I guess I should begin by confessing that, for as long as I can remember, I have been very uncomfortable in crowds. I have never been officially diagnosed, but I figure I have some form or combination of demophobia/agoraphobia/claustrophobia because my anxiety tends to flare when I am feeling physically constrained, either by people or space. For example, I can be in a very large room with few people in it, but if they are all clustered by the only door in such a way that I would be unable to exit easily, my anxiety increases. Elevators themselves are not really a problem -- but, if given the chance I will never enter a crowded elevator and I have been known to exit one if it got too full, especially if I got stuck in the back away from the door and had several floors to travel. When my medical issues required that I have an MRI, not only was Valium required to get me into the darn machine, but I also needed a person to stay with me just outside, touching me and speaking to me to get me through the whole process without flipping out. Even then, it was a pretty close call. All of the above described situations were before I had spent any time as a person with a physical disability. Things only got worse when I was injured.
Now, fortunately, I never got to the point where I never left the house, but I have had periods where my anxiety levels (read panic attacks) were unmanageable for periods of time. Even when my anxiety was not unmanageable, for years now I have tended not to go out much unless absolutely necessary and usually not unless I was with another person, meeting another person, or had some kind meeting/class/job to go to. At some points, I did my best to insure that I limited such "commitments" so that I did not have to go out on my own.
So, with that (very) cursory background information, you will hopefully understand the significance of my Black Friday Adventure. I imagine the only reason I actually stepped up and did it AND got through the whole thing relatively unscathed is because it was "training for Cura." Yeah, right -- more like therapy for me! Funny how so much of Cura's training is actually addressing my personal challenges . . .
Originally, the plan was to go shopping with Nonna Ear Rubs with the intention of scoping out a Christmas present for Fuzzy Face. But, due to scheduling issues, Nonna Ear Rubs couldn't go. YIKES!! Well, let me tell you, that was almost the end of the Black Friday Adventure right there! At the very least, the adventure was going to be postponed until Sunday when Nonna Ear Rubs could make it. No way in ____ was I going to face the insane post-Thanksgiving crowds on my own . . . oh, wait . . . I would not BE on my own. Cura would be with me . . .
So, we went -- though I managed to accumulate several errands in addition to "Mall Cruising." For some reason, this helped me to prepare for tackling the insanity of the Mall. Maybe because we were able to do some "normal, everyday" things first . . . who knows! All I know is that it helped me get into a good state of mind before actually stepping foot in the Mall.
For the most part, we did great! Cura was not overly thrilled with the crowds (especially the free-range, loud, rambunctious children that were naturally attracted to her lovely -- frequently curved -- tail . . . a part of me thinks this attraction may sometimes play a part in her lowering her tail when in stressful situations -- maybe not every time, but sometimes) but she stuck close and did everything that I asked her too. Besides, it isn't as if I was thrilled about the crowds, either! I did a bit of shopping for myself and scoped out some things to purchase later for Christmas gifts.
We used the escalators (up and down), wandered in crowded, tight spaces where Cura had to follow me rather than be beside me, stood in lines, and browsed the various counters. With the volume of people, we still managed to either get jostled or "trapped." Still, the jostling I received was drastically reduced -- hardly a brush -- AND I got an apology rather than the person(s) pretending that it didn't happen! As far as getting boxed in . . . it did happen several times -- and I did start to get anxious every time. When I did . . . Cura became VERY deliberate in her motion and, while slowly moving forward, also leaned against me slightly (just brushing my leg). In hindsight, it was as if she was reminding me that she was there with me. Regardless of her intention, the result was that my anxiety remained at manageable levels and we were able to spend a little over an hour in the Mall on Black Friday!
Was there room for improvement . . . of course! But we managed to tackle a difficult situation together -- at the very least it strengthened our bond even more. In reality, Cura managed to help me through a situation that would have been virtually impossible for me (especially in the past seven-plus years) before she came into my life. I would have never contemplated attempting it. Instead, I would have found a perfectly logical and acceptable reason for avoiding it completely. Progress . . . I LOVE it!
Our next private training session is scheduled to take place in the Mall -- a wonderful opportunity for fine tuning! I can't wait!