On Sunday, my parents-in-law treated Ben and me, and Ben’s sister, Leah, to a dog comedy show called Mutts Gone Nuts. Prior to their invitation several weeks ago, I had never heard of a dog comedy show and would have no idea what that would potentially entail. While I love my husband’s entire family, both nuclear and large extended family, admittedly, I don’t attend all of the family gatherings since my social energy capacity is so low and depending on the season, there are so many get-togethers. I’m trying to make more of an effort to show my desire to be more involved socially, even if that means modifying my participation in an event to make it not completely overwhelming, because it’s important to me to have strong relationships with family and to show Ben through my actions that I love his family and want to be engaged with them. For now, when I’m not up to an event or the particulars of it are especially incompatible with my needs, he goes to them alone, so that he can still enjoy family time, while I have convalescence time. After researching what the dog comedy show entailed, it seemed like a viable activity and something that might even be amusing. We accepted the invitation and as the date drew nearer, I must admit that I was even looking forward to going, even though shows tend to be overwhelming to me, at least from a sensory standpoint, and I’m often reluctant to go to afternoon activities far from home because my temperamental stomach makes it impossible to be out of close proximity to a guaranteed-available toilet. Ah, the charming details of my life!
In the days this week leading up to the show, I did not feel well. I’ve been unduly exhausted, somewhat nauseous, and experiencing intermittent vertigo. It was especially severe on Saturday, essentially rendering me ill all day and bed-bound, so I was concerned that I wouldn’t rally significantly enough to make attending the show a realistic (or smart) possibility. When I woke up on Sunday, I felt even worse. I was so dizzy that I didn’t feel up to much of anything and all I wanted to do was lie down and be left alone. However, in recent months, I’ve become committed to trying to be as social as healthily manageable for me and honor my agreements to do something more reliably. One of the downsides of chronic illness (on top of all of my mental health issues!) is that you never really know when you’ll feel sick or well, so it can make planning ahead with any sort of assurance a near impossibility, or at least an impracticality. Certain patterns or triggers can be identified and factored in (as exemplified by my afternoon venturing too far from a bathroom ban), but other times and other scenarios are just up to chance. It’s not only disappointing when you look forward to something that you are unable to do once that activity rolls around, but it’s also embarrassing and brings on feelings of guilt and like you’re letting down your companions of the planned activity you have to skip out on. At the same time, it’s also depressing and makes you feel bad about yourself when you try to thwart that risk by pre-emotively declining an invitation or failing to make plans in the first place. In either scenario, you are bound to feel left out and over time, you receive fewer invitations from others to do things because you either had to back out or turned down the request in the first place. Other people, understandably, eventually give up on you (or at least doing things with you!) after a couple instances of plans go unfulfilled. Over time, you realize that you have very few friends left and that there are very few activities that are actually feasible to plan ahead with any reliability. As someone who needs to plan ahead to placate my anxiety and accommodate my autism-related challenges, this is an unfortunate fate. The odds of me being able to participate in activity are relatively poor, so it’s usually advantageous to just be spontaneous and capitalize on good health and a cooperating body when I’m blessed with that elusive gift and jump into workable last-minute plans when that fortune strikes. Since the very nature of spontaneity contradicts my brain’s innate craving for ample planning time and mental rehearsal, I have to let go of this latter need and prioritize the workable structure for my physical body. It’s not easy.
Anyway, even though I felt quite poorly before the dog show, it was important to me to honor my commitment to my in-laws who had generously purchased our tickets as thought to invite us. I thought it would be disrespectful to bow out since a financial investment had been made and I wanted to see them. It also seemed like the physical- and social-demand bars for the activity were quite low, and should be manageable with a bit of effort.
I’m very glad I pushed through and made it work. The show was funny, entertaining, curious, and mostly kept my attention, which is no small feat for someone with ADHD. It was so nice to see Ben’s family and talk with his sister, especially because it had been a while. Most of all, the dogs were so talented and watching them perform their tricks with such enthusiasm and joy warmed my heart. The show actively encourages rescuing dogs and all of the participating “mutts” were indeed rescued from shelters. Unlike a zoo or circus act where the animals are in unnatural environments or treated poorly, dogs thrive on having “jobs” that are intellectually stimulating and watching their connection with the trainer was so touching. Each dog was so cued in to her commands and their energy and excitement before and during one of their “tricks” was palpable. Each mutt seemed thrilled to be in the spotlight and showcase his or her talent and routine. One little mutt had memorized entire dances, with choreography done in tandem with the trainer. A group of four dogs had a whole barrel routine that involved pushing, weaving in and out like threading a needle, climbing, and working together in a conga line! A rescued greyhound demonstrated her world-record high jump skills, and a tiny little mutt walked a tightrope while wagging his tail!
I take animal rights very seriously and I was worried I’d feel sad for the animals or like they were being treated inhumanely. On the contrast, the trainer talked about how involvement in the training and tasks gives them a sense of purpose and helps them cope with some of their traumatizing or abusive pasts. There was nothing but love and support from the handlers and the dogs all seemed to love performing and one another. It was an impressive and heart-warming show and it made me wonder why I think Comet giving me a high-five is any sort of notable feat! I might need to charge her with more difficult tasks…
I’m so glad that Ben and I were invited and able to go. I can’t remember the last time I went to any sort of show, which simply demonstrates how rare a treat it is. This was certainly a memorable event and also one that restored some faith in myself that I can attend things that are relatively low-key and of low-energy demand, even if I’m not feeling well leading up to it.