Coping Strategy: Emotional Support Animals

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs): Definitions

ADA covers service animals, not emotional support animals. Use the link to FAQs for more information.

The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) offers this summary about their view of service, emotional support, and therapy animals. This post explains their definition of Emotional Support Animals.

This article is a resource guide defining ADA guidelines and handler responsibilities for working with service, emotional support, and other types of therapy animals.

Why share this now?

Gale.

Plain and simple. Gale is my emotional support cat. I worked with my medical and mental health providers to prepare for and be ready to care for a pet who would also be my emotional support animal for many years. The mental health counselor and I agreed on a timeline. Then she wrote the letter prescribing or supporting my decision.

I shared that with building management and informed the adoption agency too. The agency didn’t require a copy of the letter, so I did not provide it for them. But they were extra careful in helping me select a cat for adoption. They answered as many questions as possible and offered resources for me to find answers on my own too. No pressure to adopt; in fact they said that they prefer I not adopt Gale if I felt in any way uncomfortable during our meeting.

Gale's letting me cover her up
I don’t understand why she does this, but my human likes swaddling me in blankets as I nap.

As for the rest of it, I’m still learning to cope with the challenges of interacting people and making myself understood with cat/pet world terminology. It’s scary and rewarding at the same time.

Last time I tried this, I was not as prepared to face the unexpected challenges of having to communicate and interact with so many different kinds of people. This time I am up for the challenge. And Gale is helping with that too.

I am not going to encourage or discourage you if you decide to adopt or purchase an animal for therapeutic reasons.

I will ask you to read the literature provided in the links and also check in with yourself. Consider your lifestyle, current challenges, financial situation, support system, current goals and successes too. Then start talking about this with important people in your life. Get opinions and feedback from their perspective; listen, use what’s useful, and put the rest away for now.

Because taking responsibility for another living being is a big challenge and a bigger change.

Positive Changes

Gale has me moving more than ever. I even started a regular routine of moving meditation, stretching and light exercise 2x a day thanks to her. She’s so funny and does cat stretches with me sometimes. Other time she watches me from a comfy seated position or distracts me with a tail slap and head butt.

We eat regular meals together. And I’m learning that talking to people is not as scary as I thought. Neither is asking for help. I own my anxiety and how that interferes with communication, so make sure the people I talk with understand that as much as they can too.

Gale in her bed
Hmm…this bed isn’t so scary and evil after all. And I get to keep my new blanket

And sleep! Amazing how a furry friend can help with sleep. I’m not talking about cuddles or hugs – Gale didn’t start accepting or asking for cuddles until a few days ago – but having a welcoming/comforting presence in my space. She likes to sleep on my feet at night. And once in a while we sit together and watch tv or read.

But I also feel safer living in my apartment with her. Gale is an excellent guard cat. She hears things I miss or ignore and watches the door when people get too close outside. And she notices when my neighbors upstairs make noise or do annoying things before I do so I can prepare for whatever they do.

Her best quality, though, is being able to read environmental and emotional changes; then cope with them without too much stress. Gale has met almost all of my alters and doesn’t get upset with the switching as much. Instead, she walks away, changes position, or vocalizes to let me know a change occurred.

Last time I tried working with a puppy. That didn’t work because of my physical limitations. This time, with a cat and 8 years perspective, we are learning to get along and live together with lots of fun and shenanigans.

I’m looking forward to having Gale around for at least 10 more years 🙂 and hope she feels the same way about me.

One Month (almost) Anniversary

Gale took over my chair
This chair is mine now. Maybe, if you give me enough head and cheek scratches, I’ll share.
  • September 21, 2020 is our first month anniversary living together. I’m excited because we’ve been through a lot in our one month tougher.
  • Fire alarm that required me to put her in a carrier a week into living together.
  • 2 long trips out of the house; having to trust Gale not to destroy the apartment while I was out.
  • Mild panic attacks my side as I got used to her food/living/sleeping/litter box requirements, worked, and did chores.
  • Lots of stress on Gale’s side having to cope with being stuffed into a carrier and then outside in the dark/cold night with flashing lights and strangers after a few days living together.
  • Gale getting scared of all the strange noises in the new apartment.
  • Gale running and hiding every time her human makes a sound or body language/hand gesture that scares her.
  • Gale feeling torn between curiosity and distrust in her new environment and with her new human.
  • Gale testing her human by clawing at furniture and then looking to see what she will do.
  • Gale’s confusion when her human doesn’t do more than yell, make a loud sound or spray water at her.
  • Both of us adjusting to living and working together.

Honestly, I’m surprised we survived all that without anyone (my alters and I) getting bitten or clawed.

Do you have animals in your life? Are they grounding and comforting too? Or something else? Share stories in the comments if you like.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenge: Obstacles Beyond My Control

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

This is a short post.

Life is hectic right now because of the fires in Oregon and along the West Coast. Then there is snow in the midwest. Hurricanes in the South and Southeast too.

And of course making mistakes or feeling triggered because of stuff happening outside of my control. That’s how life goes sometimes.

But it doesn’t make me feel any less helpless when the obstacles show up and are outside of my control.

That’s when the inner strength and resilience come in to play. I may be feeling triggered because of my own mistakes and outside events or actions or experiences influencing my life. But I can still control my actions and reactions. Sometimes I do things on instinct; in the short term it gets me in trouble. In the long term, sometimes they set the foundation for a better outcome.

Right now, my goal is to stay safe and prepare for the possibilities while working and enjoying Gale.

I hope you all stay safe and healthy too. You have the same inner strength and resilience necessary to cope with the triggers and obstacles outside of your control too.

thanks for reading.

Coping Challenge: Practicing Forgiveness for People from My Past

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

*Caveat 1 – This is a journal-entry style post so it looks like a first draft with errors, etc. *

Forgiveness does not change what has been done, but frees your future.

~K. M. Shea from the short story “Forgiven” in Snowflakes

Flashbacks

It’s funny what memories and experiences certain times of the year bring to my consciousness.

August is full of memories about relatives and school experiences. The excitement of learning something (always feels safe) combined with the dread of having to deal with people again (never feels safe even now) makes me feel jittery. Yes, jittery.

People were kind because they wanted something from me. Or they were mean because the adults were mean – some even encouraged the racism and bullying. Very few people from my past were genuinely kind and supportive. They stand out like beacons even as the rest of me drowns in fear and hate when the flashbacks take over.

That makes physical triggers (appearance, tone of voice, gestures, etc.) a minefield of traps outside of my safe world. Phone calls, work messages, social interactions outside of my apartment, they all have the potential to trigger a flashback. And that’s when the agoraphobia kicks in…

Reflection

Forgiveness is something I choose to practice as often as possible in all parts of my life. But it’s complicated. Because sometimes one’s words, actions, or choices don’t appear to stem from forgiveness. Or many people’s idea of forgiveness.

That is something that often troubles me. Because while I choose to forgive people and offer chances, I also maintain strong boundaries and do not easily let people back into my life. So am I practicing forgiveness? Or am I just speaking about it without backing up the words with actions?

And what about the alter personalities? Just because one part of me offers forgiveness, doesn’t mean all parts of me do. Or that alters will stay out of interactions with people from the past as we meet in unexpected ways. Because all parts of me get involved when one or more sense potential danger. And interacting with people from the past is a red flag for potential danger.

This is another instance where INTENTION MATTERS. If the intention behind my words and actions is forgiveness, then that is my goal even if the outside world perceives the interaction differently.

Plus, I can forgive people and still be reserved around them. I can choose to be polite and kind without being friendly, open or trusting. And I can keep out people who don’t change in order to stay safe.

Forgiveness

The words are easy to say, but putting intention and action to back them are more difficult.

I’ve had the opportunity to encounter people from my past over the last few years. They often do not result in a positive experience. Random encounters with people from my past scare me and bring out my alter personalities. It’s often a 3/4 to complete switch where I don’t remember words or interactions. And my alters do not often share the experience with me or anyone else either.

But what I can say is that all parts of me have embraced the tenets of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and use the Interpersonal Effectiveness tools as often as possible no matter who is in charge. In that sense, I am not worried about the words coming out of my mouth being abusive or mean or derogatory.

All parts of me do worry about whether or not the words coming out are in alignment with the value of practicing forgiveness or something else.

For me, the definition of forgiveness is in the quote at the top of this page. I don’t offer forgiveness to change people. I offer forgiveness to free myself from the past. That freedom gives me space to grow, change, and bring more love into my life.

Love, acceptance, kindness, forgiveness, empathy, consideration…all those positive words that include all living beings and connect me to something greater than myself.

So when the fear takes over and my alters are in charge, I trust them to consider our shared values as they interact with people from the past. Forgiveness means letting go of the past in order to move on in the present and future. It does not mean forgetting or allowing toxic people to continue hurting me or people I care about.

And that you see is my conundrum. While I do practice forgiveness, I have a hard time giving people from childhood through young adulthood a chance to be in my life again. I don’t trust the people they are connected to not to hurt me whether directly or indirectly. Which means I can’t relax and be myself around them.

The fear gets in the way.

And so I work hard to offer forgiveness while maintaining a healthy skepticism and not letting many people back into my life. For a chance to re-build a relationship, the other person or people must be willing to meet me in the middle in terms of give-and-take, open communication, and acceptance. Trust and respect come later.

The sad part is that many people from my past often come into my life in order to spy on me or get information to use against me. And so I nip that in the bud with brutally honest, borderline rude, sometimes mean-sounding words and actions. I try polite and kind first, even when I don’t recognize or remember them at first.

Because they don’t understand kindness or respect boundaries, I have to use harsher methods to make them understand that they won’t get away with their old manipulations in the present.

And if people who recognize and remember me choose to pretend I don’t exist (my preference), I do the same and continue on with life.

Visiting Home

This is why I am terrified about visiting the city where I grew up. It’s why I feel conflicted about going back to Massachusetts sometimes.

And why I am not excited about visiting family or going to my parents’ home, yet extremely excited to see them, my brother, and my puppy niece.

Forgiveness offers me a chance and a pathway back to my family and some people from the past by offering me freedom from the trauma.

But only I can truly make this work. And that will always be a work-in-progress lifetime goal.

Thanks for reading.

Holding Hands with Gale

Life Quirks: Coping with Change – Meet My Cat Gale

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

The Beginning

It happened so fast that I still feel unprepared.

I’ve been trying for over 4 months to adopt a cat through the Oregon Humane Society, but it’s been a challenge because of COVID-19-related changes to the adoption process. But on the busiest, most challenging week post-COVID, Gale came into my life.

I applied Wednesday. Talked to the counselor on Thursday. Met and brought Gale home on Friday – completely unprepared.

Gale's profile photo
Gale’s profile photo

The counselor told me about the attitude on the phone; and that she loves food and catnip. That was good because I love food and catnip too. That’s how we bonded at the shelter. I brought fresh and dried herbal quality catnip as a bribe.

2 years old, slightly under weight, doesn’t like being handled and will make it known (growls and hisses anyone?). She was pissed when the counselor put her in the cardboard carrier, so we agreed it was best not to move her again for the ride home. The counselors were awesome! They helped me bring her and her “new owner kit” plus a few extras to the car.

We took a Lyft back and luckily had a patient, kind driver who liked cats. Lucky because Gale decided she didn’t like the cardboard carrier and told us so. Then she got feisty and started poking her claws out; scratching the holes open; biting the holes; and rolling in the carrier to rock it.

Home Introductions and Respecting Boundaries

It started with her wanting to be with me all the time. Have some scratches on the bedroom door and molding because I didn’t always leave the door open when I left the bedroom. She wanted to explore on Saturday and made her way through the whole apartment.

Then she decided to start scratching inappropriate items while watching me for a reaction. Yup, testing me. So I didn’t know what to do. The literature says keep cats confined to one room for a week. That cat’s won’t be very affectionate or interested in being near their humans for a while or eat a lot the first week.

We had our first “scare” this morning when she had trouble with hair balls and eating something she wasn’t supposed to eat, but got out on her own. That was interesting times at 3:30 this morning with me calling a 24 hr vet for advice and doing my best to check out a cat who is suspicious of everything and doesn’t like being touched unless it’s on her terms.

I got to listen to lots of coughing, throat clearing, sneezing, whistling, and other cat-trying-to-get-a-hairball or something else out noises until about 7 this morning. We slept late, and I fed her around 8:30 like Saturday. Between the hospital operator and the clinic receptionist, I felt like Gale would be okay after she spit out a small piece of something she wasn’t supposed to eat.

And me panicking because Gale is not doing what the literature said she’d be doing

Mistakes, Underestimating Cats, and Emergency purchases

So, I’ve been talking people’s ears off with my nervous chatter and questions because Gale bonded fast and started exploring the apartment yesterday. Not a week after living with me. Nope. Not my girl with her attitude and STRONG boundaries.

My mistakes: underestimating how fast delivery services would be, Gale’s appetite, and her need for appropriate scratching posts, not understanding the depth of her suspicious nature, and not scheduling a vet appointment on Saturday.

A call to the animal shelter Saturday calmed me down and reassured me it’s better to let Gale set the pace and follow literature instructions exactly. The email from our adoption counselor reassured me that Gale was acting like a normal Siamese cat – minus the attitude. The phone person connected me with a local store that sold Gale’s food, litter, scratch posts and other cat necessities.

The bus was delayed, so I used Lyft again. And again grateful for great drivers who helped me cope with my anxiety and get all Gale’s stuff into the apartment building. The store people at (Mud Bay) were amazing and helped calm me down some more while working with me to fill my list: 2 scratching posts, a carrier, food, litter, hair ball treats, dental treats, and a bed to start.

Delayed…Everything

Gale’s arrival changes all my timelines for the foreseeable future. It’s an interesting balancing act to help her feel comfortable with the whole apartment while trying to get my work done and needs met.

I’m lucky she’s not a clingy cat – as long as I am in eye sight or jump-to range, Gale is fine – or a destructive one.

Her boundaries are clear, and she’s so smart that she learned mine fast too. Now we’re working out how to live peacefully together.

So, If I’m not active or blogging for the next week or two, it’s because my schedule and routine are in flux.

Right now, my goals are:

  1. remember to eat regular meals and hydrate often
  2. remember it’s okay to leave Gale alone sometimes
  3. remember to clean up more and do my chores around work
  4. Make space for Gale’s stuff
  5. Shower, brush teeth, go to bed at my normal time
  6. Try to follow my sleep hygiene routine
  7. Use DBT, aromatherapy, and other tools in my toolbox to cope with feeling overwhelmed and triggered into nightmares

Thanks for reading!

Alter Post: Body Acceptance Stories

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

To be fair to all of you, this post is written by many of us off-the-cuff. You will see spelling errors, grammar errors, etc. as your read. If that is not something you want, please stop here.

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