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

Aftermath

hiding kittyThe following are not my words, but they struck deep into my soul. After escaping the prison of abuse, anxiety and fear may govern the survivor’s life for a while. This plea for understanding exemplifies these overwhelming feelings. The simple fact that we feel we need to explain ourselves is evidence of the trauma we have experienced. We should know that the people who love and care about us do so unconditionally; but unfortunately that is a concept we’ve never been able to grasp.

I feel like I need to explain something to my friends. So listen: I love you all and I want to hang out with all of you. But on top of my kid schedule, my work schedule, my finances, and I’m trying to get back into school right now, I have my dumb mental health to deal with. Understand that most of my life, out of circumstance or not being allowed out, I have not ever had very close friends that I see in person very often. It’s a thing I have never ever experienced. So I love people, I love having friends, but sometimes they really really scare me and I run away. I’m like a skittish cat. I want to be pet, I want to connect with you, but it can take a while to coax me out from under the bed. And sometimes I can come out and then I need to run back under the bed again. You can lay there and stick your hand under the bed and talk to me, but who knows when I’ll come out again. I’m unreliable. And I hate that about myself. And eventually you just have to walk away from the coaxing, and I’m so sorry and I understand. And sometimes trying to coax me out makes me go deeper under the bed, away from you. And sometimes I come out. It’s impossible, I know. Talking to me through text helps me though, and eventually, sometimes I can make it out. It’s just going to take me a long time. Sometimes I’ll only see you twice a year when I really want to see you more often. And I’m so sorry. But I do love you, I’m still here under the bed, trying to figure out how to get out of here and be the kind of cat that loves all the guests and greets them and sits on all the laps and purrs. But I’m just not that kind of cat yet, and I’m so sorry that it’s so disappointing. That’s all. Hang in there for me, or don’t. Just know it isn’t you.

Detox Diary Addendum

canstock31973415About a week has passed since I took my last dosage of psych meds (Detox Diary), and I’ve just noticed an interesting phenomenon. My brain seems to be reverting to an old coping mechanism from my abuse days – shut down, feel nothing. I’ve only noticed it in retrospect, as in “That was an odd reaction to that situation.” Feelings of depression or anxiety will start to overwhelm me, then all of a sudden I’ll feel nothing. After that, I become very sleepy. Then today I participated in something that “normally” would have been the sort of thing during which I’d be crying “happy” tears (or at least sniffling), yet I felt nothing…again. This blunted affect is just as disturbing as uncontrolled mania or depression. It’s unexpected, and I don’t like that. I was prepared for the extremes, I had a plan; I was not prepared for my brain bizarrely taking over.

I’ve written that last paragraph over and over, and I cannot come up with a satisfying way of stating what I’m experiencing. That’s another thing…not being able to express myself in an articulate manner. My brain is flying all over the place, too much stimuli to cope with, too many racing thoughts, too many “feels.” There, that explains it…too much brain crap leads to brain shut down (how’s that for a concise psychological explanation?).

As a matter of fact, now that I analyze it, quite a bit of my past behavior from being abused is surfacing. While I’ve always had problems with self-doubt and negative thinking, it’s been particularly overwhelming. The quantity and quality of trash talking I’ve been doing to myself is horrific. If I heard someone speaking this way to another person, I’d probably yell at them to knock it off. Everything I do is wrong, everything I say is wrong, everything I think is wrong, everything I write is wrong. I was at the point of cancelling my trip next week because I was absolutely certain my daughter and grandchildren did not want to see me. I mean, really, why would they want to spend time with a blithering idiot? I’m sure my daughter has enough stress in her life without having to deal with me for six days. Not to mention my grandsons…Greg is the fun one, not me. Ugh, see what I mean? STFU, Sheri!

In spite of all this, there’s a tiny and weak little voice trying to be heard above the din of negativity “You can do this, I know you can.”

 

Just make happy memories

Sure, that’s an easy one. A few weeks ago vintage brain mapmy therapist told me to make a list of all the awful and triggering memories that make October 1 through January 1 so difficult for me. Two pages later, my homework was done. When I gave it to her, we went over it and then she said “OK, now I want you to list what you are going to do to make happy memories.” My jaw dropped, and before I could say “How the hell am I supposed to do that?” time was up.

Nothing, I had nothing. The decades of horror are so deeply ingrained in my brain, when I try to think of new ways of thinking the old memories wheedle their way back in.

There have been many techniques over the years to help people, especially people with PTSD, change the way they think about the past. There are ways to resolve past wrongs, ways to change how we remember things, and ways to erase the memories altogether. I’ve been through many of them, none with much success, one in particular did more harm than good.

EMDR – I had a therapist who tried a form of this, but was ineffective for me. It’s possible I didn’t give it enough time. When one of my daughters was young, I saw a different form used on her and it worked very well. It’s an interesting way to retrain our brain. This is from the EMDR International Association’s website:

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma. EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches. To date, EMDR therapy has helped millions of people of all ages relieve many types of psychological stress.

ECT – This links to the NIMH’s page which covers ECT as well as other Brain Stimulation Therapies. All I’m going to say about ECT right now (I’ve written other posts about my experience), is that the after-effects made me much worse. I understand it is helpful to most people with severe unipolar depression, but I have since learned it should never be used on a person with bipolar depression because their brains are different – thanks, now you tell me.

In addition to the above, there is hypnotism, meditation/mindfulness, and sheer will (I’m guessing). But wait, there’s more…

There is also a kind and loving husband who unknowingly helps almost eradicate the crap with a lovely, tiny furry surprise.

Tuck

This is important for two reasons. One is the guy to the right ->Paris

He came in to my life about a year after I escaped from domestic violence. He was always with me when I needed him, and he’d sit on my lap and purr until I felt better. He died of renal failure a few years ago at the age of 14.

The other reason, is that this was a selfless act of pure love on the part of my husband. We have three old cats that have been around about twice as long as I have, who were not happy when I brought my cat to live with us, and again when I tried to replace him shortly after he died with another kitten (whom I love no less with this new addition). Now the old folks and the youngster are all mad at us because of this new little kitten. I’m introducing him slowly, and currently the little two-pound wonder is puffed up as big as he can get to show one of the others how tough he is. He does have his own room, but I’m letting him run around for a little bit this morning. Back to my husband – the pet store that houses a few of the adoptable kittens is next door to his office. While waiting to have lunch with him last week, I went next door and nearly squealed out loud when I saw a tiny clone of my beloved Paris (named for the mythological character, not the blond airhead heiress, nor the the city). I took a picture and showed it to Greg. He said “Do you want him?” I hesitated just a moment and said it was enough to know that he would let me have him if I did, and I didn’t want to bring chaos into the house (hah, maybe that’s what I should name him!). But Greg knew what this would mean to me, and a few days later this tiny creature came to live with me.

In the following years, I can now look back on this time of year and remember how loved I am. Mission accomplished.

What if…

logicOther than French (my major), Logic was my favorite class in college. Mental illness and an illogical life were the norm for me, although I wasn’t really aware of what was wrong, or why I never felt quite right. Logic made sense – if/then. It was comfortable, no gray areas. But real life isn’t like that, is it? Choices are made, most of the time without being able to be 100% certain that it will have the “correct” outcome. Should they be considered bad or good? Right or wrong? Should judgments be passed when looking back over life? Some choices are obviously bad…robbing a bank is bad, taking heroin is bad, etc. But what about the ones that are not so obvious?

little meThis poor little girl was clueless, which is a good thing for that age. Look how happy she is, she has her whole life ahead of her. At that time she probably thought the world was amazingly wonderful. That was me, I don’t remember how I felt. Actually, I don’t remember much about my childhood. Come to think of it, my memory’s pretty much shot about most of my life…except the crap. Why is it the crap stays embedded in our brains?

Sometimes what-if-I-didn’t… or what-if-I-did… creeps into my brain. It’s a hard game to play, because no matter at what point in my life I start, I keep going backwards because of “then…” and I end up with would it have been better if I hadn’t been born? Well, no because then I wouldn’t have grandchildren, then I wouldn’t have an amazing husband, then

There was a time in my life when I didn’t consider the future, or think about the past. When I was married, I assumed I’d never live long enough to see my daughters grow up. The time frame eludes me, but I distinctly remember knowing with certainty that I would die soon…either by my own hand or his. Again, there was a problem with my type of logic. My if/then was wrong. Somehow I found the strength to escape, but then what? That particular choice (to leave) was the correct one, but it had consequences and those consequences can then lead to more if/then questions, and it becomes a never ending cycle.

  • What if I never met the man to whom I am now married? Would he be happier? Living with me is no walk in the park. (He would tell you he wouldn’t give me up)
  • What if I never had kids? They had a very difficult, sometimes horrific life. They still each have their own struggles. But then I wouldn’t have them in my life, or grandchildren.
  • What if I never married their father? I am a stronger, more empathetic woman today because of that experience, but I have PTSD.
  • What if I didn’t divorce my first husband? He was the kindest man I knew at the time, I wasn’t ready for kindness. Would it have caused more pain to him if we stayed together? He certainly wanted to, but I didn’t want to put him through hell any longer.
  • What if my first suicide attempt was successful? End of story, no more struggle. But then we come full circle back to now…no beautiful grandchildren, no amazing husband.
  • What if I graduated from college? No clue, can’t imagine being able to do that as fucked up as I was.
  • What if excelling in school made a difference? What if my parents showed/told me they were proud of me? What if they showed/told me they loved me…ever? Maybe they did, I don’t remember.

What if I didn’t make so many awful choices throughout my life? What would have changed? Would things have been better? There’s no way to know. I abhor playing this what if game, there are no rules, and I never win. It really should be left on the shelf, or thrown in the trash, but I can’t help it. Late at night when I can’t sleep, I take this stupid game off the shelf and play for hours. My choices haunt me.