A Terrified Puppy and a Life Re-Examined: The Lessons Love Teaches Us

A very anxious dog teaches a couple how love stretches our capacity for compassion and caring.

Edie first exhibited signs of severe anxiety at her first puppy social at the San Francisco SPCA. Unlike the previous two dogs Meredith May had owned, whom she describes as typical goofy, playful, curious, undaunted puppies from Golden Retriever Central Casting, Edie was absolutely terrified of the noise, the lights, the other dogs, the people — all the movement happening in a 360-degree circle around her.

“Her hyper-reactivity set off her fight-or-flight response, so that she ran from practically anything that moved — traffic, pedestrians, children, bicycles, motorcycles, garage doors, plastic bags floating on the wind,” said May, who writes about her experiences in her new book “Loving Edie: How a Dog Afraid of Everything Taught Me to be Brave” (Park Row Books 2022; $24.99 Amazon price).

May, an award winning journalist and fifth generation beekeeper who lives in San Francisco with her wife Jenn, had her own issues. The daughter of a deeply depressed mother, she spent years without getting out of bed and sought refuge in reading, a favorite stuffed animal that she took to college, hiding in small spaces and raising bees.

But she and Jenn didn’t return the adorable puppy, who was only calm and happy when indoors and away from stimulation.

“What this meant for me and Jenn was that one of us had to be with her at all times, indoors, there to protect her,” said May. “Which brought our carefree lives to a standstill and shut us out of the vibrant San Francisco dog culture. Think: dog rooftop cocktail parties, Corgi-con at the beach, dog cafes, pet parades and dog hikes that we had enjoyed with our other dogs.”

Edie also added stress to their relationship in other ways as they kept trying to “fix” her, transforming her into the dog they wanted her to be.

”Jenn, who had never raised a puppy before, kept asking me when Edie would grow out of it, and I was foolishly trying every remedy possible to make that happen so we could have the dog that was going to deepen our relationship and bring us nonstop laughter and joy.”

This might have gone on for a long time, but May fortunately met a brilliant veterinarian who had experience with anxious dogs. The vet shared a story about a mother of an anxious child. To get the daughter ready to go snorkeling in Hawaii, the mother started by having her learn to wear a snorkel and then use it, first in the bathtub and then in the pool.

“Only then, after the baby steps, could the family go to Hawaii and snorkel without any meltdowns,” May said. “This vet’s simple story made me realize that Edie wasn’t here for my entertainment, she was here for me to be her protector. What I had been resisting this whole time was being pushed into a maternal role with Edie because deep down I didn’t think I’d ever make a good a mother to human or animal, because I’d been raised without my father in the home and by a mother who often complained openly about how motherhood shackled her. They say dogs come along at the precise moment you need to evolve in a certain way, and for me the therapeutic part of Edie is unearthing a buried maternal instinct and discovering that it’s not a subtraction of my life, but an enhancement to keep this dog alive and happy. The best thing in the world is when Edie runs to me when she’s scared. She no longer runs blindly in any direction — she knows I’m home base.”

What would you like readers to take away from your book besides a fascinating and heartfelt read, I asked May?

“I hope readers learn that all dogs are different, and all have deep emotions that need tending,” she said. “I did not know how to read canine body language until Edie forced me to research it, and now I cringe at all that I didn’t understand with my other two dogs. I hope readers sympathize with my mistakes in the story. It took a neurotic dog to teach me that I was neurotic about being perfect, about having control, and that I was the one who needed to change, not Edie.”

For more information about May and her virtual book signings, visit meredithamay.net.

A Little Closer to Home: How I Found the Calm After the Storm by Ginger Zee

          As a meteorologist, Ginger Zee has covered almost every major weather disaster in her career—the California wildfires, Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Matthew and a ton of others. But the storms she’s chased were nothing compared to the internal tempests wrecking her psyche.

          Inspired by a waterspout she saw over Lake Michigan and running towards it instead of away as everyone else on the beach did, the eight year old became fascinated by weather, earning a science meteorology degree at Valparaiso University.  The EMMY-winning Zee  worked as a meteorologist (and please don’t call her a weather girl) at TV stations in Grand Rapids and Chicago, is now the chief meteorologist for ABC News,  

          But despite this success, Zee couldn’t escape the demons of her childhood and her emotional fragility. She first recounted her struggles in her 2017 book, Natural Disaster: I Cover Them. I Am One, which she described as “Ginger Lite.”  Now, in her recently released A Little Closer to Home: How I Found the Calm After the Storm, she goes gale force in talking about her psychological issues.

          Married with two children, fit, intelligent, and successful, many might think she has it all. But there have been times when Zee avoided looking in mirrors.

          And no, that’s not a typo. Zee’s self-esteem was so low that she couldn’t stand to see her reflection. At times in her life, Zee also struggled with anorexia around the time of her parents’ divorce, attempted suicide, was deeply depressed, and was sexually abused.

Now, she can laugh while showing a touch of class when responding to people who write to her idisparaging her looks. Really, people do that kind of stuff. I’m assuming that’s because they’re the most beautiful people in the world.

   Suffering from Low Self-Esteem

          It was the latter that convinced her she needed to share her story, that indeed she owed it to people to tell about all she’d been through, that got her to write another book. It came after watching a replay of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony on “Good Morning America.” Ford had alleged that she had been sexually assaulted when a teen by two young men during a party. One of them was a nominee for the Supreme Court and Ford was suddenly thrust into the spotlight.

          From there, Zee and I discuss how in the not so distant past, women were often to blame for sexually harassment or abuse as in, “if you hadn’t worn that short skirt” or “you shouldn’t have agreed to go to his apartment.”

          “The realization was the impetus and I start diving really deep with my therapist no matter how difficult it is,” she says. “Trauma doesn’t leave your body. The shame and the feelings have to go somewhere. What I wasn’t doing is going past my trauma. Once you get past it, life is so much better. There’s so much relief in letting go of the responsibility for something we had no control over.”

          Zee hopes the book will help others talk more freely and avoid being judgemental.

          “I think of my therapist as my personal trainer for the brain,” she says.

          These realizations helped Zee who sees herself in a much healthier place now that she is able to work through her feelings.

          “The shame isn’t on me, that’s how therapy helped,” she says. “So did the Me Too Movement. I don’t have to take responsibility for things that I didn’t do and that weren’t my fault. That’s why I knew I had to write this book to help others who are going through what I did.”

        

The Panic Button Book: Press Now!

Tammi Kirkness

         We’ve all been there. A deadline looming and your computer decides to go rogue. You call about a wrong charge on an account, our rooted around the world and back, repeating your story to four or five different people and then after waiting on hold for an hour are cut off. You run into a high school frenemy and find out s/he just signed a multi-million deal to a book about those high school days and how mean everyone was—giving you a knowing look.

         And that’s just the small stuff. But Tammi Kirkness has you covered when you’re hit with high stress situations. An Australian based life coach and wellness consultant as well as an international speaker, specializes in working with people who grapple with high functioning anxiety. That typically refers to those who seem to function well but are often overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy, are sure something bad is going to happen, compare themselves negatively to others, and tend to be workaholics and perfectionists. 

To overcome anxieties, Kirkness incorporates well-researched and proven psychological treatments and Eastern techniques of reducing anxious states such as meditation and breathing from our core, sharing her insights in her extremely easy to use book, “The Panic Button Book: Relieve Stress and Anxiety Whenever They Strike” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2020; $15.99).

         Kirkness has many characteristics of someone with high-functioning anxiety.

         “A big part of my journey was working way too hard, being a perfectionist and putting way too much pressure on myself,” she says.

         Not only wasn’t it good in the short time nor could she keep it up for a long time.

         “There are things that we can do to help calm down our nervous system and still create success with sustainability,” says Kirkness. “I think taking time to pause and do some soul searching is generally the first step.”

         Other components include learning to take deep breaths which are calming and relaxing. Journaling—putting your thoughts down on paper—and meditating (there are free online apps for that) also make a difference. But what I found most useful about the book were the Decision Trees Kirkness developed.

         Dividing the book into sections, she covers Living and Working, Socializing, Relationships, and Parenting. Each has related scenarios such as “Do you have a difficult conversation coming up,” “Do you feel your partner is taking more than giving?” and “Are you not reaching your own expectations?” Then on the opposite page are the techniques you can take to help.

         As an example, one decision tree starts with the question “Are you trying to make something perfect?” Her two-step activity to counteract the need for get something done is to remind yourself that done is better than perfect. The second is to establish a clear timeline on finishing such as I’m giving this another 40 minutes and then I’m sending it in.

         Not all are simple two-steps like the above, but all are designed to provide relief from the immediate anxiety of situations and produce feelings of being more in charge of your emotions.

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