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 (or PayPal.me/chikadee), 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

Doubtful

Interesting observation from my therapist…I’m crying, feeling hopeless; just finished 4 wks of some of the scariest depression I’ve experienced, 2 wks titrating off one med, 2 wks of no meds. I’m saying I’m not sure I want to try the new one I start tomorrow. It seems so pointless. Then she reminds me of all the self-care I automatically do, all the times I’ve dragged myself out of the pit, all the times I have gotten out of bed when I really didn’t want to.

Bipolar depression makes one forget how hard we fight, how strongly we refuse to give up. She reminds me of how much my husband loves me, how much my support network checks in on me, and how my family, whether by blood or chosen, honestly care. I realize I *can* do this. I never thought I’d get this far, but I have, and I will keep going.

Doesn’t matter how many times I hear things like this, it sounds like a HUGE lie…bullshit, utter bullshit.

Have I become such a good actor over all the years that I can fool anybody? My weekend was spent in fear of being by myself. Normally, I love being alone, but this weekend it scared the hell out of me. If I wasn’t asleep (thank you Klonipin), I was sitting outside with Greg (allergies be damned) watching him do exciting things like fixing the tire on his bush-hog (I don’t know how to correctly spell this farm equipment term).  Horrific pictures of self-harm fill my brain if there’s nothing else there. I’ll most likely do some drawing later, another form of therapy for me to get the crap out of my brain, but he’s back at work, and I’m on my own. Psych wards are useless these days, that’s considering one’s insurance will even pay for one to stay.

No point in calling the doctor,hospitalization is out of the question…none of those pesky tox screens for me, thankyouverymuch.

So today I draw, write, hibernate…one second at a time.