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’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.

Will it ever fade away?

Bipolar Disorder has been a major part of my entire life, but the last three months have been the worst I can remember in about 17 years. Suicidal ideations have floated through my head off and on more times than I can count, but I was always able to pull out of them. I can remember twice there were spur of the moment intercepted attempts, but nothing like this. This time was the first time I actually had a plan, and now because I went over and over the details, perfecting them every night while I couldn’t sleep, and all day while I couldn’t get out of bed, it feels like its ingrained into my brain. I wonder if it will ever go away or if it will make it easier the next time? I’m OK now, I got through it, I’m not sure how. I had things to do before I left, there were some things I didn’t want to leave undone. And before you ask, no… I will not tell you my plan. Nobody knows what it is, and nobody will. I’ve told my therapist and my psychiatrist that it existed, but even they don’t know the details.

I don’t care what any professional says, there is no hotline, friend, or platitude that can take it away. When it comes to that point, that’s it, it can’t be stopped. No amount of “think of the good things in life, think of the people that will miss you or be devastated” will help. It just doesn’t work that way. The years of seemingly never ending pain, had finally reached an unbearable point. I think the only people that should write University classes for psychs-to-be about suicide should be the people who’ve been there…and somehow survived. Because nothing I’ve read or heard prepared me for the “already-dead” feeling that encompassed me. I wish I could find something I just read, so I could quote it correctly and give credit to the writer, but it had to do with calling the person who committed suicide “selfish.” The write said it’s not selfish, it’s simply an act of desperation. The person isn’t even thinking of themselves, mostly just the pain. Make it go away…now. The people left behind? It’s not their fault, it was not something done to them, there was nothing that could have stopped it. I don’t remember having feelings that fit into the dictionary definition of selfish (see below*), it was just there…in my head…seeming to be in total control of any other thought that tried to get in. I knew how it would affect others, I was well aware of how the well-being of my loved ones would be trashed. I just felt I had no other choice. All other options had been exhausted.

* “Selfish.” Merriam-Webster.com

Full Definition of SELFISH

1:  concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself :  seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others

2:  arising from concern with one’s own welfare or advantage in disregard of others <a selfish act>

I am not trying to make the point that it is inevitable, that when one thinks of suicide there’s nothing that can be done. It doesn’t have to be hopeless, there are many things that work for many people. Untold lives have been saved by a kind word, a hand reached out in friendship, a call to a hotline. I just want people to know, to face the fact of mental illness (which is difficult for so many who don’t live with it); sometimes reality sucks, sometimes there’s no happy ending. 

This post was going to be about something else, something uplifting and positive, but it seems to have written itself.

Death

Do other people think about death quite often? Is it only the mentally ill that think of it as an escape, an end to a seemingly never-ending ordeal? I can’t remember how often it entered my mind before I was married to Satan, but I do remember thinking of it several times in my teens and early 20s.

Yesterday, there was one of those silly quizzes that said it could tell you how old you would live to be, and my answer was 91. I can’t imagine, it seems totally implausible to me. I was 40 when I escaped with my daughters to the safety of another state. I was married for about 13 years, and I’d say most of that time it never occurred to me that I would live to see my daughters grow up. Death was imminent either by my own hand (to end the suffering-before I knew what was happening with my daughters), or by his. A few months before I finally had the courage to leave, it was the voice of my child looking for me that caused me to step back from the curb of a busy street with an oncoming semi-truck. Four weeks detoxing off of eight different psych meds and intensive psychological testing finally convinced me it wasn’t all my fault…it was safe to leave.

Years later, I sat in the bleachers at my eldest daughter’s graduation, tears streaming down my face, never having expected to live that long.

And then shortly after that, she was married to a very kind and loving husband. They now have three awesome boys, and she’s about to graduate from ASU. Once again, I never imagined I’d see any of this. But here I am, still kicking at close to 57 with a happily-ever-after life. Unfortunately, the specter of death still hovers in my head.

There have been only two times in the last couple years when nothing could pull me out of suicidal ideations. Then about a month ago, I had a plan (I’m not going to go into detail). Every night, over and over, I hashed it out, worked out the details until I knew exactly how I’d pull it off. Every psych professional knows, once you have a plan, that’s it…good luck. That’s the evil of depression, it doesn’t care how good your life is, once it gets your claws into your brain, there’s no common sense. No amount of cute kitten pics, thinking of your grandkids, or walking in nature can remove those thoughts. Reading every uplifting or positive saying is pointless; hugs, kisses, well-meaning platitudes from friends are all useless. It’s scary, very scary. The only thing that kept me from going through with it was knowing how it would affect Greg, since he’d been through it before.

Thankfully a med change has helped some, but now instead of thinking of my imminent death, I think of writing my will, who gets what, and how much to whom (not that there is much).

Death is always niggling at the back of my brain, I can’t get it to go away. Maybe it’s because it’s always seemed close to happening, maybe it’s because I have a mental illness, maybe it’s because the hopelessness will never really go away.

Is it just me?