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

I will share my quilt

 

quilt
‘Contained’ Crazy Quilt at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Here, wrap yourself in my yesmetoo quilt made from words that pour out of my heart. Be comforted with the knowledge that you are not alone with whatever you feel. Burrow beneath the warmth from the surety that others have survived what you are experiencing.

Since I’ve started writing, I’ve learned that there are people all over the world that are very different from me yet we have shared experiences. The simple “Yes, me too!” comment is my favorite. After so many years of being told I’m crazy, stupid, or wrong, it’s comforting to know that there is at least one other person that knows exactly what I’m talking about.

So here, wrap yourself in my yesmetoo quilt whenever you need it.

Luxury

A view of "Inca de Oro" (Inca gold) town (C) in the middle of the Atacama desert, near Copiapo city, north of Santiago, Chile

Luxury is unattainable.

I am a child, luxury is a hug from my mother.

I am a young girl, luxury is a Barbie Dreamhouse.

I am a teenager, luxury is acceptance.

I am a college student, luxury is self-respect.

I am a young mother, luxury is a loving partner.

I am a survivor of domestic violence, luxury is freedom from fear.

I am a person with mental illness, luxury is sanity.

I am a woman, luxury is self-love.

via Daily Prompt: Luxury

Mindfulness fail

meditationI was going to leave this until Monday, but one of my readers kindly checked on me, which pulled me out of my funk.

Sometime in the late ’70s or early ’80s, my mother became a biofeedback therapist. She made the poor choice of trying to use me as a practice subject, and my anxiety level was so high that the needle on her machine would just stay on the highest setting. I’m telling you this to give you an idea of how my brain works (or doesn’t). Like many with bipolar disorder or anxiety, I have racing thoughts. I simply can’t turn off my brain. For a while I did pretty well with Healing Touch, and I learned to relax. But then life got in the way, and I had to stop. I thought I could do it on my own, but it just never was the same.

When my therapist suggested DBT, I thought perhaps I could be successful…until I saw that it was based on being mindful. Oh great, here we go again, I’m going to need to learn to make my brain shut-the-fuck-up. Then a free online mindfulness seminar came up this week, so I attempted to watch the first video yesterday. While the speaker was discussing how to be mindful, I’m doing everything but just that. I’m thinking “I have to pee…is this really over an hour long?…crap, I need to do the dishes…no wonder, I’ve gained weight again, I’m not eating mindfully…it’s getting cold in here…I really have to pee…I wonder when the psych nurse will call me back?…I can’t pee until she calls, what if she calls while I’m in the bathroom (my cell coverage stinks so she’s going to call on our landline)…oh thank god, there’s a “download audio” button – click.”

On my iPod, I have numerous meditation audiobooks, mindfulness podcasts, chakra drum music, and now this lecture. But it does me no good, because when I choose to listen to something it’s either something from my eclectic taste in music or a mystery audiobook…while I’m doing something else of course. What, you actually thought I could sit still and listen to something? On the other hand, I am able to read a book, well usually. If it’s a really good book, why I could sit for upwards of 20 minutes before thinking I really should be doing something else.

And did I mention I’m scatterbrained and easily distracted? It takes me at least six edits to get a blog post written. I write lists to try to stay organized, but then on my list I have “make a schedule” or even sometimes “make a shorter list.” Invariably, one item will take me to one part of the house, but then I’ll find something that needs to be done there. Then I forget what it was I doing in the first place, so I go back to my list. But then the list is all scribbled on (because no way am I going to put it on the computer – can you imagine the distraction every time I sat down to the computer?), so I have to write a new list.

But I digress (see, not focusing again). According to the speaker, yes I’m back to the seminar again, mindfulness can be more effective than therapy in helping with depression. No wonder I’m so depressed…if I could be mindful I might feel better, but instead I feel worse because I’m having trouble being mindful…

The cat just jumped on the table, aww nice soft kitty needs to be pet…let’s go sit on the couch.

Symptom overload

My psychiatrist is a Doctor of Osteopathy, which is basically the same as a Medical Doctor. This type of psychiatrist may also be considered a holistic psychiatrist, as he has often stated that he believes in treating the person not the symptoms.  As the DO website states:

DOs practice a “whole person” approach to medicine. Instead of just treating you for specific symptoms or illnesses, they regard your body as an integrated whole.

Someone who knows me very well was lovingly listening to my frustration with too many diagnoses, and too many drugs. For the most part, I prefer to be proactive in my own treatment. Learning and doing everything I can to help myself is very important to me. I want to be in control, I don’t want to just sit around and wait to feel better. She suggested another diagnosis to look up, which is often misdiagnosed and usually not even considered in adults PDD-NOS.

First, for giggles, I went to the WebMD Symptom Checker and ended up with 37 different diagnoses including Jumping Frenchmen of Maine (really, it’s a thing) and Mad Cow Disease (this is why I’ve never done this before).

OK, back to being serious..The following are excerpts from an article in The Medical Journal of Australia:

Key features are impaired social cognition and communication; obsessive interests, routines or activities; and social or occupational dysfunction.

Pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) are comprised of the neuropsychiatric developmental disabilities, autistic disorder (autism), Asperger disorder and PDD — “not otherwise specified”. These conditions are also commonly known as autism spectrum disorders. The key features are severe developmental difficulties with social cognition and communication, and non-functional obsessive interests, routines or activities.

PDDs are considered to have been under-diagnosed worldwide, and the variety of presentations and outcomes has only recently been recognised.

… IQ criteria can be used to divide PDDs into “high functioning” (IQ of 70 or greater), and “low functioning” (IQ of under 70).

Taking all this into consideration, along with my other diagnoses of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, then sprinkle in some general depression and anxiety and top with a generous helping of PTSD; I’ve come up with the following simplified chart, and I’ve found that I have a majority of the symptoms in all three groups. Which then explains why I can never find a medication cocktail that works, and perhaps it’s time to stop the med-merry-go-round and concentrate on Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

confusionOverwhelming confusion and frustration shall now commence. I’m feeling very grateful that I’ll be seeing my therapist tomorrow.

PDD-NOS
∙Impaired social/communication skills
∙Impaired development of relationships
∙OCD-type behavior
∙Social dysfunction
∙Impaired perceptions of emotions
∙Impaired expression of emotions
∙Psychiatric comorbities
BPD
∙Impulsive/risky behavior
(with difficulty controlling said behavior)
∙Inability to control self-harm
∙Suicidal behavior
∙Wide mood swings
∙Intense episodes of anxiety/depression
∙Inappropriate anger
∙Inappropriate antagonism
∙Feeling misunderstood, neglected,
alone, empty or hopeless
∙Fear of being alone
∙Feelings of self-hatred
Bipolar Disorder
(a little more difficult to simplify due to several different types)
Mania:
∙Inflated self-esteem
∙Decreased need for sleep
∙Talkativeness
∙Racing thoughts
∙Distractibility
∙Agitation
∙Impulsive/risky behavior
Depression:
(most of these last all day,
every day)
∙Sad, empty, hopeless, tearful
∙Reduced interest or pleasure in
almost all activities
∙Insomnia or sleeping all day
∙Fatigue
∙Worthlessness
∙Inappropriate guilt
∙Suicidal ideations or planning