It has been a year myself and Gopher have been able to fulfill our work as a therapy team, and three years since the journey began, and it is amazing what I have been able to see, but even more amazing as to what I have learned.
There are very few people who have insight into me and my true nature of vulnerability. The most common and widespread misconception people have about me is that I am confident and even arrogant, both could not be further from the truth, but I enjoy this perception so I do what I can to propagate it. My fears are not too different from any one else but they are still mine and no matter what level of commonality I know exists with my community it does not calm the sea of fears I have.
I talk a lot, and often, and I love nothing more than being engaged in a good debate, so many do not realize that every time I speak I am afraid. As an infant I had a feveral seizure following the vaccine pertussis. The cause is unknown; it had been thought to have been either an allergic reaction to the vaccine itself or a low dose mercury poisoning as I was vaccinated from a multiple dose vial that had low level mercury under the name thermosial that is used as an antibacterial and preservative of some vaccines. The resultant seizure damaged the speech and fine motor movements of my brain and I had to learn to walk and talk again, but from this point on when I spoke it would be accompanied with a minor speech impediment. My sister was one of the few people who could understand me and often would speak for me when I was very young. As I grew older her as my shield would go away and my peers would ridicule me as children often do when something was strange or different. The result would be that even at 30 I am still very afraid that when I speak no one will understand me, or dismiss me as my speech impediment would give the image of another defect in my mental faculties.
The fear of speaking is one of my fears that are more unique to me and not shared by as many in the population as my other fears. Being raised by parents and grandparents who have instilled a fear in me of always telling people how you feel as you don’t know what will happen, my grandmother especially always telling us. “Good night, I love you, see you in the morning, I hope.” Makes me want to take the time now to tell some good friends, Duck, Greg, Annie and many others I count as friends in the theater community how much I look up to them and almost envy them as they speak and put themselves out there in ways I cannot even imagine due to my fear of simply speaking. You all are wonderful in so many ways, but probably never realized how much you amaze in that simple ability alone.
My other fears are more traditional the biggest one is failure and this last year has been the most difficult in my life. I am afraid as most of people are, of disappointing others, friends, my mother-in-laws (Yes, I am a lucky man and I get two), my father-in-law, my sister, my mom and dad, my wife, and myself. Persons like myself who have what seems like an overwhelming fear of failure resort to two things, becoming withdrawn, which I do to a point, or overcompensating which I am more likely to do. So I respond, I take on challenges that seem insurmountable and when I tackle a task I deflect making sure the credit goes to someone else as it is not me who could have done this, and when it goes poorly rather I am the cause or not I take over all of the blame, as no matter how many are involved it is assuredly my fault. I also seem to have a string of bad luck, and I blame myself for it, even if it is out of my hands. I get an internship of my dreams, and have a blast, but it goes bad, my life is threatened, and it is I who failed not the horrible mental disease of my intern advisor gone awry it is my fault. I settle into a position I despise, not due to the work or my peers, but due to leadership and struggle in a bad economy where everyone is suffering to find something else, and am unsuccessful and it is me who is failing. I am laid off and struggle to fill the void of work and income, and it is entirely my fault. Personal finances suffer and it is my fault since I am out of work. Nevermind the overwhelming evidence that this is the second worst economic times in America, that there are many, many people in my position, and often in more uncomfortable situations than myself it is assuredly my fault, I failed. This fear is not unlike the majority of my peers and my community, but as is the same with all people no matter how logically I know I am not alone in feeling these, I still feel alone in this fear.
I am extremely blessed with a loving wife, and loving family, and for three years a loving dog, that has performed as a therapy dog to me more in our visits than any other person I have visited with.
Since he is the focus of all our visits, and I trust him and have so much confidence in his ability to help others, I have been able to talk for the first time in my life with adults and children for the first time in my life without fear. Persons with any level of speaking impediment will understand how much of a relief it is to be able to speak without being afraid for the first time in memory. This fear, although not crippling exists with me every day rather I am speaking to a stranger or my mother, it is irrational as most social fears are, and cannot be corrected by any amount of reassurances by loved ones or friends. More often than not those reassurances heighten the fears, and the thought right or wrong that they are only giving me reassurances because they care and want to protect me. On our visits though, thanks to Gopher it is gone.
It is nearly inexplicable how much this changes ones perception if only for an hour or so a week my fear of speaking is gone. I hope with Gopher’s help I can start extending this to other areas of my life, and may one day leave this fear behind.
The fear of failure unfortunately though has not left, not even for an hour of vacation, but does it ever really leave someone? However because of Gopher, and the success he has had in therapy work thus far, I am able to be truly confident despite the fear. Most people who have taken the time to read this will believe that I do all of this work and the blog for one of two reasons, first that I am an altruistic and wonderful person, or second that I do it to seek attention. Both are false. In the beginning I wanted to do it, because I thought it could help, to fill In with some level of work satisfaction since I could get none of that from what I actually get paid to do daily. The blog was and still is to share our experiences in the hope more people will find a way to do this on their own, provide insight to those looking in from the outside thinking they might want to be part of a team someday, and hopefully provide some smiles to others who can bear witness via the blog to the hundreds of smiles Gopher has given to me and others.
Now my motivation for going nearly every week and sometimes multiple times a week is not for those to whom Gopher will bring a moment of comfort or the pat on the back of peers, or even the wonderful things I have seen. It is purely for the therapy Gopher gives me, an hour of being able to speak without fear, and the confidence to face and accept my failures, move on, and find my next path. Thank you Gopher, for being my companion, friend, and my ‘therapist’.