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I've had a horrible time the last week. I'd like to share what happened because many of my clients are either dealing with fear and anxiety themselves or they have a fearful anxious dog. I am sharing to put into words what I went thru this week. I am hoping to understand it better myself from a behaviorist's point of view as well as from the point of view of the fearful client. I am using myself as a clinical example of flooding.
Like most people, I have a lot of fears. Some small things (oh, spider, SPLAT) that I can keep going. I am able to manage most of them thru breathing techniques and biofeedback exercises. . A few, tho, are so severe that it can cause me to shut down. Water is one. If smell chlorine pool water or see an underwater scene on television I stop breathing and can start to panic. Thankfully I am able to avoid anything deeper than a bathtub while living in the desert.
Then there are the bees. From a very early age I have been terrified of them. It could be a result of getting stung several times as a child and hearing my mother say that I was probably allergic to them (I'm not.) To explain the severity of this fear, the depth of it, I'll tell a short story. Many years ago hubby and I were sitting in the car, windows down, he in his Sailor dress whites. A bee came in the passenger window and I shoved my six foot one inch, two hundred twenty pound husband thru the drivers window with me following.
About 12 years ago I was on a project in an isolated area of the marine base. As we were cleaning up our site a bee flew in my ear. There was buzzing that felt like it was in my brain. An awful, horrible, inescapable feeling of the bee jackhammering his way into my brain. What was normally a half hour drive to the base hospital was much longer as I was stuck behind a 5 mph military caravan. I was full on hysterical by the time I arrived at the ER.
Fast forward to this past Monday. I came home from work and immediately took the dogs outside and then into the bathroom so they could drink from 'the magic fountain' (the sink). Then I heard it. At first I thought maybe the AC vent was closed and whistling air. No. I looked behind the shower curtain and there were thousands of bees in the tub and window.
At this point the fear took over. I had no peripheral vision, all I could see were bees. Tears were flowing. Breathing was that fast-clutch-fast breathing when you can't quite get air. I was sweating and shaking. I secured the bathroom and tried to ignore it. Almost had myself convinced I could do it when a bee buzzed by my ear. At that point i screamed my way into the bedroom, with 4 great danes, and locked us in, rolling a blanket and stuffing it under the door, we were there until my husband came home. I was huddled on the bed, with 4 danes, shaking and sobbing and trying desperately to breathe. For 8 hours I was there until he came home.
This has been repeated EVERY DAY THIS WEEK. Typically we have a swarm in the Mesquite tree in the spring and I work hard to ignore them and not venture too close. But this was EVERY FREAKING DAY. Hundreds, thousands of bees. Messages from neighbors telling me about the swarm. Thankfully the dogs were patient and waited for hubby to get home as I think they realized I was checked out
Why am I telling you all of this? Because somewhere in the fog of this week I thought about fearful dogs and how to use this fear in a way that helps me work with dogs. One thing I know for sure, immersion and flooding are a VERY BAD WAY TO GO. When my husband would yell at me, trying to tell me to get over it, well, that didn't work either. When he'd ask "what do you want me to do" and expect a logical answer? Yeah, I could not formulate a sentence that would make sense other than "GET RID OF THEM". He realized there wasn't anything he could do but work on blocking the bee's access.
It is easy now to look at it with the luxury of 20 20 hindsight and try to pinpoint what point I was over. That was when I peaked behind the shower curtain and saw them. Where could I have tried to pull myself back, I identifying the moments that I might have been under threshold enough to respond in a logical way.. If I'd known they were there but hadn't seen them I might have been able to respond logically. But even with that, as soon as the one buzzed by me it was the final straw.
By identifying those moments for myself it makes me more aware of when we need to stop in order to keep the dog below threshold. That fine line of 'making a difference' and 'over threshold'..
Having the mesquite tree full of bees every spring has assisted in desensitizing me to where I could be calm with bees busily doing their work at a distance. Being flooded with them in our bathroom...all of my progress feels like it has gone out the window with the bees.
I will use this, tho, to be a better behaviorist and trainer. To be more aware of that line between counter conditioning and flooding, over threshold.