It struck me yesterday – or, if I’m being honest, it struck Mum – how important my ‘safe place’ has become on our walks. Back in the autumn of last year, when I wasn’t walking at all – at the beach, yes; with the Parents, yes; with my Uncle, yes; just never anywhere in town with Mum – Mum and I came up with a safe place that she would carry me to, and when she placed me down, I’d walk from there. This seemed a bit of a random idea, but it worked. Mum had realised that there was one spot where I always seemed to relax, albeit it just a little. With a fence on one side (enclosing private gardens) and with cars always parked on the other, this stretch of footpath always felt like a calm spot after all the noise and traffic that we had to navigate in order to get here.
At first, Mum carried me to this spot, and I always walked from here. Then, on a few occasions, we even ran here – I should point out, this spot isn’t that near to where we live – as, once running, I’d forget about the nerves. And then, earlier this year, I started walking. My confidence grew.
You might imagine that the story ends there and that from this point onwards things have been fine. Easy, even. But they haven’t. I still get anxious. I have anxious days. Anxious weeks. Some days, it is hard to get from where we live to here. I stop-start, stop-start. (Okay, part of this is about being a hound and stopping to sniff every – and I mean every – scent. But part of it is also about me digging my paws in and refusing to move, in fear.) Sometimes Mum has to pick me up as picking me up is better than letting me get so freaked out that I shut down. So she carries me for a bit, reassuring me all the time, and then we try again.
And every time we reach this place, things get better. Finding this safe place has been invaluable. And now, more often than not, I pause here and take a moment. Because learning to deal with anxiety, in whatever form it takes, is about small steps. And it’s about keeping on trying, knowing that one day it will indeed get better.