By L.L. Wolf
What crosses your mind when you imagine a disabled person? Do you think of someone in a wheelchair? Perhaps you think of someone using a crutches or a cane? Most of us think of physically disabled persons before any other disability. Most importantly, they don’t think of me.
I am totally able bodied. I don’t rely on the use a wheelchair or a cane. I’m male, 5’2 and a half, bearded, and fat (you can read my partner’s blog about that term here). But, despite all that, I am considered disabled. I have several diagnoses; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Schizoaffective Disorder, depressed type, and Borderline Personality Disorder. Throw in some nasty anxiety and these diagnoses basically mean that I rely on medications, several times a day, to keep me stable. I attend group therapy during the day multiple times a week. I visit with a psychiatrist and therapist weekly. I live in a group home with about fifty other people who suffer with similar disabilities. My disability is so severe that I am seeking the partnership of a Psychiatric Service Dog.
Many people I have encountered balk when I mention my intention to get a service dog. “What do you need a service dog for? You aren’t blind.” Or, they respond with an even more humorous response, “Oh, so you are blind?” But, service dogs are not only for the blind.
Service dogs can be trained to assist handlers with all kinds of disabilities, ranging from Epilepsy to Diabetes alert, Mobility to Psychiatric Service Dogs. I plan to write about the latter.
So, I guess I’ll start with the basics. What is a Psychiatric Service Dog and what can they do for their handler?
“Psychiatric Service Dogs are service dogs individually trained to perform tasks which mitigate the psychiatric disabilities of their disabled partners.” (http://servicedogcentral.org/content/PSD)
Psychiatric Service Dogs can do a wide range of tasks to help their handlers. One of the tasks is Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT). DPT is when a Psychiatric Service Dog lays his or her body across a handler’s lap or other body part(s). DPT is proven to lower anxiety and help ground handlers who are having flashbacks.
“Those who suffer from panic attacks have reported that the pressure of the weight of a medium size dog or a large dog against their abdomen and chest has a significant calming effect. It can shorten the duration of the attack; often prevent the symptoms from escalating. This same task performed by service dogs for its calming benefit for children and adults who are autistic and prone to panic attacks has become known as “deep pressure therapy” in the assistance dog field. One way it is performed is to have a medium size dog lie atop someone who is lying on their back on a floor, bed or sofa, forepaws over the shoulders of the partner.” (http://www.iaadp.org/psd_tasks.html)
Deep Pressure Therapy is the one task that I imagine I will use the most. Having been around dogs all my life, nothing calmed me more than calling a dog up into my lap. It seemed innocuous then; I was hugging my dog. But, at the same time, the dog was providing much needed anxiety relief.
There are many more tasks that a Psychiatric Service Dog can provide. As I suffer from PTSD, one thing that plagues me is flashbacks. Often times they come along with anxiety. A Psychiatric Service Dog would ground me during a flashback. One of the many grounding techniques used for people having a flashback is touching something to remind them that they are in the here and now. A Psychiatric Service Dog could provide that tactile stimulation by me petting them, the dog licking me or nudging me with their nose. If the dog becomes extremely in tune with me, they may even alert to flashbacks and anxiety attacks before they occur.
I won’t bore you with the multitude of tasks a Psychiatric Service Dog can accomplish through training, but there are a lot!
Despite all the wonderful things Psychiatric Service Dogs can do, I am without one. And I am really struggling.
Navigating the world with an invisible disability is difficult. People don’t know why I can’t stay out late, or why I suddenly have to get up and leave, sometimes just to the bathroom to catch my cool, other times to go home. I may disappoint friends and my family is baffled by my problems. I do force myself to socialize, which is how I met my wonderful girlfriend. I get anxiety attacks that leave me shaken and completely out of it. Sometimes I don’t know where I am. A Psychiatric Service Dog can help with that, too, by leading me to an exit, car, or friend.
There is still that underlying anxiety, that attack waiting under the surface, that flashback waiting to knock me off my feet when we are out at a bar or out to dinner. That is where the dog comes in. His or her presence will be truly life changing for me. Deep Pressure Therapy will bring me so much calm that meds and talk therapy cannot touch. And the many other tasks I haven’t touched on here in this blog will help a lot as well!
My journey to get a Psychiatric Service Dog is not over. It is just beginning. I hope in a few months, I will be writing this blog with a dog by my side, calming me as I dig deeper into why I need a service dog.
-L. L. Wolf