Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Happiness Happens...or not

"Solitary Cloud" | 20"x16" | Acrylic on Masonite

Driving to the infusion center today I heard on the radio that today is “Happiness Happens” day. I paused to think about that phrasing.

No, it doesn’t. Little happiness fairies do not just follow us around blowing twinkling mood-enhancing pixie dust on us with their glittering wings while unicorns prance around leaving rainbows in their wake. No matter how much I wish it were true.

In the past few weeks, I have had a third cousin diagnosed with stage four cancer, lost a family member to suicide and watched a friend deal with a life-threatening/life-altering injury to his youngest daughter. I’ve had my own struggles trying to drum up enough work to pay for my vital infusions and fears about having to find new health insurance with my pre-existing conditions. The mythical creatures of happiness are not real, but thankfully the state of happiness is and it’s just as vital to me as my infusions.

While I’m sure there are people that this might be true for; people who do walk around in a never-ending state of bliss. For the most part, I believe happiness takes work and is often a conscious choice. Each of us have challenges in our lives whether it's health related, financial, conflicts with family, losses of any type, past or current trauma and often more than one going on at the same time. We may face these issues at specific points in our lives or are forced to confront them every day. It’s understandable to be consumed by anger, fear and sadness. I think that’s the easier path to take; to sink into a mode where you no longer enjoy the world around you. You no longer see the good in it and it can be nearly impossible to pull yourself out of that alone.

I choose happiness. It’s not an easy road and people expect it to be. Why should you have to work to be happy? I don’t think humans as a whole have evolved to accept a state of happiness. We get bored. We provoke conflict. We create problems, but if we learn to redirect this natural tendency, to reframe our lives, we can live meaningfully with purpose and do good in the world. Each and every person has the potential to make a positive difference, to start a ripple that spreads and envelops others. You can turn your darkest hour into a light to lead others. Being happy should have higher value than we currently give it.

I do fail from time to time, but that’s not a reason to give up. I’ve learned to be grateful for what I have rather than mourn for what I’ve lost. I’ve lost a lot. I am grateful for the experiences I was able to have when I was younger. I am grateful for the experiences I have now. I’ve said it many times, but the little daily moments of joy add up to so much more than the “big events” that as a culture we use to mark the passage of time. If you have to miss out on those big moments, you really haven’t lost a lot. We each get to define what is important to us. Those definitions are often in flux and change (and they should) as we progress along the timeline of our life on this planet. I think if you don’t stop and examine your life from time to time, you are doing yourself a great disservice. Change is hard, but necessary and is the only constant.

Today was not a one stick day at the infusion center (see photo below), but for now, I still get my treatments. They work. I have a great team taking care of my health. I am ALIVE and I’m not going to let a little extra pain diminish my gratitude. Look around you and find an object, a moment, a person that made you happy today. Search for these every day. Soon, it will become a natural part of your day to notice the little things. That’s the beginning of making happiness happen. Don't wait for the unicorns. They may never come.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Grateful in Life

"Blue Beyond the Clouds" • Acrylic

November has been lost. The Christmas fever that now begins the day after Halloween has swallowed it up and Thanksgiving right along with it. Not a particularly “sexy” holiday, Thanksgiving doesn’t have costumes or ornaments or presents. You can easily argue that it is based on a historical lie, but I believe there is value to the holiday if you focus on the thankfulness aspect. Some have tried to reclaim it with daily social media postings of gratitude. My husband is doing this and I look forward to his daily posts. They draw my thoughts in new directions and make me appreciate things I may not have paid much attention to recently. Chronically ill friends are posting thankfuls as well to try to improve their daily outlook on life and recent studies suggest great value in this; that there is a direct correlation between gratitude and happiness. One leading researcher, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, gave a group of 411 participants a variety of assignments to measure their impact on overall happiness. When asked to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone they felt had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants showed an immediate large increase in happiness scores and the increased happiness lasted for a month; greater than from any other intervention. Gratefulness also encourages forgiveness, empathy, decreases anxiety, improves depression and combats loneliness. 

What prompted me to write this blog entry was a pattern I’ve recently noticed. People struggling with resolving the conflict between grief and gratitude. Feeling that the bad things negate the good. A friend recently said her mother told her “there is always something to be thankful for.” She shot back, “what if there are 2 bad things for every good thing?” Her Mom said, “just shoot them.” They both have a point, but you can’t easily, nor should you, ignore the bad, but you can’t let it drown you either. 

The holidays have the potential to stir up about every major conflict there is from family tensions, to finance issues, loneliness, depression and grief for family and friends that are no longer with us. There are no simple answers, but for me, living in a state of gratitude creates happiness and leaves me better able to put the negatives of my life, my illnesses, people I've lost, into perspective. This didn’t always come easily. For much of my life, and still to some extent, I am the first person to find flaws and beat myself up for perceived mistakes. Negative self-talk ran rampant. I was not good at forgiving myself and for years was in a relationship that fueled it. I didn’t like myself. More accurately, I didn’t like myself when I was with that person. Getting out of that relationship was the first step in a long road to rediscovering joy in life. Finding the silver linings is key. It’s harder to stay stuck in the bad if you actively look for the good that has come from it. That doesn’t mean you just accept the bad. You still should take positive steps to rectify situations and relationships that are negatively affecting you. Not everything is fixable, though. You also have to recognize when issues are beyond your control and not let them have power over you.

I try to look at my illnesses that way. They have robbed me of a lot and continue to do so. I shudder to add up all the time I’ve been hooked up to an IV for treatments. Instead I am thankful there is a treatment and thankful for the people who donate the plasma from which my medication is derived. They are also hooked up to an IV, but by choice. My views of what is important have also shifted as a direct result of being ill. My patience and empathy for others has grown. I want to share my experiences to help those with chronic illness when before I kept everything bottled up inside me, afraid of being seen as damaged. My sense of self and confidence have grown. 

People that know my husband and I in the non-virtual world often comment on how we act when we are with each other. More aptly, how it’s not an act. The love, affection and respect is very apparent and they want to know the secret. There really isn’t much of one. We simply realize how damn lucky we are to have found each other and that gratitude guides us. Each day is precious. This I learned from the death of my first husband. Nothing is to be taken for granted. We still get annoyed at each other and have occasional arguments like any couple, but hurt feelings do not linger. We are mutually supportive and care greatly for the other’s success and happiness. We celebrate the small things. I know that I am very fortunate to have this amazing relationship with him and I vow to never forget that. 

Life is not fair. Bad things happen to good people. This I have accepted and it brings me peace. Looking for reasons why doesn’t. Perfection is not attainable. Other people are always going to have more than you and also have less. Thanksgiving serves as a small reminder of what we need to carry with us throughout the entire year. Remember to be grateful for what we have.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Thank an Artist. August is Artist Appreciation Month

"Life isn't about finding yourself. It's about creating yourself."

"Boardwalk" by Rebecca Zook 24" x 16"

And creation is not attained in a vacuum. We are influenced and inspired by everything around us and likely don't even realize how much of our every day lives are influenced by artists. From the coffee cup that starts your day, to the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the music that makes your commute bearable, and of course the art on your walls, you can thank an artist for designing them all. Take a moment and gaze around the room. Look at the flooring, the furniture, your shirt, every little knick-knack and even the office supplies. At some point, an artist sketched out a design for each one of these objects. More likely, several designs. You are only seeing what was eventually approved. Imagine stepping behind the curtain to see what was deemed second best or what slipped through the cracks. August is designated "Artist Appreciation Month," so take a moment to reflect on the contributions of artists in all fields that make our lives a little brighter and a whole lot better.

In my fine art painting, I have certainly had artists that inspired and influenced me. I gravitated to drawing and painting from a very early age. Though they never made their living as artists, both my parents had artistic interests that they passed on to all three of their girls. My father has a passion for photography and writing and even built a darkroom in the garage where I learned to develop film and create prints from negatives. My mother was interested in crafts of all kinds and I'm sure I tried every one of them right along with her. 

The first true artist I remember being enamored by was E.H. Shephard. I had a classic Winnie the Pooh book. I can't remember which one. At the time, the words were not nearly as important to me as the drawings. For some bizarre reason, I kept the book in a bathroom drawer and I remember sitting on a small rug with the door locked studying each illustration very carefully. The book was slightly tattered, well worn. It likely had an owner or two before me. The timeless sketches transported me to another reality where animals talked, had adventures and I travelled right along with them. I wanted to do that. Transport people. Affect their emotions with my own work, but I was only 6 or 7 and likely hiding in the bathroom from my little sister, because it had the only locking door.

E.H. Shephard

Going to garage sales was a major part of my childhood. A few years after my crush on Shephard, my fickle artistic affections switched to a new beau when I ran across the Wizard of Oz books from the early 1900s at a sale and bought them with allowance money. The solid color, poster quality of W.W. Denslow's illustrations was reminiscent of graphic design work prevalent in the 1970's that surrounded me in everyday life, even though these illustrations were from far earlier. I was eleven and drawing was still my primary medium. The color in these illustrations grabbed me and that is what I would explore next. What could I achieve with color?

W.W. Denslow
W.W. Denslow

I continued to take drawing, painting and sculpture classes all the way through 10th grade and commercial art courses in 11th and 12th. Bud Norton, my high school commercial art teacher, and former Disney® artist, made me realize that it would be possible to make art my primary income, though it would be through Advertising and Graphic Design. I went on to study Advertising Art and Fine Art at Southern Methodist University. This is when I met my next great love, Andrew Wyeth, and I fell hard. I was fortunate that the "Three Generations of Wyeth" show came to the Dallas Museum of Art. Andrew's work stood out to me the most. So realistic. Delicate. Color was employed so subtly. The light. Oh, the light. That is what I wanted to capture in my work–light.

"Master Bedroom" Andrew Wyeth

"Sycamore" Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth

I built a career combining illustration, graphic design, photography and writing to varying degrees at various jobs. I returned to fine art painting in my 'spare time' after realizing how much I missed holding a brush, since the majority of my work was now done on a computer. This was 2004 and I had just moved from Dallas to a small lake community. I decided to become involved with the local art association. I was introduced to an artist named Ralf Postulka. She was a wonderful, unique lady that I came to think of as a second mother. I am fortunate to have one of her abstract original paintings. Cancer took her from us a few years ago. I also met another local artist named Jeanette Alexander. I didn't know it yet, but she would be a great inspiration to me. A three time cancer survivor, who was able to walk out of hospice care, she will freely tell you that art was a big part of her recovery. It was a part of mine as well. I all but moved my art studio into a hospital room when doctors couldn't diagnose me. The doctors were all for it. Emotional state is critical for recovery and painting brought me peace. When I became too weak too paint, it was heart-wrenching, but I was determined to survive. Finally diagnosed with multiple rare chronic illnesses, I thought about Jeannette's struggles and knew I could do this. I could come back.

“Toulouse-Lautrec’s Sister”
by Jeanette Alexander

In 2014, through a really strange set of circumstances that really could be the subject of an entire post, I ended up being asked to submit a bid to illustrate a children's book for the Immune Deficiency Foundation. A Primary Immune Deficiency is one of the chronic illnesses I have. Though I had done plenty of illustration, I had never worked on a children's book and I was apprehensive, but the author of the book was adamant that my painting style was exactly what she was looking for. I stepped out of my comfort zone and submitted…and got the job. I also met my next love, Charles Santore. The animals, zebras and horses, depicted in the book needed to be more character-like, than entirely realistic, in order to convey the story better. My fine art animal paintings were realistic, so I needed inspiration and found it in Charles. I was mesmerized by his illustrations. I painted the book in my own style, but I was definitely influence by the expression Charles was able to capture in his work. I felt like I had come full circle. Back to a children's book, but I had a lifetime of experience now.  

Charles Santore

Charles Santore

Charles Santore

I have to thank Patience Brewster for inspiring this post. Her company is celebrating Artist Appreciation Month and encouraging artists to share their personal inspirations. If you aren't familiar with her company be sure to take a look at what they offer. Her whimsical ornaments and figures, all designed by Patience, herself, are crafted and hand painted by a team of artists. Each zebra shown here takes 30 hours to paint. Of course the zebras are my favorite. I am one after all. Though I was familiar with her work, I knew nothing about her life. After reading about her, I have to say she is an inspiration. Another kindred spirit that has experienced heartbreak and loss and was able to move forward in spite of it. She took a chance, believed in her art and is making a difference in the lives of others. Thank you.

I can't wait to see what the future holds.

©2015 Patience Brewster

Thursday, February 12, 2015


"The Sweetest Rose" Acrylic on Watercolor Paper 11"x17"

My husband, Ed, called over to me from the back door. He was standing with it open excitedly pointing at the night sky. "You have to come look!" I was sitting at my drawing table, paints open, brush in hand, just about to put paint to paper. I had crashed early the night before and was looking forward to making progress on a particular painting since I had several deadlines looming. The excitement in his voice and the little boy look of wonderment on his face quickly dispelled any notion of claiming I was too busy. I wasn't disappointed. Directly overhead was a glowing full moon with a huge "moon bow" encircling it. The largest halo around the moon I had ever seen. He ran back in to get the camera and we spent the rest of the evening working with the photos and marveling at the wonder of the natural world. 

Was the floor covered in pet hair? Was there a pile of dirty dishes in the sink? Wet laundry in the machine? Did I have a ton of work to get done? Yes, to all of this and more, but there is something that Ed and I do exactly right. Something that makes our relationship a successful one. We realize the bulk of our lives are little moments strung together and not the momentous occasions that society spotlights. We recognize in those instants that we have a choice and it's an important one. Ed wanted to share that moon with me; that moment with me. That's an honor. Say "I'm busy" too many times and he'll likely stop asking. The choice is whether to make these moments a priority when they come along. Their very nature makes them unplanned and for two people like Ed and I who have a tendency to schedule every detail of our lives, it can be a challenge to let go of preconceived notions about what needs to be accomplished that day and enjoy the moment. Make your partner a priority not an accessory.

For those with chronic illness, this point gets driven home in a way that is neither comfortable, nor convenient, but it is a valuable lesson that everyone, sick or not, would be happier living by. No one has a perfect and balanced life. No one. I sometimes wonder if it's a base code written into our flawed human genes that leads us to sabotage our happiness. Always wanting more than we currently have. When you have actual flawed genes, your priorities change and reorder and not by choice. Your body ceases to function in a predictable manner making planning difficult and often making previous life goals unattainable. Does this mean you can't be happy? Can't be in a relationship? Not by a long shot.

Over and over I am saddened by the number of marriages/relationships that I see disintegrate because one person has a chronic illness. It's so easy to blame the healthy person for leaving. How could they be so cold and uncaring? What about the vows they took? Though some people just aren't cut out to deal with chronic illness, I believe it's rarely a one-sided issue. As a person who has multiple chronic conditions that impact me on a daily basis, it would be very easy to become entirely self-absorbed and descend into pity and depression. If you aren't the sick person, you don't get it. Trust me on this, you can't. You have no real frame of reference for the soul-crushing guilt we can feel for something that we have no control over and the bitterness of what it has stolen from us. The fear that some new tragedy is looming around the corner. At some point, you have to let it go. I am all for pushing our boundaries and striving for more, but some things are physically impossible now and I just have to accept it and move on. YOU have to be happy before you can even think about sharing your life with someone else. 

Why did you get married or why are you with a particular person? Really examine the reasons. Me, I fell in love with a whole person. I love his sense of humor, his intellect, his excitement of life, his caring, gentle nature, love of animals…I could go on. But what I have to remember is that he fell in love with who I am. This relationship goes both ways. When I'm happy, he's happy. When I hurt, he hurts. I have needs and limitations because of my illnesses, but he has needs too. I have to give in this relationship as much as he does even though I have days when it takes all my energy just to get out of bed. Our relationship has to be a priority otherwise, what's the point? I must be there for him, always. I don't get to hoard my pain and say, your problems don't matter because mine are more serious. That's just not fair. It's not all about me. I have to remain open and responsive to what he needs. When he hurts, I hurt. When he's happy. I'm happy.

Just in time for Valentine's...
A while back I was contacted by author Sophia Dembling who regularly writes for "Psychology Today" and asked if Ed and I would like to be interviewed for a book she was working on. We received a copy the other day and our first date has been forever immortalized in "Introverts in Love. The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After." We are honored and I truly love my husband with every fiber of my being. Thank you for being my love and my partner in life.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Musical Interlude

I picked up the recent copy of National Geographic that was on the coffee table and held it up to my husband. The cover had an image of a planet with "Is there anybody out there?" in large block letters accompanying it. I said, "Do you know what the next thing that popped into my mind was?" I got a puzzled stare. "Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone home?" He laughed. Okay, it was one word off the actual Pink Floyd lyrics, but my brain continually makes associations with things that I see, read or hear with song lyrics that then get stuck in my head for extended periods of time making my relationship with music…complicated. Freeing myself from one song often just means replacing it with another. The phenomena even follows me into my dreams. One particularly beautiful repeating dream where I am wandering through the most incredible museum in existence uses Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany's as an integral element.

"Musical Interlude" Acrylic by Rebecca Zook

Mostly I like the way music affects my emotional state. I always awake from the museum dream bathed in tranquility and find myself humming Moon River throughout the rest of the day. One song can draw me out of a bout of self pity. Music can dissipate anger or in an instant bring back vivid recollections that only seemed long forgotten. Researchers theorize that melody helps embed memories. I know I can still 'sing' the preamble to the Constitution thanks to the Saturday morning School House Rock of my childhood. These properties are being used to help dementia patients. Even those who have ceased normal communication have been known to spontaneously sing or have music noticeably calm them. 

Unlike my sisters, I never learned to play an instrument though at one time I could pluck out simple tunes on a piano and guitar, but I always liked singing. I have vivid memories of sitting on my parent's bed listening to records of children's songs and trying to imitate the lilting notes of the voices I heard of the accomplished adults singing. Then I tried adding my own melodies to the existing ones, weaving them in and out of the base rhythms. Experimenting with sound just like I'd experiment with my paints. Building neurons in the process. I still do this on my long drive to and from work. Long ago I ceased caring what other drivers thought when they saw me belting out a song; soundless from the point of view of their self contained world, but making me wonder what the neighbors thought of me swinging in the backyard and singing at the top of my lungs when I was a child.

Music activates so many areas of the brain from auditory and motor to limbic (emotion regions). One study I read years ago disputed the myth that you needed to listen to classical to reap the benefits. Whether it was Bach or Def Leppard (and I like them both), the positive benefits of music relied most on your own personal preferences. Like food and sex, music also releases the pleasure inducing chemical dopamine into our system. Another study even linked increased Immunoglobulin A with listening to music or singing and a decrease in cortisol levels which can be an indicator of stress. The net result, an overall boost to the immune system. 

My husband and I attended a live concert at a small venue recently. We had seen this musician before, but I was tickled to see the excitement of a friend who had not seen him perform and had no idea what to expect. My friend, like me, has had severe health issues throughout her life. She was in hospice at one point and not expected to make the night. Fortunately they didn't tell her that. She walked out the front door and back to a productive life. She turned to me during a break in the concert and credited music, healing music, as part of what brought her back. I believe it.

My advice. Turn off the TV for awhile, close your eyes and relax. Listen to your hearts desire whether it's Reba McEntire, Mannheim Steamroller, or Megadeath. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Getting Past the Storm…The Not Quite Perfect Marriage

There are two well known artists that I follow on Facebook; a married couple. They are probably in their 70s now and have been together forever. When I see photos of the two of them, even though I've never met them in person, I am struck by the absolute certainty that they are still deeply in love. You can see it in their faces and in their body posture. The way one looks at the other when the other is not aware of it. They always seem to be touching in some manner. A calm energy flows between them and you can't help but be emotionally moved by it. I find myself smiling uncontrollably when I see these photos.

I told my husband that I hope we live that long and I hope that will be us. His response was that it is us now...but we haven't been together forever. We've only been married since December of 2012. You might think that leaves us still in a honeymoon phase, but when you marry someone at age 45 it's very different from being married in your 20s. It's also very different when you marry someone who has chronic illnesses. This is the second marriage for each of us. His first ended in divorce. My first ended with sudden death. When you are young and dating, you are still trying to figure out who you are. You are going to grow and change in the years to come. What you want now may change drastically 10-years from now. Ed and I already had decades of life experience, relationship experience, which shaped us and sharply defined our needs. We both knew what we wanted out of a relationship, what we had to give and found we were a good fit. That may not sound romantic, but at some point the initial physical attraction wanes and a deeper love has a chance to take hold, but only if it's built on common ground and respect.

"Hope Burns Bright" 6"x6" Acrylic $260 by Rebecca Zook

Recently in a chronic illness group, someone asked if anyone else had had a spouse leave them after they got their diagnosis. I figured there would be some of course, but was astounded by the percentage of people in this group that had that very thing happen and these weren't all newly married young people. Some had been married for 10 or more years and the spouse couldn't deal with the ways in which an illness changes the dynamic of day-to-day life. The element of uncertainty that it injects. Many refused to acknowledge the illnesses calling them hypochondriacs and claiming they could get better if they wanted to. That this was all for attention. Those who had been left had given up on finding love again. Feeling damaged and that it wasn't even worth trying. I was deeply saddened. A few people chimed in about their relationships that had survived and thrived in spite of the health challenges, but not many.

The strongest aspect of my marriage is communication. It's the cement that holds every other piece of our relationship together. It's vital, essential. Without it, we would crumble. We both have chronic health issues. There are times when one of us is unable to complete necessary tasks around the house or when we are selfishly licking our own wounds dwelling in a bout of self-pity and aren't thinking about the needs of the other person. That's a difficult state to get past. It's easy to feel sorry for yourself and the unfairness of the situation. You are hurting and exhausted and just want to curl up inside yourself and block everything out. Satisfied, at least temporarily, to merely exist. Sometimes that is all you have the energy to do. The other person feels rejected and can pull away as well to protect their own feelings. It can easily spiral out of control into resentment and get more difficult to reach out with each passing day. Not wanting to expose yourself to the potential of more emotional pain.

It's amazing what a kind word can do. Trying to understand the other's pain, without blame, offers a lifeline. A possibility of escape and can begin to pull them out of the dark void. Remember that when you are the one that is sick, you don't get to discount the people around you. They need to feel loved and taken care of every bit as much as you. They need to feel appreciated. I've found that doing things for others works wonders for my self-esteem and makes me feel like I matter. Even if it's something small. My husband shakes off appreciation and compliments, but I'm not going to stop giving them. I need to say how much what he does means to me and whether he admits it or not, he needs to hear it. When I thank him, he always says, "We're partners, right? You'd do the same for me." He says it with such conviction that I feel like we could do or survive anything as long as we have each other. He's already nursed me through 3 surgeries and breast cancer in addition to dealing with my Primary Immune Deficiency and autoimmune issues. Equal partners, that is key, with a great deal of respect for each other.

He also said, "I know our relationship isn't perfect, but it's pretty close." I think anyone who believes they has the "perfect marriage" is deluding themselves. We argue. We say stupid things to each other. We can be selfish. In the end though, we always listen to each other and more importantly, feel like the other person has truly heard us. We apologize and move forward. We share the joy in each other's accomplishments and provide encouragement. We cherish the small moments because we know all to well that you never know when they are going to be the last moments. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

More than a Simple Game of Fetch

A Boy and His Dog…"Buster Brown" has sold,
but seems appropriate for this blog entry.

(Note: I refer to Floyd as the latest dog…I wrote this before Ed brought River Dog home on Saturday.)

As a kid (and adult for that matter), I hated being forced into situations where I was unfamiliar with the other children or the activity taking place. I'd much rather sit on the sidelines and carefully watch until I understood the rules and felt comfortable engaging. Throwing me into the fire resulted in pure panic (I was good at hiding it, but inside, yes, definitely pure panic) and I'd be much less inclined to participate again…EVER. This is common in introverts.

Fortunately for our latest dog Floyd, an Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix, both his parents are introverts. I have taken in many abandoned and abused animals from dogs and cats to parrots and even a lizard over the years and have never seen an animal as terrified as Floyd. He believes that he is about to be punished every second of the day. I do not know for sure what his first family did to him, but it was bad. I'm just thankful that once he managed to escape, they didn't want him back. I think he's an introvert by nature, but the abuse compounded it by making introversion a survival mechanism. When everything you do is wrong, it's best not to engage at all. He is gaining confidence, slowly, but has a long way to go. 

Floyd and I on his first day with us.

Floyd had no idea how to play. No idea what toys were and had to be convinced that it was okay to take a stuffed animal that was handed to him. He'd almost immediately drop it and you'd have to give it to him again. He's realized the phrase "it's okay" means nothing bad will happen. We say it a lot. Also if I hold my arms a certain distance apart stretched toward him that it means hugs. He didn't have the concept that something could belong to him. Anything he took, he acted like it was stealing, even when given to him. With the aging of our Border Collie, Ed desperately wants another ball dog. Our previous adoptee, Archie (mini Aussie and no telling what else mix), is easily distracted and prone to wandering off rather than focusing on the ball. Floyd should be a perfect playmate for Ed if we can just get him over his fears, but being an introvert, Floyd needs to learn on his own timetable, not ours. Pushing him results in not just 2 steps back, but more like a mile of regression.

We are teaching him the perennial classic game of fetch. 

Step one. 
Ed throws the ball for our other 4 dogs as they, en masse, race across the yard barking excitedly and vying to be the first one to snag the ball. Floyd watches, intently focused on the game and finally runs with them, but does not get the ball. Fortunately, Floyd loves other dogs and is not in the least aggressive, which would be understandable given his background. He's trying at this point, but doesn't seem to have the entire concept down. To be fair, with 4 dogs playing, the game isn't all that consistent. There's a lot of stealing, running off with the ball or not completely bringing it back depending on who gets a hold of it first. 

Step two. 
One-on-one time. Tossing the ball to Floyd results in the poor guy being bopped on the nose repeatedly. Adding the word "catch" before the toss seems to pin down for him what action he is supposed to take, but it's a little while before he's coordinated enough to open his mouth and get the timing right; not closing it too soon or opening too late. No one had tossed this dog ANYTHING before he came to live with us. Nearly everything a house dog should normally know by adulthood was a foreign concept to him. 

We repeat steps one and two. Then something remarkable happens. I'm sitting watching television and Floyd comes racing through the dog door from outside with the tennis ball in his mouth. He leaps onto the sofa and begins tossing the ball onto the floor, chasing after it himself, leaping back onto the sofa and repeating. He reached his comfort level with the game and not when we were actually playing it. He tried it by himself first. Something I completely understand. I got him to bring the ball to me and I tossed it a few times which he readily chased, but needed a little encouragement to return it after each throw. I was so happy for him. To see that kind of joy instead of constant fear brought tears to my eyes.  

I lived that fear as well, not due to extreme abuse, but because I was different and bullied as a result. Because I wasn't interested in girly things and would rather sit and read my books or explore the woods, climb trees and catch frogs and of course sit by myself and draw for hours on end. Fortunately, I had friends that understood and had similar interests. I couldn't have survived without them. Still, it took me a very long time to find my confidence. To realize it only mattered what I thought and that I shouldn't let other people define me. Unfortunately, it took falling into an emotionally abuse relationship and pulling myself out of it to begin to realize this. Maybe this is why I'm drawn to lost and abandoned creatures.

I want Floyd to find himself and be happy. It brings me a lot of joy to watch his progression. Yes, I do know he's not human, but that's irrelevant to me. Dogs have emotions, perhaps purer than our own. They are thinking beings and don't deserve the horrific treatment that many humans inflict upon them. 

Now I see him playing by himself with other toys in the yard. Tossing them in the air and catching. He even recently made a flying leap to catch a ball Ed threw much to Ed's surprise. We are still nailing down the details of the game with him…such as not running out the dog door with the ball when we play in the house, but I'm just thrilled that he can be happy and forget his fears, if only for a little while.