The True Self

Our dog Teddy is a collie/malamute cross. He is a large hairy bundle who adds considerably to the vacuuming schedule. The collie is strong in him. Apart from the constant shedding and occasional stubbornness, we seldom see the malamute. He is an old boy, at least 14 years and probably 15. He came from a rescue centre so we can’t be sure.

The other day I was being lazy, having a lie-in cuddled under the duvet thinking I really should get up. When I finally emerged Teddy ran to me – or rather plodded – with that look on his face that said ‘I’m starving. You’ve left me here on my own with nothing to eat.’ I felt very guilty. I had assumed my daughter would have fed him but she was nowhere to be seen. Ted became agitated, going to the place where his bowl should be, staring at me, padding his feet to tell me to hurry up and get on with breakfast.

I duly replenished his water bowl which, looking back, was unusually full given that it had been down from the night before. I doled out his food, placed it on his mat, and Teddy demolished it with amazing speed and a sly look over his shoulder. I returned to my bedroom to sort out washing.

I heard a wolf howling. ‘Whatever programme is that?’ I thought. Morning TV was usually re-runs of The Bill or Holby City. I heard a bit of a commotion so went to see what was happening, thinking that perhaps Teddy was reacting to the wolf on the TV.

The howling wasn’t on the TV. Teddy’s head was raised to the ceiling, emitting a mournful wail loud enough to drown out the TV. I looked in surprise. Hello malamute. Teddy was playing with his stuffed toy. He threw it on the settee, then promptly climbed on the settee after it. Now, this was very out of character. He is not allowed on the furniture. I watched him for a while as he threw his toy around, wondering what had got into him.

Teddy paced up and down, still with intermittent howls. I realised he was becoming agitated, not playful. I talked to him, trying to get him to come to me. At first he ignored me, then he sat on his bed. I massaged his shoulders – his favourite thing – and he lay down. He looked at me, then convulsed, and vomited. A large amount of undigested food.

By this time, my daughter had arrived to find out what was going on. It transpired that Teddy had indeed been fed that morning, and had conned me into a second breakfast. No lasting harm done; within minutes of being sick he was curled up in his usual day time location enjoying the sun. We had a lesson in the need to co-ordinate activities around feed times, and hopefully Teddy would learn better manners from this experience.  

This set me thinking though. The malamute part of Teddy is still there, part of his nature, part of him that we seldom see. It emerged when he was under stress, not feeling well, and frankly as a result of his own actions.

I suspect those of us with disabilities can relate to this! Outwardly to many people I am ticking along just fine. That’s because I manage my problems. I know roughly how much energy I have on any given day. I know how much I can do physically before my joints seize up and leave me struggling to walk. I plan what I do to fit in with the amount of time I can function without it impacting too severely on my health.

Then I get those days when I am fooled by my own success at managing my issues. Of course I can do the decorating; it’s only a bit of wallpaper. A hike along the beach and over the sand dunes will be good for me. I can meet that deadline – I’m only sat in front of a computer.

So I push on fooled by my own confidence. Just like Teddy I do too much (though it’s not often I eat two breakfasts). I think I can get away with it, and then that hidden disability surfaces just like Teddy’s malamute. My howling may be internal but it’s still there. Pain, exhaustion, frustration. A stern reminder that the disability can only be managed, not removed. Careful management lets me live on an even keel much of the time. Over enthusiasm will take revenge. Yet sometimes it’s worth it.

Written by Portland Jones, PF Disabilities Liaison for the Midlands