Copper is my ESA, or Emotional Support Animal. While he has not been specially trained and is not a registered Therapy Animal he is nevertheless a recognized form of therapy.
As stated before I decided to begin my journey with meds and therapy which got me started in a really good direction with just a few bumps along the way. For me it was working pretty well and I was getting to a much better mental place in my head. However, I didn't feel like I was finished. There wasn't anything I could put my finger on but I just knew I needed more. My meds were there to help stabilize, but meds can only do so much. Mental health is something you must work at and constantly monitor and pay attention to when you are in as deep as I was. Mine were a crutch, a support structure if you will and I knew instinctively that I needed more than just meds to keep the depression and anxiety at bay.
I actually learned about these kinds of therapy animals through Robison Wells. (AWESOME author and all around great guy.) Rob deals with some of the same things I do, but on a much more severe level. He ended up with a beautiful and super sweet dog named Annie. Seriously, she is a doll.
I was willing to put a lot of thought into this direction, knowing it wasn't something I should rush into. After all, a partnership with an animal (therapy or 'regular') wasn't something to take likely. It's a partnership that would be dependent on my needs as well as the animal's needs. Just because you give an animal a label such as an ESA doesn't automatically mean the animal is going to listen or conform. I had to find one that fit my needs and personality and that I would be able to care for during the 'partnership'. And that's exactly what Copper is to me today: a partner.
I put a LOT of time and thought into this and felt that going in this direction was going to be a really good thing for me. I worked with my therapist and I spent many hours going over the logistics of owning said ESA. An ESA doesn't have to be a dog. There are instances of cats, rabbits, even a miniature horse for crying out loud, but I knew from the beginning that I wanted a dog. I also knew this was going to be a problem as my apartment contract specifically stated 'No Pets'.
I had to do a lot of research concerning mental health rights balanced with landlord rights. Needing an ESA is not a license to go out and do whatever you want regardless of a landlord's wishes. I wanted to keep a good relationship with our apartment owners. I approached them with my prescription for an Emotional Support Animal (That's right. I have an actual prescription for my dog from my psychiatrist) and began a civilized conversation about my needs an wanting to balance it with their homes and properties.
A fully accredited Service Animal has many more rights than an ESA, but more and more people are becoming better acquainted with these animals and they are being seen as just a step below Service Animals. A landlord can say no to an ESA, but it comes off as being incredibly jerky and the person seeking permission for an ESA can appeal to several agencies as requiring any type of service animal can count as a disability.
Luckily my landlord at the time was willing to work with me (As did my current landlord) and we came to an agreement. Now the hard part was out of the way I spent the next couple of weeks busily preparing for the new addition to the apartment while I scoured the Internet and newspapers for Pet Classifieds. (Boy, Petco sure loved me that week.)
The novelty of getting a dog wore off a bit as doubts crept into my mind. Who was I to demand that the landlords allow me to break their rules and let me have a pet when no one else could have one? How could I be so dumb as to think a dog was going to solve all my problems? This was just proof to me that I was making up my mental problems so I could feel special and different. I was a fraud, using a silly excuse in order to get a dog and get around the rules.
This continued on for some time, me thinking I was being stupid and dumb for going to all this trouble when I seemed fine on my meds. The night before I was scheduled to pick up the dog I attended a huge church meeting with many other members my own age. I think there were maybe three hundred young adults in one meeting house, watching a broadcast of our church leaders. It was terribly crowded, but very spiritual and I was gleaning a lot from the speakers which is why I was so surprised to be suddenly overcome by a panic attack.
Panic attacks are weird. Your brain goes all red-alert at the weirdest times and in the strangest places, in this case a quiet and spiritual, yet extremely crowded setting.
My panic attacks tend to land one two extreme sides of the spectrum: They either sneak up and build gradually or hit me all at once without warning. The ones that hit all at once are the hardest to recover from. My first clue was my leg bouncing up and down so fast my notebook was thrown clear off my lap. Tunnel vision followed a sensation of suffocating. I started shaking and knew I had to get out as fast as possible. I remember stumbling over everyone in the row, trying to make a clean getaway, and being able to keep myself together long enough to find my car and get in and lock all the doors before falling apart.
I knew then that night without a doubt that pursuing the ESA route had been something I'd been prompted to do. I did need more help. In a weird and twisted way the panic attack that night was an answer to a question I really needed closure on. I had a mental illness and getting a dog was not a selfish act. Rather it was a way to further stabilize my life, which I clearly needed that night.
Copper came into my life the very next day and it's been amazing to look and see the difference he's made in my life. I completely lucked out with him. Not only is he incredibly smart, but he's loving, alert, and one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. He was the missing piece in my survival. Having him with me helps stabilize me, and gives me something to focus on when things get bad. He is an incredible blessing in my life. This amazing little dog acts as a constant companion and never ceases to amaze or make me laugh. He accompanies me to work, to voice lessons, to the store, and many other places. He works with me, not for me.
It all may seem a little strange, that such a little thing in life can bring so much joy and stability. It does to me sometimes. I am just glad I was able to find something that worked for me. It's all about finding a combination that works for you and gets YOU into a good place. Mental illness sucks, but it doesn't have to ruin your life.
Until next time,