This summer and early fall were not a high point in my mental health journey. I was going to a psychologist, psychiatrist, and my family doctor, and still nothing was working. Throughout this whole multi-year journey different solutions have come and gone, but they’ve always been temporary. One drug might work for a while, or one coping method would work on a certain problem until it compounded with another. But the one thing that always made me feel better are animals.
I’ve had pets for most of my life. When I was looking for an apartment after graduating university, one of my requirements was that it be pet friendly because I knew at some point I would be getting an animal. I’ve had days when I’m really not in a good space that I’ve used my lunch hour to go to my local shelter to play with the animals there.
Now at this point I already had a cat and a dog, and while they make me feel better when I’m home if I’m having an anxiety attack they tend to just stare at me. So thinking about the fact that I am always more comfortable around animals, I started talking to my psychologist about the idea of getting some kind of support animal. Little did I know the rabbit hole I would be going down. Generally for mental health, there are three categories for support dogs: Emotional Support Animals, Therapy Animals, and Psychiatric Support Dogs (I’mma use PSD for short). Usually, PSDs are the only ones to have any kind of legal protection going into public spaces. After a few discussions, my psychologist and I agreed that a PSD was the best option for me. However, in order to qualify for a PSD I had to be declared disabled by my doctor and have her prescribe a PSD for me.
*Side note, I wasn’t a huge fan of the psychiatrist I had at the time and that’s why I went through my family doctor instead. If I had trusted my psychiatrist, I would’ve talked to them about this.
Asking your doctor to say that you’re disabled is a really weird thing, especially when you’ve been spending the past several years advocating for the fact that people with mental health problems can live normal lives. It meant admitting that I am not okay, that I don’t have the abilities on my own to handle what I’ve been given, and saying that I constantly need someone by my side to help me carry the load. I do not like asking for help, and so this was very difficult for me. My doctor wasn’t too familiar with it,
Then came the disability forms for work. I had to list in detail what my PSD would do for me that I wasn’t able to do myself. Again, filling out forms trying to prove that you are unable to do something that most people are able to do is not something that comes easily and is a very weird experience. In all of this, I had never considered myself to be disabled, but if you look at the definition it fits me.
Realizing that I was in fact disabled and then fighting to have myself be considered disabled shifted my entire view of myself and my experience with mental illness. And this all happened within the span of like a month. It was a lot to take in. But after I got all of the paperwork in order from my doctor, I got a puppy that I would train (with the help of a professional trainer) and he has become my little sidekick. There is still a lot of work before he is ready to be a full-fledged service dog, but I’m excited for the adventure that we are on together (more on the adventure so far to come).