I cannot say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” (Network movie reference), but I can say that I’m exhausted and didn’t ask for this gig. There are as many times that I resent being put in the position of defending myself as I am amazed at the depth of compassion with which I am treated when out with my service dog, Buddy. The smooth-coated, deer-legged, black Chihuahua answers to Lil’ Buddy, Bud-Bud, Bud Man, and the occasional “hey you!” Most importantly, he is always here for me.
Let’s do a bit of myth busting:
- NO, most of you do NOT know all there is to know about PTSD, let alone other “invisible” illnesses http://themighty.com/2015/06/41-truths-people-who-live-with-ptsd/
- NO, a service dog does NOT need paperwork to be registered, and does not need to wear a red vest. These are the ADA regulations with which I am most familiar; there may have been subsequent updates. (http://pubs.nal.usda.gov/brief-information-resource-assistance-animals-disabled)
- Business owners and security officials, etc., have the right to ask me whether my dog is a service animal. They MUST accommodate me if they cannot serve me at their facility, but they have NO legal right to ask me about the nature of my disability.
- I had a young woman look me straight in my bifocals and ask me if I were blind. I explained to her that Guide Dogs are Service Dogs, but not all Service Dogs act to guide the blind. (All A=B, but not all B=A, where A= Guide Dogs and B= Service Dogs. Aren’t word problems fun?)
At this point I will land the plane; a metaphor I attribute to my older brother, who does not speak to me, largely because he doesn’t “approve” of my disability. Try that on for size: would you disavow a diabetic sibling because they needed insulin or one who was on a waiting list for a kidney transplant? I have no relationship with my older sister for similar reasons.
Try having an “invisible illness” for more than 35 years, and then you may smirk at my (hero) service dog with the comment, “Oh, there’s another one who wants to take her pet everywhere.” I overheard three older women in a parking lot loading themselves while I loaded my dog yesterday.
Confession time: I’m more than angry; I’m hostile at the mental health system that failed me at every turn since I first qualified for disability in 1983. By the way, I WORKED my way into the system; by 19, I had enough work credits to qualify for Medicare, in addition to my qualifying disability. I’ve decided it’s time to come out of this closet with as much integrity as I can muster. There is no one to sue (the statutes of limitation have long passed) but there are guilty parties who will not be named (because that’s the way I roll) but who will be held accountable for what has transpired. I have said – for years – that if my life can’t serve as an example, let me educate people and serve as a warning.
This “creative nonfiction” stuff itself suffers its own stigma among writers and the public. I had an editor at a writers conference read one of my poems and her critique was, “Everyone has been sexually abused and has an eating disorder. Your story is nothing unique.” Wow. I realized that this woman had unresolved conflicts of her own.
At this point, I have waited two years for the NC Vocational Rehabilitation “policy board” to make a decision about my interest in becoming a certified service dog trainer. They question whether there is a need in my hometown and whether my education is a sound investment. I have proposed that I want to provide the local community with a more affordable, viable option to obtaining service dogs: currently, they cost folks between $25,000 and $60,000 and the waiting lists are years long. There are no trainers in my town except for those stationed at the Air Force base; I would have to travel an hour and a half each way several times a week to get basic obedience training skills. Then I have to learn special skills and pass a nationally sanctioned test to prove my abilities before I would be certified as a service dog trainer.
So I will bide my time and write, play my violin, do all the things that I can do given the limitations of my disability. If you see me around town with a small dog in a red vest, YES, I really am disabled. I doubt you would want to trade histories with me on the off-chance you’d get to “take a dog with you wherever you go.” This Lil’ Buddy is integral to my functioning.
I am willing to educate and advocate when I have the energy. I am losing tolerance for ignorant, snarky comments. But, as I am learning after 16 years in the Deep South, “Sometimes you can’t change ‘ugly’.”
Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read. More later.
– SEB 08/08/2015