Sunday, February 16, 2014

In which the world thinks I hate animals (again)

Aside from one anonymous angry e-mail I got about the fact that I didn't like a certain drug, the only truly negative feedback I've ever received on this site was the time that I had the gall to suggest that the act of acquiring a pet was basically saying to me that I was unwelcome in your home*. The pro-pet contingent was up in arms over my suggestion that pet ownership precluded us (meaning me and whomever the pet owner might be) from having a certain kind of relationship; the "you can't tell me what to do in my own home" response was also quite vociferous; and the worst response - a well written, but sharply pointed "if your friendship comes with those sorts of conditions attached, I'm better off not knowing you" - was something that I had been completely unprepared for (especially considering I thought the person who had written it and I were, at the very least, friendly) and stung quite a bit.

    It was surprising to me then, and continues to confound me now, that the limitations placed on relationships by my illnesses are seen as unreasonable, extreme and beyond understanding, while the limitations that people voluntarily impose on relationships - say, you don't date smokers because you don't like kissing someone who tastes like tobacco, or you're not really friendly with people who go to bars all the time because you've outgrown your barhopping stage - are seen as completely normal, routine, and worthy of respect.

Let me break it down for you a little bit more - Take my example of pets. If you own a pet, it is an actual impediment to me being able to spend time in your physical space. I know that your cat's litter box doesn't smell to you, and that your dogs would never dare to shed, but for someone like me (who is allergic to all sorts of dander and fur, and hypersensitive to smells), your animals are indeed as much of a physical barrier in our relationship as the stairs going up to your apartment, or the perfume you can't seem to remember not to spritz before meeting me.  I have had to leave more than one family occasion because of a reaction to an animal (or the detritus that the animal has left behind, no matter how well you think you've vacuumed), and more than once, I have been either hospitalized or required additional medical attention (or a new drug regimen) for the same reason. [Trust me: there is nothing like a course of steroids to convince me to send my regrets next time.]

Hopefully, this clears up the idea that just locking the animal in another room while I am there means that everything will be fine.  That is far from the most likely outcome.  The most likely outcome is that my allergies or asthma will start up the minute I walk through your door - even though I've already taken prophylactic meds, just to be there - and that it will go downhill - to varying degrees - from there.

I am not saying that you can not HAVE pets: Although I have somewhat of a reputation now as an anti-animal person - I do not, in fact, dislike them.  I think puppies are adorable and little kitten feet are so scrumptious and padded and purrfect that I can't even.  The truth is that I have had to harden my heart to these snuggly little guys out of necessity: so that it just isn't one more thing that I can't have. Trust me, though -> I binge watch cute animal shows, and am definitely not immune to the allure of a waggely tail.

BUT, let's just be clear about the facts here - your pet-friendly house is significantly less (and sometimes completely un-) NTE-friendly. Those are just the truths of the matter, and me saying so doesn't make me some sort of barbarian animal hater: it just means that I'm pointing out the limitations that your choices are creating in our relationship.

It means that I don't get to drop everything and sack out on SisterCh's couch for a week to help after Baby D is born, because an hour in her four room, four cat apartment, and my skin is raw and red and raised, and my nebulizer ain't cutting it anymore.  That is not to say that sometimes I don't bite the bullet and choose the nebulizer and the hives and the steroids and the ER, because I value the people I love and want to spend time with them - the same way I hoard spoons until I have enough to visit my 3-steps-up sister or UJ and his 'your wheelchair won't fit through the entryway' house - these are just the kinds of sacrifices spoonies like me make all the time.

Pointing them out does not make me the Wicked Witch of Whereever Petless People Live.   It literally is just me asking for the acknowledgement that maybe your having animals or steps or a husband who bathes in Axe body spray are all things that I have to accommodate: And that sometimes? I am just not capable of doing so.

It would be a nice change of pace if everything stopped being my fault. 

If people could recognize that that I might love to just be able to drop in for a few minutes and a cup of tea, but with those steps, it'd cost me a week's worth of energy, and I can't do that right now.  If someone would acknowledge that part of living with a brood of cats, dogs - or even toddlers who bring home every germ from day care - is that sometimes your friend/sister/cousin with the wackjob immune system can't come to birthday parties, or girls' nights, or potlucks.

Something I often feel that gets overlooked is that part of the ease of a relationship - the familiarity and flexibility and fluidity of it - is hampered not JUST by my illnesses (which are not choices, btw) but also by your life decisions - having animals, living in a 3rd floor walk-up, only having late night parties, etc.  It's not that there is anything wrong about any of those choices, but let's just stop making this all MY issue, all MY fault -

YOU have made decision that work out great for you 98% of the time: Happy puppy smiles! so many great neighbors! Living in the suburbs! Drinking till the bars close!-  but I happen to fit into the 2% that's leftover and kind of sucks.  The inconveniences and unfair factors related to your choices - like having to lug your groceries/stroller up those three flights of stairs, or having to walk your dog during a blizzard , or having to wake up the morning after you've closed down the bars- the stuff about your choices that hinders rather than helps. All the stuff that is just part of the deal, and goes along with the decisions you've made.

And me not being able to hang with you or babysit your kids fits into that 2%. It's not about fault - because I'm not trying to BLAME anybody for having animals or stairs or whatever - but it is about getting the fact that I am NOT at fault, if you can see the difference. 

It's all in the perspective, and if I can just get people to see that I'm not saying you have to make different choices, or you have to only do things in a way that means I can participate (Because, truth? That is boring. I can participate in very few things, and would not like everybody to have to scale back to my level), but I am saying that you need to realize that your choices have consequences for our relationship, and that sometimes they will really suck.

It's seeing things more from a "well, I've got cats, so you can't come here, it seems reasonable to me that I should go there instead" kind of perspective instead of "well, I've got cats, so I guess you don't want to ever come here, the end."  It's about having a relationship with others where it's not all about me asking for things that people see as accommodations and impositions, and more about acknowledging and framing it as "hey this is OUR issue; how do we go about getting around it?"

Unfortunately, too often, the procedure in my life has normally been
  • Barrier = Can't Do/Go = People Eventually Stop Asking Me To Do Things or 
  • Barrier = Go Anyways = Get Much Sicker = That Was Really Unwise instead of 
  • Barrier = Can't Do/Go = People Help Me Figure Out A New Plan. 

Because sitting out on things is really starting to chafe, and having people assume that just asking me - knowing I can't go because of X or Y - is good enough is really getting old.

 No: it's not good enough. If you're really interested in maintaining a relationship with me, asking me to do things you know I can't do (like drive or show up at your inaccessible apartment) and saying "Sorry you can't make it!" is no longer good enough for me.

Let's figure out how to do better.

*I tried to find that post, but haven't managed it yet. If I do, I'll update with the link.

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