I have used my blog once before to ‘fight’ on my behalf before. I am not a person who enjoys conflict nor am I a person who it comes naturally to stand up for myself but part of my healing and indeed part of this blog is learning to be someone who fights back. And so I am going against my naturally instincts and writing this blog post in response to something that happened to me today.
As I just wrote in my most recent post my service dog Benjamin helps me more than I could ever express and indeed he saves me a little everyday. In fact, Ben allows me to participate in life as a normal person albeit with a few adjustments that I make such as taking timeouts to ground myself. BUT the important thing to note is that I have adapted with Ben to function in daily life. Yes, I have a service dog and yes I need him to function but because of him I do function and that is what is important.
I recently heard from a friend about a recovery retreat that was going to be held this spring. I was very excited at the chance to expand my treatment and have a weekend where I focused on specific issues in my recovery. In fact, my therapist and I had discussed this in length. We knew there wouldn’t be much support but felt that with Ben I could handle what we knew would be intense work. Beth trusts me and she knows that I am stable enough to go to a weekend retreat and be safe, I called the company that holds the retreat early on in the week to let them know that I would be registering and that I have a service dog. The woman I spoke to could not have been nicer. She promised she would give my name to the person I would need to speak to and they would call. Now, I need to stop here and say that I am not required by law to let someone know that I have a service dog. I was doing this out of courtesy and politeness not out of something I am required to do by the ADA or any type of law. I did not hear back from anyone but did not think much of this so I proceeded to go to their website to register.
Their online registration form asks basic questions about treatment such as diagnosis, some therapy history, hospitalizations, medications, presenting issues, what you would like to work on, etc. And then there is that little box at the bottom that ask if there is anything else you would like to let them know about and so I neatly typed that I have a service dog that helps prevent dissociative episodes and anxiety attacks. I sent in my application and expected to hear back from the program shortly. And I did. Today.
The woman who called started off by telling me she had bad news. She explained that because I needed a service dog to manage my symptoms I wasn’t right for the program. I responded by telling her that Ben prevents me from having symptoms and in fact when I do helps to calm me down and allows me to continue on so in fact she should be less concerned not more that I have a service dog. She again repeated that since I need a dog to help me manage my mental health I was not right for the program. This was when I began to get upset. I have Ben to help me do things like attend this retreat. He expands my range of activities not limits them and this woman had no right to say that I am more at risk than any other person simply because I have a service dog. I spoke with her awhile longer and we continued to go back to the fact that because I have Ben it indicates that I need a higher level of care that they can provide. I tried to explain that Ben is my higher level of care. I pressed on other things. Were there other factors in my application that indicated I was suited to the program? What else gave them red flags? She gave me a few answers but none of them made sense and again we returned to the fact that because I have a psychiatric service dog I am obviously too acute and too much of a risk to attend.
I hate to use the word discrimination. It is a word filled with power and tastes nasty in my mouth because of the many things that it implies but I believe that in this situation whether knowingly or not I was discriminated against. I deliberately choose in most situations not to explain what kind of service dog Ben is. Psychiatric disabilities are not understood and I am afraid to be seen as crazy, distrust, unworthy or unfit to be in public or to perform certain kinds of tasks. To be faced with this within the mental health field is beyond distressing. Because I have a service dog I was judged to be too unstable to attend this kind of retreat. I was judged to be too acute, too needy and I quote “to need a higher level of care”. They cannot judge what kind of level of care based simply on the fact I have a service dog and to do so is not only ignorate but insulting and hurtful.
This was a cruel reminder that sometimes life with Ben will not be easy. I had hoped that professionals would be better educated and better aware but I was sadly mistaken. So here I am very disappointed. I have been looking forward to this retreat. I wanted to do the work it offered. I wanted to attend. I wanted the wisdom that the professionals offered and instead I am turned away because my mental health dog ‘implies I am too unstable to attend’. It’s not fair at all. I admit I hung up the phone and I cried. And to the person who called me yes, my dog was right there. I buried my face in his side and allowed myself sometime to be disappointed, angry and sad. But that was it. I’m still stable. I’m still functioning. I’m still moving. Because I am all these things! I am no different than the rest of the people that will attend that retreat I am just accompanied by a four legged companion which is no different than someone else’s wheelchair. Would you tell them they couldn’t attend because their wheelchair indicates that they are not in the right mindset. I somehow doubt that you would. Having a service dog is the same thing. I could regret telling you I would be accompanied by Ben. I could have taken advantage of the law that allows me to just show up with my service dog in tow but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad I know where you stand.
And I’m sorry but I’m glad Ben and I won’t be at your retreat.