When I got Hestia, I was at one of the lowest points of my life. I had extreme difficulty leaving the house, practicing any self care at all, being motivated to do anything, I was a real mess. In fact, before we moved from California to South Carolina, I was struggling to shower more than once every 4 days. I was struggling to leave the house simply for doctor’s appointments, and we were going without fresh food often because I couldn’t get to the grocery store. The depression and anxiety had completely overwhelmed my life.
We flew out to South Carolina, and the day after we flew out, Brad’s dad drove me up to North Carolina to pick Hestia up from her breeder. Ollie stayed home with Brad.
On our drive home from the breeder, I fell in love with Hestia. I committed that I would do better in my life so that she would have a good life. At the time, I didn’t know what that would entail!
The first thing that entailed was socialization. I had to get her to meet people of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and other dogs, too. So we started to make daily trips to the pet store. This was already pushing a huge boundary for me, leaving the house regularly. As I trained Hestia, I needed to expose her to more things, which meant I had to go more places. As we needed to go more places, I had to shower more.
I started taking dog training classes, and was both terrified by the potential judgement of my trainers, and excited to be learning with Hestia. She soon showed that she was full of happiness and confidence. I can remember the first time we tried one of the wobble boards in puppy class, I didn’t know what to expect. Most of the other puppies were hesitant and had to be coaxed onto the boards. Hestia hopped right on and walked around it to explore! Hestia’s happiness and confidence rubbed off on me, and I started to feel more happy and confident.
At about 6 months old, Hestia started responding to my panic attacks by licking my arm intensely, which quickly developed into a few minutes of an alert before an anxiety attack.
When Hestia was probably about 10 months old, I decided I was ready to start trying to drive again. I had improved beyond Brad’s energy levels, and wanted to do more training than his body could handle driving me to and being present for. With the help of my therapist, I developed a plan. I would use dog training techniques on myself– specifically positive reward training where I would reward myself with a treat for doing a behavior.
The first day I loaded Hestia into the car, I didn’t know what to expect. I set off driving, turned onto the main road, and immediately started to panic. In desperation, I turned to look at Hestia. She was sitting in the passenger seat next to me. She turned her head towards me, cocked her head, smiled with her tongue hanging out, and googled her eyes at me. She was so happy and relaxed! Just looking at her made me feel her happiness and her confidence in me, and that gave me the strength to keep on. We made it to Wendy’s that day (about a 5 minute drive, if that), I got my frosty, and a tradition was born.
Although googling her happy eyes at me is not considered work or task under the ADA, it was immensely helpful! We started going further and further afield. Today we can drive all over the Charlotte area by ourselves, and I don’t even need a sweet treat afterward as a reward. I have even driven (with Brad in the car to help) up to Ohio twice!
Hestia got better and better at alerting and helping me through my panic attacks and depressive episodes with pressure therapy. Often the glee with which she flings herself onto my chest is enough to get me to start laughing and almost immediately dissipate the episode. She is truly amazing at her disability related assistance for me!
With her assistance, my life stabilized into a new normal. I thought I had reached the peak of my existence, being able to volunteer for PSDP and meeting up with friends once a week.
About 10 months ago, I started a new medication– latuda. Latuda is one of only two medications approved for bipolar depression, and the other one didn’t work for me. When I started latuda, for the first time ever in my life (when I wasn’t in a manic episode) my depression lifted. That constant companion that tinted my daily life with sadness and lack of motivation was gone.
Since then, I have gotten off of all my other psych meds, and am now on just the latuda (it works as a mood-stabilizer to prevent mania, too). I still have occasional depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes here and there– I am bipolar after all! But my daily life is suddenly stable and for the most part happy! And I have motivation!
With the help of latuda and Hestia, in the past few months I have added two new things to my life. One is my Service Dogs on the Town class where I lead monthly meetup-style class for people who have or are training their own service dogs. The other is my weekly orchestra practice. I hadn’t played my violin in 21 years!
I’m not all cured, of course. I still need a rest day every other day when I go out and do stuff. While my moods are greatly improved, the anxiety is still there. And the anxiety is what Hestia helps with the most nowadays. I still do have mood fluctuations, they are just not on a weekly basis, and happen more like every other month.
But overall, Hestia’s story has been a success story. Of my three dogs, she has been the most helpful service dog to me. Mostly because of her extreme happiness. She has also been my least well behaved service dog! While Sabrina and Ollie were of breeds that were bred to want to work for humans, Japanese Chin were bred to sit on the laps of Emperors and make them laugh. She excels at that! But she does not excel at heeling, or at remembering obedience commands that I haven’t used in a few months! We will always struggle with that, but it is a drawback I am prepared to live with. I have found my heart breed!
How wonderful for you! I can relate to your story so much! I am disabled,and have had issues with depression. I’ve also had 3 servuce dogs, alll Japanese Chin.They make the best service dogs. They want to please you. It’s normal for Japanese Chin to test rgeir humans. She knows her commands, just testing you, they are charming sweet dogs.It’s the only breed for me!You can’t train them,they are Taught! I have taught my 3.Only have one now,that’s a service dog.All my Chin are the light if my life!
How great to find another Japanese Chin SD handler! There are a few of us on the Psychiatric Service Dog Partners’ free online peer guidance group. This is a place where people with psych dogs and PSDITs can talk about all things service dog. If you’re interested in joining, go to our website at http://www.psych.dog and fill out the contact form, or you can call me at 805-876-4256. Hope to see you there!