Category Archives: Shona

stopping a relapse with support

I’ve been absent (again) on my blog. For awhile it was touch and go with things related to my eating disorder. I’m back on a more level playing field but I wouldn’t call it stable ground yet. I began to struggle a few weeks ago. For numerous reasons that would take a lot of time to go into here and honestly I’m not quite ready to share. Anyways, after a lot of days of little nutrition, negotiations with parents and treatment team I’m at a place where I’m eating again with supervision and my safe foods. We are doing a step by step approach to add on scarier foods each week but this week was safe foods. 

I’m eating because I’m supervised but I do have a choice. I could sit in front of my parents and say “nope. not going to eat that” but I haven’t. I guess it’s because I didn’t go totally downhill. I didn’t loose enough weight for my mind to become crazy and everything rational to be gone. I could still think and what I thought about was Gus. If I had had to return to treatment (which at several points was looking likely as the amount of food I was consuming was not acceptable at all) Gus would not have been allowed to go with me. At this point in our relationship and his training it would be hugely detrimental. We would loose all of our progress and he could potentially not become a service dog. I know this because I’ve done it before.  

In August of 2010, I had adopted a young pup from the shelter. I named her Shona which is the name of the native language my friend from Zimbabwe speaks. I was just back from Laureate’s eating disorder program and was in a fast relapse after being home a month. I loved Shona deeply from the first time I saw her but a month after adopting her I was off to Utah to The Center for Change for another 5 1/2 months of treatment. While I was gone Shona had a great life, living with my parents but it wasn’t the same. They purposely didn’t try to bond with her so she would know she was my dog when I returned and she did but important time was lost. Shona was never meant to be a service dog at that time but those early months of her first year where she would have learned basic obedience and manners were lost and we never quite regained that ground. Shona never quite developed the level of obedience I wished until she was much older. And I believe this was due to my leaving her at a young age. 

If I left Gus now at 8 1/2 months of age when he is so impressionable and our bonding is so important not to mention his service dog training and obedience training I truly believe we could never make it up. We would never become a service dog team. The idea terrifies me. I love this dog more than most things in my world right now and to be without him seems unbearable. So I was close to going back to some sort of treatment be it full inpatient or a partial program with boarding but I managed to create structure with my parents and treatment team where we created our own sort of partial program where I am basically receiving the same support I would had I gone to a partial program. I have meal support and we have defiantly upped the therapy time and amount of time I’m spending with my dietician. 

Without meal support would I be eating? I wish I could say yes, but I can’t. Not right now. My eating disorder is really strong and the grip it has on me seems to be unbreakable. But I’m learning that this can’t matter. I do what I need to do anyways just with help right now. I don’t give myself a chance to skip meals or restrict my intake because I have a support team around me. 

So am I in a relapse? The answer would be yes – if left to my own devices as I was a few weeks ago. Now I’ve been pulled out by other people. I’m letting them do the work right now while I comply and follow directions. I’m letting myself go on autopilot for awhile. I don’t have the motivation for complete recovery. I do have the motivation to allow others to help me. And this is the first time I’ve gotten to this place and allowed others to break into the dark, isolated world that my eating disorder has created. Progress. 

And so I’m going along. Still living and existing. Starting school. Beginning a pet sitting business. Working with Gus both on obedience and service dog skills. Teaching him to swim. It’s nice to keep these things going and not have to loose them all while I go sit somewhere and relearn how to eat in an artificial environment. I am hugely grateful that my family has made it possible for me to remain in my world and still receive the help that I need. Hugely grateful. And so thank you family. Thank you for allowing me to stay home and remain with my Gus. 

 

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Filed under dog training, dogs, eating disorder, eating disorders, family, Gus, Hope, Independence, psychiatric service dog, Recovery, service dog, Shona

benny has epilepsy

I’ve been putting off writing this post. I’ve been doing a lot of crying and a whole lot of mourning the past couple of days. On Friday, Benny had a seizure followed by several more in the following 72 hours. What does this mean? Well, it means Benny probably has epilepsy which changes his life in many ways and also means it immediately moved him into retirement from service dog work.

Watching Benny have a seizure is one of the scariest things I have had to witness. The seizure itself is scary but the aftereffects even more so for me. He is confused, seems to forget where he is and can hardly walk. He is uncomfortable and moves from the floor, to the chair, to the couch and back again. The only thing he wants seems to be me. He is extremely clingy.

After his first seizure I loaded him into the car almost as soon as it was done. At that point I didn’t really know what had happened. On the way to the vet it dawned on my mother and me that he must have had a seizure as he appeared to be coming out of whatever happened to him. The vet confirmed this. Blood was taken and the preliminary diagnosis is epilepsy. Within 48 hours Benny had had two more seizures (one serious, one less so) and another one later.

On Thursday Benny and I will travel to Kansas State Veterinary Clinic to meet with a specialist and to determine if it exactly is epilepsy and hopefully get him started on a medication regimen. More than likely Ben will have to take meds for the rest of his life.

I expect Ben to by and large live a happy and full life. Yes, it will be marred by seizures (hopefully only occasionally) but they can by and large be controlled by medication is what I am told. He can no longer be my service dog something both him and I must come to terms with but he can live his life out as a loved and spoiled pet (and trust me he’ll be spoiled).

I would have liked for our partnership to end with Ben retiring in old age but it is not to be. I will have to mourn this for awhile. I will miss my boy but I do have Shona to work (and someday another dog). I am extremely lucky in that I have my Shona girl to step in. I am also lucky that I can keep Ben and have him with me everyday. So yes, I am sad. Devastated really but Ben and I will move forward as a team and face this together just as we have faced every other challenge placed before us.

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Filed under Ben, dog training, dogs, psychiatric service dog, service dog, Shona

a service dog in a psych hospital

So I recently wrote that I had been admitted to the psych ward twice (the first time just short of three days and the second time just short of a week). What I failed to mention was what I did with my service dogs, Benny and Shona, while I was admitted. This was deliberate. There is so much criticism in the service dog world about how people treat their dogs and represent service dogs as a whole. In fact, there is a whole Facebook page dedicated to finding “fakers” or people they deem irresponsible or misrepresenting service dogs and publicly exposing them. I was reluctant to share my decisions in how I handled my stay and my dogs in fear of judgement and bullying but I am choosing to in order to perhaps help someone else think through how they would like to handle a similar situation. 

First, I need to say that I always consider my dog’s needs first before my own. The hospital I go to is a safe environment with a well trained staff. In addition, it sits on a large area of grounds and easy access to these for potty breaks at anytime. In addition, I could take my service dog for short ten to fifteen minute walks. Staff was more than accommodating day or night in allowing me to take Ben or Shona out. Before staying at the hospital I considered my dog’s temperate. Ben is a dog that is not easily effected by other’s emotions. If Ben is a dog that naturally picks up and feels all the feelings around him a psych. hospital would not be the place for him. But Ben is very emotionally stable and stern. He loves people but their emotions don’t effect him negatively (Shona struggles with this more) so Ben was the dog I chose to take with me. 

Ben did not remain “on duty” the entire time he was at the hospital. He was allowed to visit with the other patients, play and act like a dog. If he had remained “on duty” the entire time he would have become worn out and burnt out. Instead he had time to just be Ben and be a dog. There were times I needed him on duty but I also made sure he could be Ben. I deliberately made sure I spent time in my room during the day so he could sleep just like he would at home and wouldn’t be overstimulated. This way he got enough rest. 

I considered the population of patients. I was not in a severe mentally ill unit. For the most part there were not psychotic patients. Most were struggling like me so Ben was in no danger. He in fact provided much needed relief to these patients and when not working was allowed to be petted, cuddled and hugged. He served as a therapy dog as much as anything. This is important to note. If you are considering taking your dog inpatient you need to be clear to yourself before going in what your boundaries will be. Will you enforce the no petting rule? I did when Ben was on duty but when he was not I allowed him to be petted like a normal dog. This will require interaction. People naturally want to pet your dog. They will ask questions. You will have to be near them. This was hard for me. But Ben craved their attention and in order for me to make the stay positive for him I allowed him to have the attention he desired. 

Another factor that made the hospital stay feasible was my parents were able to visit every night. My dad took Ben out for a thirty minute walk each night. So Ben got plenty of exercise and a chance to run. Each day when they were there I evaluated his mood, attitude well-being, exhaustion and stress level to see if he was able to stay another day. If he had indicated he was stressed at all I would have sent him home immediately. 

To sum up my experience with Ben  I made the right decision to take him with me. It worked for us. It’s not going to work for every situation. It’s a combination of having the right hospital, the right population of patients, the right timing, the right access to resources and the right dog. Ben has come out of his stay a better service dog. His behavior is more focused and concentrated. He learned a lot from his time there. And how do I know he was not harmed from his stay? Every-time I return there for outpatient Ben wags his tail and becomes increasily excited thinking we are returning to the hospital. He would like nothing better. Sorry buddy if I have anything to say about it we are staying far away. 

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Filed under Ben, coping skills, depression, dogs, psychiatric service dog, service dog, Shona

welcome back to work, Benny

In May of this year I announced that my psychiatric service dog, Ben, would be retiring. At that point I didn’t know if it would be temporary or permeant. In the meantime I was very blessed to have another dog (Shona) to step in and fill his duties. In five months since then Shona has become a great service dog in training who has learned, grown and proved to be a great partner. Our bond has grown and she has proved that she is meant to be a service dog. However, in the last month or so Ben began to indicate a desire to work again. I was cautious for many reasons. Ben was retired due to some fairly serious problems but at the time I also wasn’t completely convinced it would be a permeant retirement due to the adolescent period labs go through, our relatively new partnership and a variety of other factors. So when he began to show interest I cautiously began introducing Ben to non-stressful working environments around the beginning of September.

Since then Ben has shown that he is truly ready to be a service dog. He is a different dog than he was four or five months ago. He is now a focused, secure dog that shows little to no signs of stress when out. Of course he still retains that goofy temperament that makes Benny, Benny but it is tempered by the attitude of a (mostly) mature dog. A very, very different Benjamin than who he was back in May.  I contribute this to several factors. Benny and I hadn’t even begin together for a year when he began to show signs of needing at least a temporary retirement. We loved each other but really we were still getting to know each other. It’s understandable that he and I needed time to bond and learn to trust each other without the stress working in a public situations brings. Taking time to play, snuggle and spend time together without worrying about going out was so beneficial to both of us. Benny is now my constant shadow. Even more so than when he first arrived. He is more intuitive to my needs (although not quite as much as Shona) and I believe as time goes by he will continue to be.

In addition, I began comprehensive obedience work. I am very confident in this situation. I have shown in obedience since I was seven years old and the structure is comforting to me and familiar. This is a direct contrast to public situations. So this gave Benny a time to trust me. To follow my lead and for me to demonstrate that I was the leader in our relationship. He could relax and follow my lead and he loved it! In addition, the extra training and commands helped Benny to focus his scattered mind and keep him sharp as he took a break.

Finally, the break allowed Benny time to just be a dog and I really think he needed this. He played. He ran with my dogs. He wrestled. He soaked up attention from my grandmother. He was able to be petted whenever he wanted. He was in heaven. But then one day he suddenly wasn’t. He wasn’t okay when I left. He started asking to have his vest put on. And so I put it on him. I took him for a short outing to a low stress place that we could leave at once if things didn’t go well. But they did. And so we went again. And then to a different place and gradually we’ve kept going and I’ve been really proud of him. He’s learning new things (a “where’s the car” command and a “lead out” command where he finds the exit as well as leading me to my parents in the store). And so far he’s been great.

I’m not pushing things though. I don’t work him too much or in stressful situations. I switch him out with Shona and Shona does a lot of the more stimulating and stressful situations (she does well with them). I think Benny will always work part time or quarter time and Shona will fill in the gaps and I’ll never hesitate to retire again and permanently if he needs it but honestly? I think Benny is ready to work. I think he wants to work. He’s happy. I’m happy.

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Filed under Ben, dog training, dogs, Independence, life events, psychiatric service dog, PTSD, Recovery, service dog, Shona

invisible disabilities

This last week was Invisible Disability Awareness Week as well as Suicide Awareness Week. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that they fall on the same week but it is fitting that they do so. Suicidal ideation like all mental health conditions is an invisible illness that seeps into the conciseness and can be as deliberating as many other “visible” illnesses.

I remember the soul crushing weariness and hopelessness I felt for many years before receiving treatment of any kind and not having any kind of validation for this feeling caused even more hopelessness. At this point in my life I had no voice with which to speak. I did not know how to share my pain or advocate for myself. As I spiraled further down into anorexia and my weight loss began to mimic the sickness inside me there was some relief. Now someone knew I was not ok. Now it showed. However, as my weight climbed into the normal range again I was left once again with all of the challenges that come with an invisible illness. (important thing to note: you cannot tell if a person has an eating disorder based on their shape or weight. In fact, an eating disorder can be one of the most deadly forms of an invisible illness and I was in fact very sick at an acceptable weight).

And these challenges that come with an invisible illness are many. As I began to inch my way towards recovery my activities were limited. I did not attend school nor did I work. However, I often got the question ‘where do you go to school?’ and when I said I wasn’t in school it was followed by ‘okay so where do you work?’. I was often considered to be lazy because I didn’t do something productive. I didn’t look sick or ill therefore in society’s eyes I wasn’t.  This extended to friendships. Some friends didn’t understand that I didn’t turn down invitations because I didn’t like them but because mentally I had limited resources and reserves for what I could and couldn’t do. I lost some of these friends who didn’t try to learn. And then there were my long absences from life which was the time I spent in the hospital. This was also hard to explain to those who would see me one day looking fine and the next I would be hospitalized for up to a week at a time. As hard as many people tried to understand many couldn’t and some wouldn’t try.

Now I face new challenges – having a service dog while while not looking disabled. Benny sometimes wears a patch that says not all disabilities are visible as a reminder that just because I don’t look disabled doesn’t mean I am not. Most people assume I am training Benny and Shona for someone else and when asked and I say that yes, they are service dogs and yes they are mine. I get probing questions that quite frankly sometimes I struggle to answer politely.

Mental illnesses are not the only invisible illnesses. There are many others. Wonder into a service dog group and you’ll find at least ten other handlers that have a service dog for an invisible disability and each has a different illness.

And from these handlers I have learned that it is impossible to know someone’s story just as it is impossible to know my story. I hope you’ll join me in dropping judgement about mental health, the use of accommodations and other disabilities.

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Filed under Ben, depression, eating disorder, eating disorders, friends, psychiatric service dog, service dog, Shona

all three of us are happy – an update on life with shona, benny and i

It’s been awhile since I’ve last posted. I’ve been living life instead of blogging about that and I find that I can’t apologize for that. I have’t *lived* into life and been this busy in a really long time and it feels good. Weird but good.

My life is filled with new things but some things remain the same and these are as always my dogs. Although, it has taken me awhile to see this. For some time I wasn’t sure how to approach the changes within Benny, Shona’s and my life. Benny was moving into full retirement, Shona into full service dog in-training status and me into a two dog mom again. Recently, though I have realized that at heart Benny will always be a service dog. I’ve taken him out of public access, yes. But he still performs his jobs at home. Better even than before. He follows me from room to room. Does deep pressure tasks and takes care of me in a loving and gentle way. He and Shona often “tag-team” at our apartment (although sometimes they do have a few disagreements  about who gets to sit on the couch with me – these mostly look like Shona herding Benny and Benny trying to go around her. I really should try and catch it on video sometime).

I feel so blessed to have these dogs in my life that are so devoted to me. And they truly are. They love the other members of my family but both Shona and Benny truly prefer to be with me. This makes it hard to leave Ben when Shona and I go out but it also reaffirms my decision to continue having him live with me. And so all three of us are happy. Benny is adjusting well, Shona has slipped into her new role effortless and I am at peace.

Could I really ask for much else?

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Filed under Ben, dog training, dogs, Hope, psychiatric service dog, Recovery, service dog, Shona

service dog dilemmas – my heart is breaking

Having a service dog is not for the faint of heart. On the outside looking in you see pictures of teams cuddling, working together, smiling and appearing to be put together in public and in private all the time. This is an illusion – not the reality.

The reality is that having a service dog requires a lot of hard work. It requires practicing of tasks, recognizing that your dog cannot always be superdog and is sometimes simply a dog which does mean they will disobey, ignore you or embarrass you in public. I’ve had all this happened believe me.

But what really hit me and was something I wasn’t fully prepared for was the emotions involved with having a service dog. Ben is in the process of retiring. It’s pretty official now. He’s not able to work the way he should and I’m very lucky to have Shona to move into his role little by little. But it brings up a lot of emotions – heartbreak, anger (not at Ben), happiness, confusion, second-guessing myself, disappointment, guilt and so many other emotions.

I love both of my dogs so much. It’s hard to put into words what they mean to me. Ben stepped into my life and completely turned it on it’s head. I’ve been hospital free for almost a year now. Before that I was in almost every month. Ben stopped that cycle, brought me back to life and helped me discover what I think my purpose is. Shona came into my life in one of the darkest, darkest moments. When I was still reeling from my past she created a safety net, a reason to live while in treatment and became the most devoted dog I have ever had.

So how can I work one without feeling like I’m betraying the other? I can’t. Every time I make the stratestric decision which dog is appropriate for what situation I am heartbroken when the other sulks, howls, whines or watches us from the window. Ben shouldn’t have to be retiring so soon but it is the reality of the situation. I didn’t think I would have to face these emotions for at least another six years at the very minimum. But I’m facing them now and it’s hurting me. And it’s hurting him too.

You can’t explain to a dog why they can’t come with you when they are used to going everywhere with you and instead their sibling will be accompanying you on an outing. They don’t understand that a behavior they are exhibiting has led to this decision. They were simply exhibiting a behavior that was brought on by who knows what.

And so as I write this all I can think of it’s not fair. I hurt – they hurt. We are all confused. I’m on a journey with these dogs and I will not give up. No matter which dog is performing the duties of a service dog I will love the other. I have enough room in my heart for both. They are both my heart dogs.

But honestly, right now – I do feel like my heart is breaking.

 

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Filed under Ben, coping skills, dogs, Independence, life events, psychiatric service dog, service dog, Shona

Ben and Shona – lifesavers, service dogs, my future

PicsArt

Ben is my service dog. I need to make that clear before I go much further. I have various mental health issues and Ben is trained to helped mitigate these. And his help is invaluable. I can honestly say he has saved my life.

Since January  however Ben has begun to exhibit some growling behavior. His growling has occurred on several occasions which worries and upsets me. Growling is an unacceptable behavior for a service dog and not one which I desire to have my dog exhibit even if the growl presents no real agression. I have worked with Ben extensively on this and while it has improved I am not willing to continue to work him in environments that may cause him to growl. In addition, Ben began to display a laziness and a relectantness to do the task I ask and he is trained to do to help me mitigate my disability. After long talks with my mentor (who has trained her own service dog and we work very well together brainstorming and learning), parents and others in my life it has been decided that Ben will have less duties. He will not be retired  because Ben will still be working in certain situations  He has very, very strong strengths that it would be a shame to loose and it will be easy for me to avoid his triggers. Unfortunately  this would leave me with a dog that does not perform vital tasks for me that include grounding skills that allow me to function to the best of my ability. Luckingly, I have a dog in my life who is ready to enter this role.

This dog is my dog Shona. Shona is a force to be reconded with. She entered my life at a little less than a year in between my treatment stays. She was what motivated me to continue to fight and to find a reason to live. She had a long puppyhood filled with jumping, hyperness and a generally high activity level. However, she has this very, very strong bond with me and has since day one. Now at almost four years old Shona is showing signs of being a mature dog that six months ago I wasn’t even seeing. She listens, heels, stays, comes and is beginning to perform vital tasks on cue. I have evaluated her with the help of those in my life and Shona is now entering the status of “service dog in training”. She has made several public outings and so far it appears that she may fill in the spots where Benny is lacking. I will continue to very, very closely monitor her progress but right now Shona is on the way to becoming my second service dog.

You may be asking why you donated money for me to receive a dog that is not performing the way he should. But without your support many, many things would not have happened in my life. Let me list these for you.

1) I have stayed out of the hospital for nine months now. This was unheard of before Ben entered my life. He has given me stability in my mental health. That is worth so much more than I could ever express to you.

2) He has shown me where my life is going. He has given me a path and a purpose to follow.

3) He has brought me back to training. He has led me to the Kennel Club where I am developing a community, a place to spend my time and my love for dogs and training.

4) He has made it possible for me to train my own dog. I have learned so much from Ben. He has been my teacher. Someday I plan to train service dogs. Ben is and always will be the best teacher.

5) He has shown me that I desire to go get a certificate in professional dog training. I will be starting that this summer. This is something I have always, always, wanted to do. To know where my life is going and I am going to be doing something that utilizes my passion is absolutely astounding and amazing.

So please, please know that you who donated money truly saved my life. Without the gift of Benny I don’t even know if I would be here. I was dangerously close to ending my life when this dog entered my life. And he is going to continue to stay here. He will be my service dog, he will simply have the help of another dog. And I get the blessing of having two extremely talented and intuitive dogs in my life.

Shona collage

 

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Filed under Ben, coping skills, dogs, Hope, Independence, life events, New Life, PTSD, Recovery, service dog, Shona, survivor, the past, trauma