“As restrictions began to lift, I could feel my anxiety levels increase.”

I began 2020 feeling excited and a little anxious as the week before Christmas I had got the wonderful news that I would be joining a Guide Dog class towards the end of February to commence training with my first Guide Dog whose name is Gaston. Myself and the others on the class headed to Cork on February 23rd and following two weeks of intensive training under the guidance of Thibaut Blairon and Liam O’Leary I returned to my home in Dublin on March 6th. Little did I know then that within a week of that, Ireland would be in the midst of a pandemic called COVID-19 that was to change life for us all for the foreseeable future.

Living through the lockdown period was challenging in many ways not least because the plan was that those on the class would have had post-class aftercare in their own location. This unfortunately could not happen with the lockdown. Instead, Thibaut would check in via phone so getting used to life with Gaston was a real baptism of fire for me! However, we got into a routine and would go for short walks each day and had lots of play time. I was very fortunate to have a friend that took him to the park for free runs.

When restrictions began to be lifted, I noticed that my anxiety levels increased. How was I and Gaston going to navigate with social distancing in place? Due to underlying health issues, I have been very reluctant to go into crowded areas or on public transport, but I knew that sooner or later I needed to take the plunge. I then received a date for a medical appointment so decided that would be the day I would travel on the bus for the first time in almost four months.

I was very apprehensive about getting on a bus as I knew passengers could only sit on particular seats. Luckily for me, Thibaut contacted me to say he had got the go ahead to visit us the week I had my appointment and when I told him, he asked if that was the route I would like him to do with me. I immediately said “yes please” as I felt having his support would reduce my level of anxiety regarding going on the bus into town and walking around what had in the past been very busy streets. I was also very concerned that Gaston would have forgotten the training he had received in March.

The day arrived and Gaston, me and Thibaut headed off. It was the middle of the day so the bus had very few passengers which immediately made things a little easier as Gaston navigated the way to the accessible seat without any difficulty. When we reached our stop in town, Gaston waited patiently for me to get off the bus safely, as he’d been trained to do. We were a little early for my appointment so I decided to see could Gaston find his way to Trinity College Dublin, that was a route we had done back in March as I do some part-time work there. There was nothing to worry about as Gaston found all the crossings (without any direction from me) and took me right up to the entrance. He was very disappointed to find the gate closed.

We then proceeded to my appointment. This was somewhere Gaston had been once before. Again, he did it with confidence and patience as it involved us going up and down two flights of stairs (which I do backwards because of dexterity issues). When I came out of the building Gaston again walked us confidently to the bus stop and home we came.

While I am still anxious about going into public places such as shops and cafes because of the restrictions that I know have to remain in place for everyone’s safety, I am very grateful to Thibaut for the support, reassurance and confidence he gave me that day which means that I now know I can do it solo.

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