The following questions were asked on our listserv, and I thought I should put my answers in my blog. Here goes!
-What prompted your personal decision to get a PSD?
I was on the medication merry-go-round. Things were not going well. Every med I tried for mood stabilization either didn’t work or gave me horrible side effects. I got Stevens-Johnsons Syndrome (the life threatening rash of mucous membranes), one med made me faint all the time, another made it so I couldn’t read, another gave me tremors, another made me lose my balance…. You get the picture. So I decided to start training my pet dog who naturally alerted me to be a service dog.
I have to admit that the first time I heard about PSDs, I thought about faking my dog as one. I didn’t realize I was disabled, just knew how much having my dog with me helped. Then I realized I was disabled and she could be a real psychiatric service dog!
For several years, I was able to be unmedicated with the help of my SD Sabrina (and the occasional ativan, a bottle would take me a year to use or more). I have gone on the medication merry-go-round twice since I started training a SD. Once was after a bad suicide attempt, when I had to re-start daily meds. Then another once I gained a toooooon of weight. Now I am pretty stable with my SD and my meds. I need them both nowadays.
I do feel badly that I let myself experience the highs and lows of bipolar disorder without meds for so long. I didn’t realize it at the time, but research shows that the more episodes you have, the more likely you are to have more episodes and for them to be more severe. So if you don’t treat bipolar disorder, it will get worse. But I needed the active hypomanias to get my research done…
-How has your PSD practically improved your day-to-day? What would your
life look like without it?
I would be homebound without a SD. Before I had a SD, I couldn’t manage to go into grocery stores very well at all. Paying was beyond my abilities, and the stores (especially Berkeley Bowl!) were so crowded that I just held onto Brad’s shirt and looked at the ground to follow him around the store. As I started using Sabrina, I was able to look away from the ground (and look mostly at my dog lol). I started not needing to have to hold onto Brad. I even found I could go to another aisle to get something and be away from Brad. That was huge. Also with Sabrina’s help (and Ollie’s help and Hestia’s…) I am now most of the time able to accomplish paying for something!
-What are the most useful and life-changing tasks your PSD is trained for?
There is only one thing that all three of my dogs have been trained for, and it is the most life-changing work they do. All three were able to alert me to rising anxiety so I could do something to head off a full blown panic attack. That is the main piece of work I need from a SD, other issues wax and wane, and I train for them as needed, or just for fun.
When I start to get anxious and I don’t notice it, Hestia starts licking my face or arm intently. Then I know that I am headed towards a panic attack. I do grounding with her (which is keeping me present in time and space), and she performs DPT (deep pressure therapy). These two things usually enable me to stop a panic attack from happening.
Here is a video that shows Ollie performing this:
And here is a blog post about what happens when a SD is distracted and doesn’t alert:
-Do you consider your MI a physical illness? Why is discriminating against
Personally I don’t distinguish between physical and mental illness. They’re all illnesses in your body, they all impair you from leading a “normal” life to some extent. I wouldn’t say I consider my MI a physical illness, it is more that I treat all illnesses the same.
-What would you say to a medical professional to help them distinguish your
own PSD from a typical ESA?
The terminology is usually very confusing to people. So I tell them the three things that DOJ says must be true about a SD– 1. That I am disabled, 2. That my dog is trained to do work or tasks to assist me, and 3. That the dog is well behaved in public, otherwise SD or not, the dog can be removed.
Then I use my own little way of remembering service vs support animals. Service animals are trained to provide a service. Support animals are like support hose– just by them being there, they help, but they aren’t trained to do anything specifically.
-Do you have any personal anecdotes that you would share about how your PSD
has changed your life? any personal experiences or stories?
I would not have been able to get my PhD without the help of Sabrina and Ollie. I didn’t drive for about 10 years, and I was not able to relearn how until I got Hestia and had her googley eyes looking at me, calming me down and making me laugh in the car. This past winter I was able to drive 8 hrs up to Ohio to visit family!
Honestly there are so many ways that having a SD has affected me for the better that I can’t narrow it down to just a few specific things. My SDs have helped me shop, pay, make friends, interact with people, leave the house, not do something bad with the BART train, teach, learn, inspire, better understand other people, better be able to talk with strangers… the list goes on and on! At this point, I’d say my whole lifestyle depends on me having a SD. If I didn’t have Hestia, I would be housebound. I was nearly housebound when living in Lompoc. I only went to therapy, Chanda’s house, and the grocery store.