Advocacy, Blogging, Mental Health

Anyone with Me? Welcome to the concept of the Recovery Model

Normalcy is over rated but I’m walking out of the mental health system before they make me crazy. Had a fabulous chat with a woman from Disability Services of NJ. She agreed with my assessment of the system and wished me well. I so appreciate the integrity of honesty. The problem with the refusal to accept a recovery model is the fear that if people get well, it will interfere with revenue stream. So what’s the real pathology here? Let’s whisper it and see if anyone admits the truth: the truth is the system is perpetuated by greed.

Advocacy, Mental Health, Personal Safety/Threat Assessment

In Response to a Friend Regarding Being Broken

I’m beginning to wonder if we are really broken? Fragile of spirit at times perhaps, and maybe I’m just parsing words, but the fact that we see the world in a certain way bc of our experiences and are a product of those experiences makes us no less whole than those who manage to survive without being chased by the past. I’ve often wondered if the people who remind me to live in the present have ever struggled with the kind of haunting we endure. You (I) did not choose this. We have however chosen not to quit. I will always love you.


Shari Elizabeth Berk

October 26, 2016

East Brunswick NJ

Advocacy, Blogging, dog training, Mental Health

On Service Dog Identification; in Response to a Friend’s Query

Spoiler alert: this post devolves into a rant. Apologies in advance

In NC and federally, there are currently no statutes saying a service dog must be sanctioned at an accredited facility. There was much discussion about this and other topics regarding regulation on one of the forums to which I belonged.

The government at this time allows two questions to be asked of an individual in a public place with a dog . Is the animal a service dog according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? What accommodation does the animal assist/afford its person? Any other questions are illegal. I carry a copy of the federal regulations with me.

I have Buddy’s paperwork in a safe place. The regs can be found at under the service dog section. I have friends with SDs who encourage people to call the police if they have an issue. The police know the regulations.

One of which is that the animal must be under handler control at all times. No proof of training is required. There are currently no special schools a person must use to train their service animal. Certain professional bodies are trying to get a monopoly on certification by suggesting this very thing. Most legitimate dog trainers go for certification.

For the record, Cesar Milan has no formal training and is not allowed to train animals in his country of origin. His training methods are no longer the standard considered best practice by most animal behaviorists. His TV shows promote outdated theories and techniques. But people quote him regularly.

I wish your friend well. I am sorry she had to prove the validity of her need for a service dog in public. I don’t tolerate harassment or people breaking the law nor insinuating that I am. I am polite. If they deny me access I call their corporate office.

The regs don’t apply to private businesses or any place that requires a sterile field. There are accommodations that can be made if people choose to. But they don’t have to grant me access.

Are you still reading this? Thank you. Most people don’t want to know all this. But it’s the law currently. It will probably change to a regulated industry. It’s a controversial topic.

Most people don’t carry a copy of the United States constitution around with them. I do. I’m not most people. The system that created me can’t accommodate my housing needs. It’s frustrating on a good day. It makes me want to cripple myself so I am wheel chair bound on others. Then there would be housing available to me because my disability would be physical. I’m being deadly honest.

The system is broken and won’t change until enough people die from lack of services or enough people decide a crisis point has been reached. It’s piss pouring rain and my social worker remarked to me yesterday that I had only technically been homeless for eight days. At what point does homelessness become an emergency? Apparently if you have a child, are sight or mobility impaired, have a substance abuse issue, or are a military veteran housing is available. My disability hasn’t been recognized as a legitimate need for safe, low income housing.

And while I’m ranting, my service dog is NOT a pet. He is always working. Even when I am in my car or visiting a friend, my dog is NOT a pet. Do not tell me I am abusing him when I train him at every opportunity. Do not tell me to let him “just be a dog.” Do not assume that he does not play with me and interact with other dogs on a regular basis. That is also one of the federal regulations: a service animal can not be aggressive towards other animals or people (Police K9s have their own rubric and are handled by their partners.)

My dog is on a special diet. Do not assume you may feed him treats. Most parents would be appalled if I touched their children, patted them on the head, and fed them. I have no idea what their children’s nutritional needs or allergies may be. My service dog is not your baby to spoil.

Another  note for this post. ALL dogs, not just service dogs, need to absolutely, positively know an excellent recall. Simply put, when I call Buddy, he comes to me. Don’t interfere. Don’t say “Go to your mother.” It takes his attention away from ME and onto YOU. I then have to retrain/reinforce my dog to ignore distractions, which have become people. I know he’s cute and you are trying to help. Most parents are not comfortable with people who interfere with how they parent. I am not parenting Buddy, but the concept of teaching him to behave in a certain manner without it being undermined by other people is the same. Buddy coming to me on command may save both his life and mine someday.

Dogs do not process information in an abstract or even a concrete manner. They are not little humans. They are driven by motivation and primal instincts. They learn from patient correction and repetition, interspersed with bouts of play and reward.

People charge thousands of dollars to train a service dog because most people do not know how and have neither the time nor the patience for the arduous repetition and reinforcement involved. Those people needing a service dog must then be trained how to handle that animal and help it to help them.

I try to be compassionate and an advocate because my disability is an invisible one and when someone asks me if I am blind, I realize just how much education of the public needs to happen. Many people with my condition cannot speak about it let alone get into a discussion about service dogs while they are out in public. They need boundaries and safety, which is a large part of what Buddy does for me. He may not be a German Shepherd, but he has his own way of warning me about people about whom I need to be vigilant. Yes, he is trained to make those assessments so that I don’t see threats everywhere.

In 1997 when I first started looking into psychiatric service dogs, the AMA scoffed and the government refused to given psychiatric service dogs ADA access. Now people with MS, autism, PTSD, and other neurological and psychiatric conditions are doing things they couldn’t before because they have the assistance of a service dog.

It’s all cute when an autistic child comes to life with the help of his service dog. The videos go viral. I’m sorry that I am neither cute nor a child. I’m sorry that when I needed a half way house after being hospitalized in 1983 for anorexia nervosa, no one would place me because the medications I took were considered “drugs.” Now I don’t qualify for certain housing situations because I don’t have a substance abuse disorder.

I don’t have children. I made the decision at the age of 7 never to bring a child with my genetics into the world. I love children; by the age of 17, I was in the Social Security Disability System. I decided I would never have children because I knew that I could never provide for them the way I would want to. The doctors didn’t believe me.  The medications I was on would have caused serious birth defects if I were to have gotten pregnant. I finally got my tubes tied at the age of 47 because I was undergoing another medical procedure and my gynecologist offered to do a tubal ligation at the same time. Liability was no longer an issue. My views haven’t changed since I was 7 years old. But the medical system decided they could accommodate my decision without litigation.

The social worker I met with yesterday was multitasking, didn’t have time to listen, asked questions of me and then tried to answer them himself. I know he meant well.  He suggested I go to Indiana to get services. He gave me his legal/moral disclaimer on the medication I take, have taken for decades. When I asked him to write down the resources he wanted me to contact or email me or text me, he asked me why I couldn’t write. I tried to explain that part of the sequelae of my years on medications has resulted in neurological and cognitive damage. I don’t process information as easily or as quickly as many people. He sighed, made a phone call on my behalf, was told I could not receive help because while I qualify, I am not 62 years or older, and reiterated that I was going to have a very difficult time finding housing.

I am homeless. My driver license is in one state, I have no way to establish residency in another. I don’t know which senator to call. It’s still cold and raining. I am safe and so is Buddy. My friends and family love me and don’t want me to give up. I spiral at times and think that the only way change will occur is if I kill myself and someone notices. My sister in law pointed out I could kill myself and it might not change a damn thing. I love my family, always there to talk me off the ledge.

And no, my friends and family cannot give me a place to live. They are living their lives, doing the best they can, facing challenges of their own. I am a product of the system. If I could go away painlessly I would. I am tired of the sadness I feel and my inability to support myself.

I had another social worker suggest I just stop paying my bills and find a room to rent. Welcome to America. I make too much money for assistance (well below the poverty line, don’t worry) but I can’t afford to pay $100/week for a rooming house. We won’t even go into whether I could find a safe place to live; safety is relative when you’re living in your car.

In signing off, I had contact from a reader I once knew, who believes that my homelessness is just desserts for all the pain and suffering I have caused people in the world. The fact that she both professes to hate me and still has a need to follow my blog makes my brain hurt.

If my life is schadenfreude for you, Go with God.  If I can’t serve as a good example, let me serve as a warning. I have very little hate in my heart. A good deal of anger and resentment, but I do what I can to channel unproductive emotions. Just know that I moderate comments and I don’t need anyone to take my inventory (to quote from the AA lingo.) You don’t have to like what I say, but I won’t post your invective vitriol. Start your own blog.

Thanks for listening. I apologize in advance for the incoherence. I’m tired and cold and (to quote REM) “losing my religion.”

Regards from Buddy the Service Dog.




Advocacy, Blogging, Mental Health, Personal Safety/Threat Assessment

In response to a friend who wants to know my address

Honey, I don’t have one. I have some people trying to assist me in getting emergency shelter, but more agencies are telling me they can’t help me and to go back to NC. Lol. I really ought to start blogging about being homeless in the US. I’m not old enough to qualify for senior housing, I don’t have a substance abuse issue so I don’t qualify for treatment (which I don’t need) and I don’t have children so my need is not seen as a “priority.” The waiting lists for housing in NJ and Philly are 4-6 years long, if they will accept a person on a housing waiting list.

A very kind person from one of the Philly agencies strongly suggested I seek housing in Jersey. She said, “Low income housing in Philadelphia is harsh.” My car is dying and NJ doesn’t have workable public transit. I can’t get into a shelter bc I have a service dog and frankly, I have been in homeless shelters and I’d rather sleep on the turnpike in my car.

I appreciate all the folks who have offered me a place to crash while I work on this. If I didn’t have Buddy I would be a wreck. I am tired, I am angry, and apparently, I do not meet the exact qualifications to get shelter and social services. I make “too much money” according to DSS… I’m living on $1000/month, paying off debt from my divorce and medical bills from 2012 and of course my doctor has labelled me so thoroughly most places are afraid of me.

I am a product of a broken system and when I stop to think about it I end up enraged or in despair. Sorry. You asked the question. I probably shouldn’t hit post on this but frankly I am not sure how many people know just how dire this situation is.

I have lost friends bc they just felt too helpless and thought I was too “needy” There is no turning back the clock. I have been institutionalized for most of my adult life. I have no assets, and if I did I would qualify for even less than what I have. The beauty of the disability system is I could have a million dollar home and a $60,000 car, but no retirement income or savings. Unfortunately, I have no home, my car is falling apart, and I have no funds to pay for a mortgage or even rent. But I make “too much money” to get housing assistance.

Right now I don’t need “things,” I need a safe place to spend the night and showering on a regular basis seems to attenuate my suicidality. Again, I would never do anything to jeopardize Buddy.

I apologize for the rant. I should probably stay off social media for awhile. I have been told that I “upset” people. Yeah, Well, welcome to my world. Take care my friend. I’m not angry with you. Your question just hit a nerve.

Someone who is no longer my friend suggested to me that it was highly likely I would die painfully and alone. He didn’t have the decency to end our friendship with kindness. He did what so many people in my life have done to me, waited until I walked away so I was no longer his problem.

When someone is homeless the worst thing you can do (well, perhaps I will start a list) is be vague and indirect about the limitations of what you can and cannot do for that person. This individual made it clear to me I was not a priority in his life, and I respect his honesty. So I ended a 25 year friendship , wished him well and deleted him from my life. The cyber age has made it very easy to disappear people who are a burden. I disappeared myself.

It saddens me. He is correct, I have tried to end my life several times and when I did not die the effects were painful and my “attempts” were not deemed legitimate. The medical system really has taken the approach that anything less than a completed suicide is just a cry for help. When and if I do decide to call it quits I will do what the “real” suicides do: leave no note and just go. The truth is I don’t want to die. I really just want the pain to stop. The professionals don’t seem to get that I have been saying this since I was seven years old. That seems to invalidate the fact that if I could go to sleep and not wake up, I would hold Buddy close and just leave.

Oh, I haven’t forgotten your question. I could give you any of a number of addresses to where you could try to contact me. My friends are amazing people who all have their own burdens and they are doing their best to support me. I was crippled decades ago from being given the opportunity to support myself. I have no address. I’m not a fan of Emily Dickinson but her words repeat in my head: “I’m nobody. Who are you?”

I’m getting sleep deprived again. It is dangerous. I don’t spend the night cleaning or writing operas or painting.  I spend the night crying inconsolably and wishing I could just be gone. In my religion there is no clear concept of an afterlife. There is just nothingness. I’m so tired dear friend. I want nothing. I want nothingness.








Blogging, Mental Health, Personal Safety/Threat Assessment, Poetry

Garden State Re-Entry

I drive across the Delaware Memorial Bridge,

wracked by sobs at the dirty majesty

of a suspension bridge that leads home.

The first sign I see reads “Welcome to the New Jersey Turnpike.”

We’re a proud people.

I cross into Jersey, stop at Exit 1 to get fuel.

I had forgotten that NJ State law prohibits drivers from pumping gas;

burst into sobs when the attendant wipes down my windshield.

If only cleaning up a life were so easy.

He apologizes, tells me not to cry, looks sad;

says he wishes he could hug me. I cry harder. Poor man.

Gentle humanity can deal a crushing blow to an overwhelmed soul,

kindness causes a physical ache, exacerbated by the car wreck

in which I was a passenger a week ago.

Eighteen inches of rain dumped by Hurricane Matthew on Goldsboro, NC;

my decision to walk away has been brewing for two years.

When my father decided to prime the generator with ether inside the garage

while Matthew tossed trees in an 85 mph wind, I chose.

My mother took back my house keys, locking me out.

The metaphor became the acknowledgment that we have not been safe

for each other for quite some time.

This damned Yankee and her stalwart Chihuahua

have returned to the congestion of her childhood home.

A friend reaches out to me at 1 am, texts me that something

is telling him we need to talk. Another flood of aching, snotty tears ensues.

My bruised ribs hurt when I cry, sharp pain reminds me not to forget.

Regret is that kind of ache.

Grace is the suspension bridge that suggest that when

you have lost yourself over the course of three decades,

there are people who remember who you were,

care enough to help you find your way back.

Shari Elizabeth Berk

October 15, 2016

Piscataway, NJ

Advocacy, dog training

Federal and State Laws regarding Service Dogs



A friend asked me a question this morning regarding transport of my service dog. I was pretty sure I knew the law, but she suggested that North Carolina had specific (ie different than Federal) statutes.

This is a great resource to answer questions related to the rights and responsibilities of being a service dog handler. Assistance Dogs International has a great website and many resources.

There’s nothing better to me than snuggling up with Buddy and 83 pages of legal documentation to bone up on. (Yeah, that was a service dog pun)

Advocacy, Mental Health, Personal Safety/Threat Assessment, Recommendations/Things to Check Out

“Left of Bang” and other survival tools

I left an abusive environment in 2011 after 13 years of marriage. The first thing a friend did was give me a book by Gavin de Becker called “The Gift of Fear.” It changed my life and my perception of myself as a “victim” of domestic violence. It reminded me of the coping skills I had used for years as a child to protect myself. It reminded me that I wasn’t the crazy one; wounded and hypervigilant, but far from crazy.

I recommend Mr. de Becker’s book and website for folks like me who, through living with violence, developed an inaccurate ability to assess real danger in the environment. You can read about his book and his other information about personal security and the work he does here:

I decide to continue to research the concept of threat assessment. A veteran I met in a bookstore locally  suggested the book “Left of Bang”. The authors have compiled a website and resources for people in law enforcement and the military, as well as people who want to learn the difference between awareness and paranoia. You can access the resources from “Left of Bang” at the website below:


I have a lot to say about the concept of personal safety, threat assessment, and hyper-vigilance that is a result of my life experiences. Even writing about the topics without going into my own personal story makes me anxious. I’m learning to take a deep breath, slow everything down, and not be reactive to everything. I am learning that I don’t have to answer every question that is asked of me. That doesn’t mean I am being rude, but one of my friends recently suggested the alternative to answering intrusive question be to ask the person WHY they are asking me something. That may make simple common sense to many people, but I am so used to doing what I am told to do that I have to relearn how to think about whether someone is entitled to information about me.

I want to thank my friends and family of choice for being patient teachers and for supporting me in taking back my life. If you’re reading this, I appreciate your time as well. Feel free to comment with resources you have found to be helpful, and I’ll check them out.