A Safe Haven- The Battle Zone’s Sanctuary

Perfect places. They are absolutely fantastic; and everyone has at least one. We hear all the time things like “This is the perfect house” or “this is the perfect little coffee shop.” Those are great to hear when people are happy! I’m not talking about “perfect places” in that sense though. Well, I guess those can be examples. With mental illnesses, sufferers often need places of refuge. Safe havens. THOSE are what I’m talking about. You may have one place or number of them- the amount doesn’t matter.

The dictionary.com definition for safe haven is “an area near a combat zone that is maintained as being free from military attack.” Having mental illness is a war that doesn’t end. It will continue to be fought everyday of our lives. Having our havens makes the fight just a little bit easier. A place to go when the shellfire becomes deafening and the wounds need healing. We all fight our own war, so it would make sense that our zones be different.

Honestly? The idea for this post came after finally making it back to the barn again after more time than I care to think about. I mean really making it back- as in spending a few hours there. It’s one of my perfect places- it’s my safe haven. I couldn’t even get there by crawling these past few months. The two times I did manage any time at all out there was when a friend drove and forced me to go. I NEVER need forced, but I did then.

The barn has become this place for me over time. It wasn’t instant; and wasn’t a situation (being there that is) that came of my own free will. It was forced upon me. I moved to the barn located on the OTHER SIDE of where I am four years this past June. The woman I was boarding Zoe with (along with my sisters and their horses) retired and I needed to find somewhere. I don’t drive, so access was an important factor. I spoke with a 4-H agent I knew and he told me about boarding barns on our county fairgrounds. I moved in, as a I said, four years ago. I was at that barn until that December. At that point, the guy that ran it announced he was closing in 30 days. The manager of the barn knew how important it was to have a barn on the bus line as well as full-care for Zoe if possible. My mom went over and talked to them before me- explaining my issues with change, etc.

You would think moving to the OTHER SIDE of a building wouldn’t be that anxiety inducing. Wrong. At least for me. I’d go to clean Zoe’s stall in the weeks before the move and have a meltdown inside of it. The stall was open, but changing any sooner than I had to was unthinkable. It wasn’t like I had made many friends at the barn we were at- I really only talked to the manager and his wife. The people I did meet I didn’t particularly care for. Shavings were always in short supply… and so on. That made no difference. I HATE change. I despise it to no end.

So… I moved to Outback Stables (the barn I’m currently at) in December 2013. At the start, I’d go out and just go in Zoe’s stall. We’d groom or just hang out. It was winter, so grazing wasn’t an option. My mom was driving me out because of the weather. She’d sit in the office and talk to those inside. I’d go in when I was ready to get going, but not say much. Little did I know that would totally change. All of it. I mean a total 360.

Debbi (owns the barn) is amazing. She slowly introduced me to talking to people without me even really realizing it. Meaning friends. Something I have a hard time making. Even more so- actually associating with and talking to. I am by nature an introvert. I have become an extroverted introvert. There is no friendship like those made at a barn. I was there not even A YEAR and Debbi did something no one else could do. She got me ON Zoe [on Labor Day of 2014]. I’ll have to do a post solely on Zoe- who is my other therapist- in order for you to understand the significance of this event.

It isn’t just Debbi that has made this barn a safe haven. One of my perfect places. Everyone there. The whole place. They care. I know that. When it’s a rough day I will go out and just go in Zoe’s stall. I’ll groom her and then just stand in a corner with her. We won’t go out for grass or to the turnout. She won’t get a bath and I won’t sit with everyone on the deck to chit chat. On those days… on those days every so often someone will come by to check. Just a “You okay?” or an “Everything alright in there?” will be asked. Just a walk by to check on me. No hovering or too many questions. They know I’ll talk when I’m ready.

This past Spring when the anxiety was at an all time high for three weeks… I spent almost seven days a week at the barn. Some days I’d get Zoe out and we’d graze the day away. Other days I would spend sitting on the deck watching Debbi’s lessons, talking to those at the barn during the day, and simply accomplishing nothing. I rode a few times- even OFF the fairgrounds. A speech impediment is a symptom of my anxiety. It get BAD. I have to literally think about pronouncing words, putting sentences together- it’s exhausting. As the days at the barn progressed the speech healed. The first time on Zoe’s back while out there during these days was a week or so in. While on her back- my speech was perfect. My doctor and therapist were amazed. They both know that me not being able to handle going to the barn, or lack of wanting to go to the barn, is a warning sign.

I have many “perfect places” that I love- my church, my favorite coffee shop, my favorite bookstore, the art museum… You get the point. The barn… Outback Stables is truly my safe haven. I have gained friends that have become a part of my support system, confidence that I usually fail to realize I have or don’t give myself credit for, and the list goes on. Anyone in therapy knows how important goals are. I’ve even gained those at the barn:

– Riding Zoe in a parade

– Riding “Lot 5” with others from the barn (and hopefully, eventually, a trail ride)

– Maybe an eventual horse show- in no rush for this one.

So… safe havens… Everyone needs them. Lucky ones find them. They can keep us sane, help us fight, and renew our energy after a well fought battle.

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