There is zero question there. You can fly with an emotional support animal, which does not even have to be trained (though these animals do NOT have general public access rights), as long as you have a documented mental disability and the animal helps you cope with it through their very presence. Given that my dog has saved my life, and helps me cope constantly, tasks aside, we qualify. But I still get nervous when proposing the idea to a new person, especially a professional, since the field of emotional support animals and psychiatric service dogs is so new, and so unknown. Many people have never heard of emotional support animals, so you are, at the same time, educating them and trying to convince them to help you. And if they say no..well..I’m screwed :P

Looking it up I am, of course, running into all kinds of information about psychiatric service dogs. I was just reading through the IAADP’s task list for psychiatric service dogs, which I have been through several times, and one item caught my attention: Speech Impairment Task Away from Home

Basically, this task consists of having your dog carry a laminated card (or you carry it), which your dog can fetch and deliver to a person you indicate if you are having a panic attack or another symptom which renders you unable to talk. The card might ask them to get help, or it might indicate they should leave you alone if they come and offer help. This is not something that happens to me often, and typically my muteness is limited to one topic or area, so I wouldn’t use this task, but it did remind me of an incident I’ve been meaning to write about. Partly to educate, and partly because it would be therapeutic to me!

There are times when I can’t talk. And when, even though I know that spitting out the information would get attention off of me, I am so paralyzed by the attention on me that I just. Can’t. Do it. I can’t. As much as I may desperately want to. Imagine how scary and disconcerting it would be for your brain to be screaming at you to open your mouth and speak..but it doesn’t happen. And you stand there, with people staring at you curiously, as you start panting and tensing and shaking from the effort of trying to speak. A downward spiral occurs. You’re nervous, so you can’t talk, so you get more nervous, so you’re less able to talk, and so on. This spiral often happens with anxiety or panic attacks, and is one reason having a dog who is trained to interrupt such spirals, either by noticing them and acting independently or responding to a cue, is extremely helpful. Having the cycle interrupted is often enough for the person in it to plant their feet and climb out of it.

I am very lucky that losing my speech rarely happens to me, but one time it did sticks with me vividly, because it was so very unsettling.

At my old company, a good friend (C) was leaving to travel to Arizona with her boyfriend. We were throwing her a going-away happy hour on her last day (or thereabouts) at a local bar. She and two other good friends and I had done something called “Freestyle Friday” over our office IM service, rapping freestyle at each other by typing throughout the day. It was mainly one guy who did it, but us others would join it, and it was fun. On C’s last day, the others came on and told me we were each doing a freestyle rap for her verbally at the happy hour. I tried to back out, afraid of getting up in front of all my coworkers (who I was very unsure of myself around) and rapping, but I gave in because I figured, hey, no big deal. Thirty seconds and done, I’m usually fine at public speaking.

I wrote my freestyle and was comfortable enough with it. I was the third to go, the other two were going first. They each got up and gave their raps, and then it was my turn.

I stood up.

I opened my mouth.

And nothing came out.

I started shaking. I got really, really nervous. Tension locked my body in place. My heart raced so fast I was getting dizzy. I kind of laughed, to cover my embarassment. I tried to back out (without really being able to talk or move), but they wouldn’t let me, thinking I was just being shy.

But I physically could not talk.

I tried again. And again. And again. Now the pause had grown to where it was very noticeable, especially since the previous two people had just gone back to back. My pause was now longer than their combined performances, and still, I couldn’t bring myself to start talking.

My husband arrived at the bar, which upped my anxiety level, because he and my coworkers were two different audiences in my mind, and being in front of both of them was harder.

I tried, desperately, to just choke it out so I could sit down. I knew once I was done, everyone would go back to talking with each other again and no one except my friends would even chat with me.

I attempted to back out again, but they stopped me and told me, a little impatiently this time, to just do it! After all, no big deal, right?

Finally, somehow, I managed to get the first sound out. Once that was out, it got easier, and I kind of raced through it, muttering so I could get through.

Everyone clapped and laughed and went back to their conversations

I collapsed into my seat.

The other friends congratulated me on a job well done, then started chatting with other people.

I barely heard them. Iwas trying to calm my racing heart. Relax my muscles, which were locked in place. Quiet the storm raging in my mind so I could think coherently.

My husband was confused as to why I wasn’t acting happy to see him. I don’t know if he even realized the battle I had just gone through, silently, in my own mind and body. He wasn’t there for the whole thing.

And who knows, maybe it was only a minute long. Maybe seconds.

But there is very little that is scarier than telling your mind and body to do something and having it refuse. Even over a year later, thinking back to that moment fills me with tension.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that party. I think I was too busy decompressing to be involved.


Filed under Dogs, Invisible Illnesses, Life

4 responses to “Unable to speak

  1. Oh my. I am a relatively new reader of your blog and I haven’t gone back to read your archives, so I was unaware of just how much you struggle in situations most of us take for granted.

    I am terrified of flying, and I must be careful not to medicate myself into unconsciousness but that is nothing in comparison to what you must be facing.

    I’m so glad you have your dog. I hope all goes smoothly so you can make your trip.

    • Don’t get me wrong, for the most part this doesn’t happen! The reason this time stands out to me is it was extreme. But yes, there are many things that are harder because of stupid miswiring in my brain :P

      I’m glad flying is only scary and not terrifying to me. Don’t minimize any problems you have by thinking they’re not as severe as someone else’s. First, you can’t know if that’s true, and second, there is always someone worse off! Doesn’t make your problems any less severe.

      Thanks for commenting! :-D

  2. Eileen, I was watching a ‘Signing Time’ dvd with my daughter this morning… the first time we’ve gotten around to watching one, but she’s been OBSESSED with Elmo… anyway, I thought of you ;-)

    ‘Signing Time’ is meant for hearing children, and so far I really like the format. Lily Ruth is progressing beautifully with her language usage and vocabulary, but (like almost all kids her age) she’s very frustrated with her inability to communicate more fully. She stands in front of me whining and signing ‘more’. Hopefully, giving her more signs will give her (and me!) some peace :-P

    • Awesome! My brother in law is very young and has Down Syndrome and is not very verbal, but he loves signing time and has learned a lot of vocab through that!

      I also love Rachel, who runs signing times. Her story is amazing, love it!

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