Tag Archives: autonomy

Saving the Wounded: Balancing Independence and Support

I know.

I know that this will get better – this masked, COVID-19 isolation after seventeen years in a desolate bubble.

I know because I began to break that bubble in the last two years and walk a path of personal growth.

I began to rescue and transport animals in my community in 2018. In the collage above are (clockwise from top left: baby raccoon, immature Northern gannet, White-tailed deer fawn, Screech owlets, baby opossum, and immature Brown pelican).

By spring of 2019, I had done several transports and releases. Transportation of smallish wild animals is fairly straight-forward: go to someone’s home or business, scoop up a box, get a form filled out by said person, drive animal to rehabilitator. All done with minimal contact with people.

Rescue, on the other hand, was nerve-wracking at first. I had no formal training and the one rescue I’d helped with was that of a sick and weak pelican that wasn’t up for a fight. Complicating matters, I have always been shy and called myself an introvert. I was uncertain how future rescues would go if I was working without a fellow rescuer.

On my first solo pelican rescue, the pelican was hungry and wanted my shad. I lured her in and grabbed her by myself. Other pelican rescues were a mixed bag. Some went great (for me, not so much the bird). Some failed completely as the birds could still fly enough to escape even four or five well-intentioned, but sometimes intimidated, helpers I recruited on the beach.

But always, if there are people on the beach, I have learned to recruit. I’ve done so with other sea birds and Black vultures, as well. In so doing, I’ve learned I’m no introvert. I am shy, yes, but I actually like working with and getting to know people.

In turn, people are almost always willing to help even if they find the larger birds a bit frightening. I am not prideful. I don’t have to do things myself to prove that I am capable or special.

If a large bird can’t be lured, it sometimes has to be rounded up by several of us like closing purse strings. We try to do this quickly to reduce stress on the bird. Sometimes an injured bird can be flushed toward me by one or two helpers so I can then grab it easily. And sometimes, it’s just helpful for someone to distract a sickly, scared gannet so I don’t lose a finger.

Other times, rescues fail and the bird flaps away. The bird will either heal on its own or it will get worse and we may catch it later.

Whatever the circumstances, I always prefer to work with people nearby. This makes them feel good, teaches them about the animals, and gives me a better chance for success. It also connects me to the community. We have a cheerful exchange as they bubble with the excitement of having helped a little furry or feathery life and I love seeing them brighten with joy and pride.

In all rescues, I treat all parties, the animal in need of being saved and the “recruits,” with respect and I work to gain the trust of both.

We all, volunteers, me, and animal, have to work together.

In recent years I have sought personal autonomy (self-government) and some in my life have interpreted this as a need on my part to do everything single-handedly.

I don’t want to stand alone.

I don’t want to walk this life without support. I simply want the right to choose when, how, and who I ask for support.

If I am lonely or hurting, I would like all the normal things lonely people need. Affection, attention, someone who has my back.

If I am angry, give me space. My spicy language will give you a clue and I may say outright, “I’m angry. Back off.”

If I’m grieving, well, grief is a strange monster. I’ve been dealing with a great deal of grief in the last several years. I have tried to communicate my needs. I have sometimes succeeded, sometimes failed. People have sometimes just failed me.

Grief has at times closed me off to people and yet opened me up to rediscovering who I used to be.

I can tell you it is harder to know how to help the grieving. I can tell you that leaving someone to flounder in their grief is not a solution. Nor is making promises you can’t keep.

I can tell you that I give what I get: Respect. Trust. Honesty. Love. Friendship.

Respect. Trust. Honesty.

Sometimes, as I grieve now, it seems I am the bird healing myself or waiting for things to get bad enough to be caught. Perhaps I just need to be distracted (socialized) so someone can grab me and help me. And, probably it is a bit of both.

I’m still learning how to socialize my shy self after many years of being hidden and wounded. I will figure it out—with help.

Even if I have to do it with a mask on.

I know.

Autonomy and Isolation: Separating during COVID-19

I’m at the bottom of a well so deep that I can’t see the opening at the top. No light betrays day or night above. No sound leaks down the narrow shaft to relieve my solitude. I am utterly alone but for the soft breathing in the dark of a furry companion. A voice drifts down like a leaf falling slowly until it lands on my ears, “You okay down there?”

I want to scream, “No! Please throw down a rope. A chain. Anything. Save me. It’s cold. It’s terrifying. I’m so tired of this.”

But I was raised to not lean on others. My parents were always busy with my siblings. I had to learn to entertain myself.

I call back. “I’m fine. Thank you.”

Another verbal leaf falls. “Okay. Well, we’ve all been in wells before. Let us know if you need…” The voice trails off.

In the darkness I nod at no one and settle back into my solitude. The breath of my animal companion quickens as he finds his way next to me and reminds me that he is there and that has two implications: he will be beside me in my solitude and he will die beside me if I die.

I awaken in a brightly lit older beach house in a brightly lit beach village in Southeast Texas. My dog is breathing heavily from steroids he is taking to treat an ear infection. He hogs the bed as usual.

“I’m fine. Thank you.” I say with some sarcasm and pat his head. I examine the dream images with respect to my personal circumstances.

When I was in my early twenties, I was married to a violent alcoholic with Bipolar I (one) disorder. I went to work when our daughter was three and very gradually acquired skills plus a tiny savings he didn’t know about. (Just enough to pay for a lawyer) Meanwhile, my daughter and I endured his manic outbursts, his rage, and his pitiful sobbing under self-medication. My family helped where they could, when it wasn’t too painful to watch, but I was of a mindset that I had to handle things by myself. I made the lion’s share of income in my little family, a fact that angered my self-pitying husband even more so. When my daughter and I finally escaped him, I had a good job and had returned to college. I was, in a word, independent.

I began dating a coworker. I was insistent, though he found it more amusing than admirable I’m sure, that I pay for my own meals when we went out. Throughout our “courtship,” I continued this. I had been in a relationship of control. I was not going to let go of my newfound independence. I wasn’t going to give a man an excuse to say, “I gave you something. You give me something in return.”

That autonomy bled away over twenty-nine years during this second relationship for various reasons. Now I sit in a little home I rent for myself, the dog, and my possessions. Now I have recovered some part, though not all, of that autonomy.

Now there is COVID-19.

I moved into this house on March 20th 2020, just as the virus and social distancing were ramping up in this part of the country. Just as neighbors and friends were beginning to take it seriously. Parting hugs as I gave them news of my impending move at the beginning of the week suddenly seemed foolhardy at best, deadly at worst (thankfully, we all remain well).

My birthday came and went a few days ago, with no great fanfare. That’s all well and good. The alternative to being older is, after all, death. The month has been stressful, exhausting, and painfully quiet at times. Now and then, a call or text comes through the ether, “Are you doing okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“I’m okay. Not sleeping well.”

Chit chat back and forth about the dog, the house, the weather, the virus.

Sometimes ranting about this or that. Politics. Religion. The romantic fallacies of “soul mate” and “forever.”

Sometimes, after I hang up the phone or log out of social media, there is sobbing and wailing, and internal pleas of “Throw down a rope! A chain! Anything!” But tears are usually kept to myself because I had planned to do this on my own power as much was possible.

I simply hadn’t planned to do it—PHYSICALLY ALONE! With no visits from my daughter. No hugs. No coffee with friends. No trips to town to wander in the mall or walks on a crowded beach to feel connected with other people.

My estranged husband is fond of saying, “That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.” I hate that expression because there have been times that emotional strain has nearly killed me, either through illness or depression. It wasn’t worth the strength I gained.

I feel better equipped, oddly enough, to survive this pandemic despite having no one within six feet of me. I have more hope than I have had for many years. I have, however distant, a great deal of support from loved ones. I have the peace and ease of this little house by the sea. And I am fully aware that I am far more fortunate than so many. I am not, after all, on the COVID-19 front lines. I am merely, like so many, in COVID-19 limbo. I am simply alone. Well, with the dog.

Fearful as I am of the virus changing our way of life permanently. Fearful as I am that the loneliness of the coming months will be too much to bear. Fearful as I am, not of losing my own life, but of losing loved ones, I am grateful that I am here and getting this chance to be the Autonomous Me.

I have watched others live in their autonomy for a while now. I’m fifty-six. It’s late. But I’m here. Ready to turn down someone offering to pay for my lunch again. Ready to put aside a little money if I need to escape something, anything. I have a considerable wait ahead of me for those events and that is the hard part.

I’ll have to throw my own rope down for now.