At the moment I’m experiencing difficulty. I’m scared, I’m alone, and each day is a struggle. I write this to process, to find some way through…
Last week whilst riding my bike through a small village I got bitten by a street dog. It was amazingly surreal to see the beast plunge its fangs deep into my calf, but my initial anger aside I’ve felt anxious and fearful ever since. In some ways I’d like to pretend that the incident never happened and just get on with my #AdventuresInHappiness journey, but I feel immensely tense and I’m not sure how I move on.
Dogs chase cyclists a lot here in Peru. Rather than feel mostly excited about what each day could bring, as I have before, I feel frightened, and overwhelmingly so, about what could happen to me… I haven’t yet found the support I need and I’ve thought a lot about returning to the UK. But I don’t want to move…anywhere…
It is OK to be fearful
Fear is complex and can be difficult to understand. Sometimes I’ve heard people label fear as irrational i.e. that it is not coming from a place that is based on objective reality. I don’t agree with this – most fears are based on something real that did happen in a person’s life (including observing others who are fearful of something or just being told by others repeatedly that something is scary).
Perhaps what happened to generate the fear might not be completely obvious – sometimes there may be no recollection of what happened to generate it in the first place. The foundation of a fear might be buried so deep in the unconscious that it appears to any onlooker, and even the person experiencing the fear, to be completely unfounded and therefore seemingly irrational.
At the moment even though I know on some level that not all dogs are going to attack me that doesn’t prevent me from feeling anxious whenever I see a dog. Perhaps I’ll hold this fear for some time – maybe on some level for the rest of my life. Perhaps I’ll avoid interacting with even the most docile of dogs. Is that irrational? I don’t think so. Something real happened in my life and I’m trying to find a way through.
Personally I think fear always has some basis in a lived experience and there is never an easy way or a right way to deal with it. Each person can only deal with it the best they are able and with the support, if any, that they have.
Where am I?
I’m writing this from a fairly quiet town some 200kms away from where I was bitten. It has been challenging to get here. After I was bitten last week I made my way to the nearest city, Huancayo, where I received professional medical attention, including vaccinations for both rabies and tetanus. Although it was a physically and emotionally draining process I am still amazed at how present, conscious, and grateful I was the next day.
At first I didn’t even consider the longer-term psychologically consequence. But then I noticed I was a wariness around dogs. Each time I saw a dog I felt anxious and rather than this anxiety reducing over time with each sighting of a dog the anxiety got worse. On one occasion three dogs came at me aggressively as I walked the busy streets. When I got back to my hotel room I cried. Generally being outside of my hotel became difficult – I noticed an increased sensitivity to noise and more suspicion and judgement towards others. I didn’t understand what was happening and I was feeling crushingly alone in my process.
How am I coping?
Perhaps the most important thing for me to do is to fully acknowledge what happened and what I am feeling in the present. I experienced something traumatic and I need to give my-self time and space to appreciate that. I AM scared, I AM alone, and I AM struggling with each day. And that is completely OK. Completely OK. Sometimes it seems easier to be avoidant, and for me that can mean through compulsive eating or internet use. And that is completely OK too.
I’ve been struggling to get the support I need. Even before this happened I noticed that I hadn’t had a conversation in English for some weeks. That’s in part testament to my slowly improving Castellano and through it I’ve met some truly amazing people on this journey. But it is often difficult to fully express my-self in my own language let alone another. Then for someone to be able to really hold my words with care and hear fully what I am expressing is a rare and beautiful skill that not everybody possesses. I miss my networks of support in Edinburgh – support that took me years to develop and that I don’t have access to in the same way where I am. Support that I’m not sure how to tap into in the same way from afar.
These days my main support is my writing. It has given me a focus in my journey and through it I am able to hear my-self and dig deeper. I write in my journal on a daily basis (sometimes pages and pages) and what became clear to me (and later confirmed in a supportive skype call with a dear friend) is that I needed to leave the city that I came to immediately after the dog bite. The environment was overwhelming and with so many associations I thought some distance would help. I planned to leave a couple of times but when it came to it I could not. Each time I told myself my leg still needed a bit more time to heal but that wasn’t strictly true. I did not want to give up the apparent safety of my hotel room.
Re-finding and re-defining adventures in happiness
Despite knowing that I would inevitably be chased dogs I thought it important for me to cycle out of the city. My bicycle is another great source of support – it allows me to work through things with relatively few distractions. In the last two days I have covered about 100kms in total. Although the scenery is outstanding it’s been difficult to connect with what is around me as I once easily did. It will be a long time before I’m back in the tent. Now I’m mostly on the lookout for dogs and see them from very far away. When I can’t see one I’m tense imagining that suddenly one will come snarling out of a ditch after me, and yes sometimes they do.
I have met so many beautiful souls and experienced so many moments full of magic and wonder on my journey so far. But I’m daunted by the long journey ahead, a journey in which I will mostly be alone. A large part of me wants to come home but I also want to keep going. My journey is not complete.
The dog bite experience was an anomaly in a sea of nourishing experiences but nevertheless it weighs heavy upon me – disproportionately so. But like all of the experiences so far it is part of my Adventures In Happiness. An adventure in which I am not chasing an elusive and fleeting form of happiness but the sort of happiness that is grounded in human flourishing – where I learn and I grow and I unfold into being the best person I am able to be.
I am looking after my-self in the simplest sense i.e. listening to my body and fulfilling its basic needs – a deep care. I just spent a beautiful afternoon in a plaza – it was quite tranquil and I was wearing my magical pink trousers – there were lots of people about, children playing, there were some dogs milling about too. I sat there, a bit afraid, but knowing deep down it was a safe space to be and that it is always OK to be afraid…
Thank you for hearing me – writing this and knowing people are there to read me is a big help.