Yesterday, Ragano Hemingway, my young Australian shepherd, had a tummy ache complete with vomiting and diarrhea. I tried to talk myself down and wait 24 hours to see if he felt better, but my OCD got the better of me and I made a late afternoon appointment with his veterinarian in Milford. Ragano and I settled into the truck and I laid my right arm on the console; he rode shotgun and laid his head across my arm. My animals are always a comfort to me, and that day I thought he was letting me know he was going to be OK. But being Ragano, it was much more than that.
I have mild post-traumatic stress disorder . . . as if there is such a thing as a tiny dose of PTSD. I was a badly bullied child. I wouldn’t say I was the most bullied person in the world (as I will respectfully leave that title to those who did not survive the trauma) but it was to the point where I was frequently suicidal. When I was in the sixth grade, however, I was gifted with a stray dog named Gretchen who loved me best and gave me reason to live. When kids followed me home from school chanting “Schurman rots” while spitting at me and pulling my hair, I would march with my back ram-rod straight, absorbing the onslaught, waiting for the moment my dog would race to me, let me hold her tight and sob into her soft, brown fur; Gretchen is what kept me from marching straight to the gun rack in the basement and blowing my head off.
While my dog was there to comfort me, home wasn’t much better as I had a sibling who was just as tortuous, if not more so. “All the neighbors talk about you all the time – they all say you’re fat and ugly. They hate you.” Fat and ugly. Fat and ugly. Everyone hates you. EVERYONE HATES YOU. It was all too easy to believe. If not for my dog . . . who never noticed I was fat and ugly (I was actually very skinny, but if you told me so, I wouldn’t have believed you) I wouldn’t be here today.
Consequently, my adult life is now one endless battle on behalf of all animals, one of whom saved my young life a thousand times over . . . but that’s not what this story is about. It’s about bullies, PTSD and the events that trigger it.
No one can deny the President of the United States is a bully. Even his fans know this, and they insist it’s an admirable quality in a leader. I disagree, as I believe strength of character and integrity are far more commendable attributes for leadership, but I guess that’s just my humble opinion . . .
Everyone also knows one of Trump’s favorite bullying tactics is middle-school-variety name-calling. Elizabeth Warren finally had her DNA tested and it turns out “Pocahontas,” as the president has derisively tagged her, did have a Native American ancestor. Sure, it’s distant, probably about the same distance my kids have from the Native American in their paternal grandmother’s gene pool, yet it existed in Warren’s family lore as it does in my children’s (who think it’s pretty cool, and I am, I must admit, a little envious.) So yesterday, Warren announced she’d had a DNA test done and it was positive for Native American genes. Trump’s response was classic bully. “Who cares?” He laughed, then attacked her because it was distant, and of course, he reneged on his offer to donate a million dollars to charity if it turned out she was correct. Oh yes, and and he will continue to call her Pocahontas. The truth is, when up against a master bully, it doesn’t matter what you do; they are slippery little devils and they instantly find the next words or actions to torture their victims and keep them looking over their shoulders. Instead of actually living their lives, a bully’s victim is always watching for the next punch, the next ball of spittle . . .
(Why do you walk so straight, I was once asked by a bully . . . you’re so stiff, he said . . . I didn’t answer . . . I just pulled myself taller and walked faster . . . always steeling myself against the punch in the back . . .)
In any case, I made the mistake of watching Trump respond to Warren’s DNA results. He volleyed with a string of bullying techniques, then doubled down while his followers cheered his every utterance. Shortly after watching this, I drove to Milford, my childhood town, where in my youth I’d been treated to every bullying tactic Trump had just demonstrated, and then some. I hadn’t noticed my PTSD was flaring from the news, and dammit, out slithered my “inner bully.”
I began to picture myself as fat and ugly, I took a wrong turn in a town that I know like the back of my hand, then actually used my childhood nickname (Bird Nest for my uncontrollable, straw-colored hair) as I mocked myself for screwing up. It took two attempts to park my car in the only available spot in the lot. “Aaaaaaaah! Bird!!!” I heard my inner bully taunt me as my Ragano Hemingway pressed his face tighter into my arm; it was clear he’d noticed what was happening to me long before I did. I hauled my dumpy, ugly self up the stairs into the vet’s office without realizing the nasty turn my brain had taken until after I’d left the office with Ragano’s tummy meds in hand.
It took two turns to get the farm truck out of the narrow parking space.
“Aaaaaah! You can’t even drive! You suck! Birrrrrrd!” My inner bully was hitting her stride.
Ragano whined out loud, and I thought he was in pain, but then I realized he was trying to wake me up from my daytime nightmare – my PTSD was spiraling out of control and I was reliving my childhood, taking on the voices of my bullies and using them against myself. The combination of watching our president bully a woman on TV, plus my being in my childhood town, was more than my psyche could handle.
I stopped at the exit of the parking lot and leaned over to hug my dog and take a few deep breaths. OK. My dog loves me, my dog loves me, my dog loves me . . . over and over again until nothing else was in my head or heart. He firmly pressed his nose into my arm all the way home.
Animals have always saved me, and in return, I will always work to save and care for as many of them as I can. It’s the very least I can do and it’s my greatest mission in life. Last night Elizabeth Warren carried on with her own mission despite having the “most powerful man in the world” as her personal bully. I felt envious of her thick skin, but then I thought about it and I realized she was too passionate about helping others to have never actually been affected by the sting of a bully’s attack. My guess is Warren has come up against plenty of bullies, aside from Trump, and it only inspires her to work harder for those hurting and in need.
This morning I woke up and started caring for my animals, most of whom are either special needs or came from one hellhole or another of abuse, neglect or being in line for slaughter. This is my life. Would I be an animal rescuer if I hadn’t been tortured as a child? Who knows. My earliest thoughts were of loving animals, so perhaps it was my destiny even without having overdosed on bullies. Did overcoming adversity lead me to do this? I dunno about that, either. I don’t feel I’ve overcome anything, and I still waste way too much time and energy when my PTSD kicks in. And lately . . . wow . . . way too many reminders . . . too many triggers . . .
The name of our farm’s non-profit is Rescues Who Rescue, which has multiple interpretations. As in, who is rescuing whom? The animals are clearly rescued, but those of us who care for them have just as clearly been rescued in return. We like to think of Locket’s Meadow as a microcosm of what the world should be . . . a place where animals and humans are all equals, where we work together to care for each other and lift each other up, NEVER tear each other down. Can this translate to the real world? I dunno. I really don’t. Ragano Hemingway thinks it can, as do the rest of our animals. So I will continue to plug away, right alongside them.
We are up against one hulluva huge wall, that’s for sure.
But if my babies believe it can be done, so will I, PTSD and bullies be damned.
Kathleen Schurman and her husband, “Poor David,” own Locket’s Meadow Animal Sanctuary in Bethany, CT, where if anyone bullies any of their beloved animals they are immediately thrown out on their keisters.