the impact of ESAs

fluffy black and white cat
Lady the ESA

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA), or simply “support animal”, is a companion animal that a medical professional has determined provides benefit for an individual with a disability. This may include improving at least one characteristic of the disability. Emotional support animals, typically dogs, but sometimes cats or other animals, may be used by people with a range of physical, psychiatric, or intellectual disabilities.

My daughter is on the autism spectrum, has CPTSD, ADHD, and possibly a few other labels I’m forgetting about. She’s worked hard to become a functioning adult, and I’m very proud of how far she’s come. Quite a bit of her progress has been greatly helped by her ESA, Lady. This is her story of what an impact Lady has had on her life, and how you may be able to help her continue in her healing journey.

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My goofy girl, my little baby bowling ball, my sweet baby, pretty Lady.

In May of 2016 I rescued Lady, who seemed to have been abandoned in a trailer park. I found a woman who sort of takes care of the cats, leaving her door open if the strays want to come inside when it’s cold, and feeding them outside. I wanted to make sure nobody already owned her before I brought her home, and Lady and I have been inseparable ever since.

Literally. She always needs to be in the same room as me and will get up to follow me if I go anywhere in the house. If I get up to get a glass of water she follows me, weaving between my feet, rolling around on the linoleum as I fill my glass. If I go to the bathroom she’s right there with me trying to tip the trash over so she can play with used Qtips. Every time I leave to go somewhere I call out, “bye, I love you, be good!” She certainly doesn’t understand but it feels right.

Lady is my emotional support animal and I didn’t realize just how tied to my emotions she was until she got really sick. But I’ll get to that at the end of the post because I need some help making her better.

Lady will bat at my face at 5 AM on the dot to give her fresh wet food. She’ll yell at me and try to bite my arm when I’m lying down at my computer. She loves to play fetch and will bring me hair ties, milk jug rings (her absolute favorite) or other toys to throw. If I don’t throw it in a timely manner she’ll start to paw at my arm like, “hey, come on, throw it, let’s go.” She sleeps in her cat bed next to my pillow so I can put my arm around her at night and cuddle. When it gets cold, she sleeps on me or very close to me. She’s very affectionate (on her terms, of course) and very sweet and I love her very, very much. Oh, and she bleps. A lot.

When she stretches her tongue will poke out, as a reflex it seems, and sometimes she doesn’t realize it and her tongue just stays there. It’s super super super cute and makes me laugh. I always try to get a photo. You can see tons more photos of her on my Instagram. I love sharing photos of her because I hope they make other people as happy as she makes me.

collage of cat in a window
Impatient for me to get in the house.

Sometimes when I drive home from work at night after a late shift, I can start to dissociate, especially if it’s a weekend or off hour because the entire office is empty. Sometimes I even start to fantasize about self injury, making plans for what I’m going to do, mentally checking the house inventory wondering what I could use. I feel this way right up until I open the door to my apartment and there she is. She sees me from her cat tree perch in my bedroom and runs to greet me at the front door. I have to push her back with my foot to make sure she doesn’t run out. Then she rubs against me and reads me the riot act and won’t settle until I sit down to pet her. As soon as I see her and feel her I’m snapped out of it. I’m back in reality.

Last year my depression hit hard. I was feeling suicidal and felt like I could hear the pills calling to me, I could feel the momentum building up to get out of bed and take the pills. But Lady was on the opposite side, she stretched, stretched a bit too far and fell of the bed with a “thwump,” which drew my attention away from the suicidal ideations. I laughed and immediately felt better. If I can’t find a reason to live within myself or for my family, it’s for her, to make sure I can take care of her.

cat being pettedMy self injury and PTSD triggers are often a creepy crawling, tense, kinetic feeling in my arms, like I’m going to jump out of my skin; and it feels like I need to cut my skin open to get the feeling out. Lady rubs against me and this starkly opposite feeling brings me out of it. There was one time where I did self injure but she kept rubbing against me. As I was doing clean up she rubbed against my arm and I saw the blood on her white fur and started crying and apologizing to her. I haven’t wanted to self injure or have attempted to self injure since.

She has made my baseline mood so much better. She makes everything better. She’s always making me laugh and I love her so much more than I ever thought I could love a cat.

She has feline herpes (apparently it’s common in cats) which is triggered by stress and results in upper respiratory infections. She’s had a few of those that I’ve been able to treat. In August of this year she had her first severely high fever of 106 degrees. The vet took an xray and discovered that she has what’s called a diaphragmatic hernia. What that means is that there’s a hole in her diaphragm and the organs can move. In her case, her liver is near her heart. Often animals can live relatively long lives with this but this is causing her difficulty breathing comfortably, and can cause fevers and coughing fits. When she was sick the first time I was a total and complete wreck. I was crying every day, pleading with her to eat, praying that she would be okay.

She had another high fever two weeks ago. The vet consulted with some doctors at a veterinary hospital and they decided it would be best to get the hernia repaired. This is a risky and expensive surgery. I am thankful I have been able to afford routine and now palliative care for her but they advised I budget about $2500 which is much more than I could save myself in a limited amount of time. I’m still worried sick and constantly overanalyzing her breathing rate and watching her chest rise and fall and checking how much she’s eating. I don’t think she’s eating as much as she used to, her breathing is still kind of rough. Basically, she’s still not 100% back to normal. She needs this surgery as soon as possible.

I’ve set up a crowdfunding campaign, Help Lady, and I’m a quarter of the way to my goal. If you can, please share this around wherever you can. I would like to get her surgery done before the end of the year but the sooner the better.

Any small amount would be appreciated, if you are able to help. If not, perhaps you could share her story so someone else may be able to.

cat cuddling with person

stranger in my home

woman in mirror
János Vaszary via Wikimedia Commons

There’s a stranger living in my bathroom. She’s there when I get out of the shower every morning. Her furtive glances catch my eye, but I quickly look away. I don’t like the array of emotions I see play across her face. This is not a woman I know, not the woman I expect to see.

She’s disappointed with the body she sees. She doesn’t mind the gray hair, the sunspots on the once pretty face, the softening of the jawline. But that body, how did that happen?

I try so hard not to look directly in her tear-filled eyes, for I will feel helpless. I see sadness, heartache, loneliness. But it’s not what you think, because I’m certain there are people who love her.  But I am not one of them. I have no idea how to give her the acceptance and love she needs to heal.

I’ve got you

dark forest
Photo by Maria Boesiger

This one warrants a trigger warning for survived suicide attempt.

After over twenty years of fighting my demons, I had enough. My depression had become treatment-resistant, and bipolar depression is the absolute worst form of this insidious black fog. My brain didn’t care that I had a loving husband and family, that I was finally financially secure, that the stressors in my life had been reduced to a minimum.

I can’t really remember the chain of events, other than the fact that my husband was washing the dishes after dinner, and I walked into the kitchen behind him, grabbed my bottle of Klonopin and my container of blades that I use to slash bread before baking, and walked out the door without him knowing. It was October, it was cold and damp from a recent rain, I was wearing a t-shirt and pajama pants, and I was barefoot. This plan had been brewing in my head for days, I knew exactly how this would work, and I strode out of the house quickly without making a noise. The tears were pouring down my face, the only light outside in rural southern Ohio was the moon, and my brain was on autopilot towards the final destination of peace and quiet…forever. Past the garden, the skeletons of the long-dead corn stalks and tomato cages seemingly pointing the way, straight into the woods. The ground was cold and wet, covered in leaves, the pain of the sticks barely registered. But then I stepped on something sharp and looked down. The moon illuminated the broken bones of some long-dead animal. I could go no further. Pills in one hand, blades in the other, I stood there staring at those bones, wondering if that’s what the searchers would eventually find. The miasma of the insidious beast gripping my brain muted the sounds of gut-wrenching sobs; I didn’t even realize they were coming from me. I have no idea how long I stood there, feeling the black fog enveloping me, not hearing my husband’s voice calling my name. Then his arms were tight around me. “I’ve got you, I’ve got you, I’m not letting go.” Oh I begged him to let go; I was so tired of fighting. But he kept saying the same thing over and over in a very quiet voice while he took the instruments of destruction out of my hands, slowly turned me around and guided me back to the house, blazing with lights. He sat me down on the side of the bed, washed the dirt and leaves from the woods off of my feet with a warm washcloth, and lay down beside me with his arms wrapped tight around my shivering body. “I’ve got you, I’ve got you, I won’t let go.” I fell asleep to that loving lullaby, and in the morning I started all over, one step a time, fighting away the demons once again.

Those three words, “I’ve got you,” did more for me than “I love you,” “It’s okay,” “Everything will be fine.” That was about five years ago. I still struggle, I still think about disappearing every day, but I don’t…I keep fighting.

tired

person walking on road between trees
Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

they must be tired of this
but they won’t let me go
they don’t feel the inky fog
enveloping me deep into my bones
they can’t feel the ache of exhaustion
in every fiber of my being
they don’t see the loop of film noir
unceasingly invading my brain
they don’t hear the invectives
reminding me of why
I need to go
disappear
run away
vanish
sleep with no dreams
and no awakening

but they won’t let me go

kneading away depression

Bread is loveI’ve been baking bread for about 20 years, and have found that the thing I love most about it (besides eating!) is giving it way. Being a perfectionist, I would immediately toss out anything that didn’t meet my standards when I first began learning. A friend of mine saw this and was horrified, telling me there were missionaries living in my apartment complex that would love to have homemade bread. The look of joy on the face of the young man when I handed him what I felt was an inferior batch of English muffins, hooked me on spreading yeasty love.

 

bread
Greg’s Everything French Bread

Fast-forward 10 years when I first met my husband. He was making sandwiches for a picnic we were going on and pulled out a loaf of Walmart “Everything French Bread” (at least it wasn’t Wonder Bread!). Not wanting to offend, I kept my opinion of his bread to myself and decided to surprise him the following week with something a little better. I devised a recipe where I added minced onion to the dough, and sprinkled the top with sesame seeds and poppy seeds, about three years later I moved in…coincidence?

 

bread labelAbout a month ago, I came across a woman on Instagram who made gift bags full of wonderful things she made which she sent to people who were struggling with mental illness. I watched her push through a particularly bad episode of depression by staying on task with making her beautiful ceramic dishes and sending out her gift bags. Depression had a hold on me at the same time, and I hadn’t baked any bread for months. Unfortunately bread baking is the first thing I stopped doing whenever my depression would envelop me. I started thinking about my friends who have received my bread in the past and how pleased they were (one friend called me the Bread Fairy because I would just pop by with a fresh loaf of bread). Often friends would ask if they could buy a loaf, and I won’t take money but I ask them to simply do something nice for someone else. I put a post on Facebook, naming my project Knead Through Depression, and told any locals that if they wanted bread to message me with what they wanted. The response was wonderful, and my depression was slightly lifted with each loaf I delivered.

My depression is still dragging on me, but I try to make time each week to bake a few loaves of bread…this week I need to replenish my husband’s bread.

If you’re interested, I have a page with pictures of bread I’ve baked and resources I use.