Tag Archives: bipolar disorder

Oh, Six Feet Under, I Just Can’t Get Enough of You

I’m in a marathon rewatch of Six Feet Under right now because I’m working on an ongoing series over at I Fry Mine In Butter on the show’s depiction of the funeral industry1. One of the recurring themes of the show is mental illness and a number of regular characters including Billy Chenowith and George Sibley are mentally ill. Right now I’m wrapping up the third season, where a number of mental illness-related topics come up, including depression in the case of Vanessa Diaz, who is struggling after the death of her mother, and Ruth Fisher, who is experiencing disorientation as all the people around her go through huge life changes.

Usually mental illness on television leaves me cold. When I’m lucky, it won’t actively enrage me, and when I’m not, it will leave me writhing on the floor in a state of extreme infuriation, because it seems like television series invest pretty minimal energy in actually researching mental illness and talking with mentally ill people about their lived experiences to, you know, get the depiction even vaguely right. Writing about this issue at Bitch earlier this year, I said:

Given the distorted image of mental illness that the media puts forward, it is perhaps no wonder that depictions of mental illness in pop culture rely heavily on some really harmful ideas about us, people with mental illness. We are dangerous. We need to be medicated for our own good. We are out of control. We are irrational. We lie, cheat, steal. We use our mental illness as an excuse for bad behaviour. We are burdens on our families. Our lives are tragedies. We will never know love, because we can never be good enough for romantic partners.

The show’s handling of mental illness is not always pitch-perfect, but it does a better job than most in terms of providing a more honest depiction of mental health issues. It feels like the writers and actors actually know what they are doing. Either they are reflecting their own lived experiences, or they researched and paid attention to the outcome of that research. It’s the kind of show I feel comfortable recommending to people and it’s also a show I really like mining for the depth of its content. Even as on the one hand we have throwaway lines like ‘when he takes his meds, he’s fine,’ the show also has great little exchanges like this, where characters exert autonomy and also have a little fun in the process:

Billy: Oh read that part out loud.

Brenda: You’re sick.

Billy: If by that you mean suffering from bipolar disorder with occasional psychotic episodes than yes I am.

Zing!

Both mentally ill characters and caregivers come up over the course of the series and I appreciate that it avoids putting either one in a box. When Rico and Ruth are dealing with mental illness in their partners, they are not depicted as selfless saints sacrificing everything to care for their partners. They are real. They are frustrated and angry sometimes and they love their partners deeply and they try to establish boundaries and they struggle with assumptions from others. Sometimes they snap and say or do things they regret but the show also manages to avoid positioning Vanessa and George as burdens with no personality; both characters are very humanised and we see situations from their point of view instead of solely seeing them positioned as objects on the screen, like props to be moved around to advance the plot.

Like I say, the show is not always perfect; I find a lot of Billy’s handling to be difficult to take, for example, primarily because the show often strips him of agency and shows him to us primarily through the lens of caregivers and people around him, rather than allowing Billy to speak for himself. In the overall balance, though, Six Feet Under is solid in its depiction of mental illness more than it’s infuriating, which is better that a lot of pop culture.

I’m so used to seeing partners and caregivers positioned adversarially, where we only see the caregiver perspective and the partner is just a lump off to the corner of the screen. In Six Feet Under, we see both perspectives and the show does things like giving people their own scenes! And monologues!  And interactions! It’s almost like it thinks people with mental illness are human beings! Sure, the show also evokes stereotypes like ‘the crazy, you know, it makes you soooo creative,‘ but sometimes it subverts and plays with those stereotypes also, challenging viewers to think beyond their assumptions.

  1. If you’re longing to read some examples, ‘Six Feet Under and the Funeral Rule‘ and ‘Marketing To Death‘ give you a taste and there are upcoming entries planned on exciting topics like the show’s depiction of independent funeral homes and natural burial. Yeah, ok, you kinda have to be a funeral nerd to appreciate this series, I suspect.

Recommended Reading for December 14, 2010

K__ at Feminists with FSD: Notes on MTV’s True Life: I Can’t Have Sex

Actual, proper terminology was used throughout the show. Chronic pelvic pain conditions were named, but some conditions that overlap were not mentioned at all (interstitial cystitis, for example, was not explored in this episode. This is a shame – interstitial cystitis is another misunderstood condition which would benefit from careful media coverage.) This episode focused on the impact of chronic pelvic pain on the women’s sex lives. And that means that while you could learn a little about life with chronic pelvic pain from this episode, for a clinical discussion and details on specific conditions and available treatments, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Carol at Aspieadvocate: I’m an Embarrassment

Yeah, I know some parents of autistic kids worry about the kids embarrassing the rest of the family in public with their unusual behavior. But for me it’s the other way around. I never shut up about autism, mine or his, and while I have every right to out myself, I’m making decisions about him that should really be his to make. Except even if he’s made different decisions about disclosure than I have, he’s not (yet) verbal enough to tell anyone.

David Gorksi at Science-Based Medicine: Death by “alternative” medicine: Who’s to blame? [trigger warning]

Of course, the implication of “Secret” thinking is that, if you don’t get what you want, it’s your fault, an idea that also resonates with so much “alternative” medicine, where a frequent excuse for failure is that the patient either didn’t follow the regimen closely enough or didn’t want it badly enough. Basically, The Secret is what inspired Kim Tinkham to eschew all conventional therapy for her breast cancer and pursue “alternative” therapies, which is what she has done since 2007. Before I discuss her case in more detail, I’m going to cut to the chase, though.

This weekend, I learned that Kim Tinkham’s cancer has recurred and that she is dying.

Arwyn at Raising My Boychick: How far I’ve come

Eight years ago I was withdrawing from college. Again. I’d started medication, divalproex sodium, and that was going to cure me; we’d packed up our possessions, bought furniture in flat boxes, and drove it most of the way across the country to this town with one redeeming feature: the college from which I had just withdrawn because it was better than flunking out from chronic absences. I did not know who I was, what good I was, if I could not do college, be a student. I could not see a future, and mostly did not believe I had one.

Linsay at Autist’s Corner: Autism-related gene spotlight: CNTNAP2

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: CNTNAP2 is a large gene near the end of chromosome 7 that encodes a cell-adhesion protein involved in distributing ion channels along axons (the long tails of nerve cells) and in attaching the fatty cells making up the myelin sheath to the surface of the axon. DIsruptions in this gene have been associated with autism, epilepsy, Tourette syndrome and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Variations at certain points within the gene that don’t alter or disrupt its expression have also been associated with an increased likelihood of autism.

Recommended Reading for November 9, 2010

John Keilman for the Los Angeles Times: Technology opens new horizons for disabled

Yet for all of technology’s promised advances, some worry that the cost will keep helpful devices out of many people’s reach. Others are concerned that governments, schools and institutions might think that high-tech gadgetry has relieved them of their responsibility to serve the disabled.

“Technology is not a solution for every problem,” said Paul Schroeder of the American Foundation for the Blind. “It doesn’t replace the need for quality teaching. It doesn’t replace the need to teach social skills.”

Crazy Mermaid at Bipolar: Crazy Mermaid’s Blog: Paranoid Schizophrenia: Worst Disease in the World

During the tail end of my psychotic break with reality, I came to believe that there were zombies after me, ready to kill me in order to take over my body. My fear of them taking over my body eventually became so great that I decided to go to the local hospital emergency room, where I thought I would be safe from them.

Liz Sayce at RADAR Network: Health and safety: Stifling disabled people’s independence?

As politicians queue up to cite ever more ludicrous examples of health and safety excesses – making kids wear goggles to play conkers, cancelling historic Gloucestershire cheese rolling events, stopping trainee hairdressers having scissors – those of us living with health conditions or disability sometimes hesitate about which side of this argument we are on.

On the one hand, selected stories like this, designed to justify scrapping regulation, can – as the NASUWT just put it – play politics with children’s safety or put workers at greater risk. On the other, there is a massive history of health and safety being used as an excuse to stop disabled people from doing things. So – whilst I hesitate to join all the people selecting examples of health and safety excesses – we do need to look them in the eye.

Irish Deaf Kids: The Salamanca Statement and EPSEN Act (2004)

A key point:

“regular schools with this inclusive orientation are the most effective means of combating discriminating attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all; moreover, they provide an effective education to the majority of children and improve the efficiency & ultimately the cost-effectiveness of the entire education system.”

allama at give the feminist a cigarette: Women as sociological ducks

In The Dustbin of History, Greil Marcus warns of the risk of losing sight of individual genius when talking about the blues: yes, it was created in response to slavery and oppression, but centuries of slavery and oppression only produced one Bessie Smith. Seeing Strange Fruit as the inevitable product of the horrors of American history denies the incredible personal achievement of Billie Holiday. And painting female depression as simply a product of the patriarchy denies the personal experience of mental illness to every single sufferer.

incurable hippie at Where’s the Benefit? Round-Up Post

There are plenty of must-read articles and blog posts which I haven’t had the time or the spoons to cover. All of the following are well worth a look.

Self-Portraits With Disability: Josephine King

Joesphine King is an artist with bipolar disorder who produces startling and evocative self portraits.

Josephine King remembers her first self-portrait and how it showed up out of nowhere. She was “really ill” with bipolar disorder, living alone in a flat in Amsterdam. “I was in psychosis. I was desperate, not at all well in my head. I thought, the only thing to do is a painting.” She worked until a woman emerged against a brilliant pink background. This was the painting that launched five years of obsessive self-portraiture, framed with texts spelling out what it is to be manic depressive. (source)

Originally establishing herself as an artist in ceramics, she turned to portraiture after her diagnosis in 1999.

A painting in several scenes. Across the top, representations of childhood: The artist sleeping in bed; a cozy house; the artist standing as a young child; a lighthouse. Two smaller scenes below, one of the artist sitting in a kitchen with a defeated expression, another of a cheery stove with a quilt behind it, a dog curled up on the hearth. Below, a larger image of the artist turning away from a canvas and being slapped by her brother. Around the frame, the text: 'My brother hit me in the atelier. Childhood fear + pain made me do it. Unbreakable bond.'

‘Unbreakable Bond’

The artist in a bold red skirt and grey striped top, holding a tiger with legs outstretched. Around the frame, the words: 'After the clinic, I went to India to look for tigers: I found none, just paper tigers.'

‘Paper Tigers’

The artist in a brown patterned dress with an apron, a small white and brown dog curled up next to her. Around the frame, the words: 'My beloved dog Primo decided to close his eyes forever. Grief released depression.'

‘Grief’

The artist in a blue shirt and skirt, standing stiffly with her arms by her side. A cigarette dangles from one arm. Around the frame, the words: 'My psychiatrist was a chain smoker. I didn't get a cure, but I took up smoking.'

‘Chain Smoker’

Each portrait tells a little piece of her story. I really love her use of colour, textures, and shapes and I like that while each picture stands on its own really well, they can also be viewed together as part of a larger narrative about her life and her disability.

More pictures of her work can be seen at The Independent and FWD readers in and around London can see her work on display at the Riflemaker gallery.

Dear Imprudence: One of These Things is Not Like the Others

On last week’s Dear Amy, a reader wrote in for some relationship advice. The reader’s girlfriend is becoming more distant, and the reader wants to know what to do:

Dear Amy: I have been in a relationship with a woman for two years. I love her. She says she loves me. She says she wants to marry me and be together forever.

In the beginning, she needed to see me every other day, if not more often. All of our phone calls were long and rich with conversation.

Over the last several months, she has cheated on me numerous times with an ex-boyfriend, although she says she doesn’t like it, didn’t plan it and doesn’t love him.

Lately all phone calls happen while she is watching television or reading. They are very empty.

She has turned down all of my offers to get together.

When I express my feelings of confusion or when I tell her I miss her, she makes me feel I’m out of line. She is hostile.

How can I get her to open up to me again without seeming needy and insecure?

I believe the ex may be back in the picture, but I don’t know if this is the reason for the distance.

She is also bipolar.

How can I bring the love of my life back into my arms again?

— Hopelessly Devoted

Notice anything about this letter? As I read along, I thought ‘gee, this sounds like a situation where the relationship is pretty much over, and the party writing the letter just doesn’t realise it, or wants someone else to affirm it. There’s some emotional distance going on, and the letter writer is struggling with it.’ This is a scenario that plays out pretty much every day in relationships of all sorts.

And then, bam, the second to last sentence. ‘She is also bipolar.’ Just kind of thrown in there. It feels like an afterthought to me, rather than being brought up at the start of the letter as a piece of information that may potentially be important, and it feels less like being aware of something that might impact their relationship, and more like an attempt at just tossing off blame for where the relationship went; ‘she’s bipolar, and that’s why all of this is happening.’

Are there some disabilities that impact the way people think and interact with others, process information, and handle emotional conversations? There absolutely are. Being aware of the things that might change someone’s comfort level or ability to engage with a conversation is not the same as blaming someone for an integral part of that person’s identity and deciding that person can’t be approached at all. The girlfriend has become the disability, and everything wrong with the relationship  is suddenly because of the disability.

Amy responds:

Dear Devoted: You already know the truth. Your girlfriend has lost interest in you.

Whether she is cheating on you again or is going through a depressed cycle of her bipolar disorder, you cannot force her to love you, want to be with you or even have an honest conversation with you about your relationship.

I suggest, therefore, that you be completely honest with yourself and frank with her about your own needs.

You want honesty, fidelity and a close, romantic relationship. So say so. You won’t come off as needy, but as a guy who knows who he is and what he wants.

You also have to be willing to walk away from a relationship that is so imbalanced. You deserve better.

Amy’s approach here doesn’t really integrate an honest discussion about disability and how it might impact how the girlfriend is feeling. There’s one brief mention about ‘going through a depressed cycle,’ but that’s it. The advice about being frank is pretty solid; the letter writer definitely does need to communicate, but it might be good to start with communicating on terms the girlfriend will feel comfortable with. Perhaps she doesn’t want to talk about this on the phone and would feel more comfortable in email. Maybe she wants to meet in person. Maybe she needs some space and is having trouble articulating it.

The way Amy approaches this, it’s centered on the letter writer’s needs. She classifies the relationship as ‘imbalanced’ while providing rather imbalanced advice. She’s right when she says that you can’t force someone to love you, but lack of love might not actually be what is going on here. Indeed, the girlfriend may very much love her partner, and just be in a bad place right now.

It’s not clear from the original letter whether the people involved in this relationship have had a conversation about the girlfriend’s disability and how it sometimes impacts the ways she thinks and feels. Sometimes, people are just distant and not interested in a relationship anymore and it has nothing to do with disability. Sometimes, people are having a hard time of things in ways that are related to their mental health conditions, and need to be supported. Not by being reduced to their disabilities, not by having their disabilities blamed for everything, but by having a space where their needs are accommodated.

The message we are left with from this particular advice column seems to be  that people with bipolar disorder are inherently unsuitable for relationships or serious conversations, and neither of these things is true.

Recommended Reading for Friday, 30 April 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not necessarily safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

Three dancers, dressed in teal and purple, lined up in a row in performance. The front dancer is kneeling, the middle dancer is seated in a wheelchair, and the rear dancer is standing.

From front, Kong Veasna, Kim Sathia and Mao Tipmony performing at the Spotlight festival in Phnom Penh. (Vandy Rattana/Epic Arts Cambodia) (Creative Commons License, Cambodia Trust)

Reminder: Tomorrow is Blogging Against Disablism Day! You can check in at Diary of a Goldfish to see all the submissions (and submit your own work if you are participating). Many, many thanks to The Goldfish for all of the organising work which goes into this.

Mia Mingus at Leaving Evidence: Interdependency (via curate)

Being physically disabled and having mobility needs that are considered “special,” means that I often need people to help me carry things, push my wheelchair, park my car, or lend me an arm to lean on when I walk.   It means that much of my accessibility depends on the person I’m with and the relationship I have with them. Because most accessibility is done through relationships, many disabled people must learn the keen art of maintaining a relationship in order to maintain their level of accessibility.  It is an exhausting task and something that we have had to master and execute seamlessly, in many of the same ways we have all had to master how to navigate and survive white supremacy, heterosexism, our families, economic exploitation, violence and trauma.

Wheelchair Dancer: Arizona’s Immigration Laws

Two questions: what kinds of offenses make people removable? (Note: even the very word choice — removable — makes it sound like you are taking out the trash.) Turns out that besides the biggies, like you know, murder, the case for removability can be built from smaller things such as traffic offenses. Without a warrant? Perhaps that’s one thing if you see a person on the street robbing a bank, but I can see it being used as an excuse to enter homes, to conduct raids, to begin to hunt people down. I can see it being used as a way of legalizing the immigration equivalent of witch hunts.

Tanya M. Luhrmann at the American Journal of Psychiatry: The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease (book review, warning, some problematic word use)

Perhaps the explanation is that it is so morally distressing to confront the costs of human social life. This, after all, was the story of the 1965 Moynihan report—a report that documented the real challenges of African American life in the inner city and was roundly criticized as racist and dismissed. Racial prejudice, after all, is something that readers of a book like this can act on or at least believe they can alter. Deep social inequality that leaves its marks on the body and mind is far more difficult to uproot. There is little doubt, however, that those marks are real.

Kavita Ramdas at TED Talks: Radical women, embracing tradition (video and transcript)

Why is it that women are, on the one hand, viciously oppressed by cultural practices, and yet, at the same time, are the preservers of culture in most societies? Is the hijab or the headscarf a symbol of submission or resistance? When so many women and girls are beaten, raped, maimed, on a daily basis, in the name of all kinds of causes, honor, religion, nationality, what allows women to replant trees, to rebuild societies, to lead radical, non-violent movements for social change?

Denise Grady at the New York Times: Second Opinion: In Reporting Symptoms, Don’t Patients Know Best?

“There is a sensibility among some old-school clinicians that they have a better sense of their patients’ experience than patients do themselves,” Dr. Basch said. “But doctors and nurses bring their own biases to the evaluation. They might say, ‘Mrs. Smith always exaggerates her fatigue — she says 9, but I rate it a 6.’ ”

Kaitlyn at Oh Money Trumpets: Medication for Bipolar Disorder and TV Shows

But with my mood swings, the “alien” idea made more sense. A better metaphor is a switch. A switch is flicked, I get so pissed off. Switched again, I don’t want to do anything. Switched again, back to baseline. No control. Which got a bit annoying, because I’d be mad at somebody. They’d get mad at me for being mad at them for no reason. Then I’d get mad at them for being mad at me when I had no control over the original anger!

Guest Post: Puppies and Pills Part 2

About thetroubleis: Thetroubleis is a 19 year old with bipolar disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and dyspraxia. She’s a WOC who is also a transracial adoptee and pansexual/queer, depending on how she’s feeling that day. She enjoys knitting, video games and is a music geek.

Puppies and Pills Part 1.

I’m back, did you miss me? I’d like to talk a little bit about the service dog community and public perception of service dogs and I’m hoping this will be interesting to more people them just me. Your comments and questions are appreciated.

All of my experience with the service dog community is online, which makes things a bit different than they would be if I was interacting in person. Any statements I make are huge generalizations, so please, take them will a grain of salt. This isn’t make to pick on anyone person or any particular community.

The online service dog community can be a bit abrasive, in part because of the worry about fakers. There are cases of people coming in and learning the lingo and the lay to pass a pet dog or an emotional support animal off as a service dog. While I recognize this is a problem, I do think that we could cut people a little slack. I see a lot of the aggressive questioning being directed at people interested in a service dogs for psychiatric issues, because of confusion people have about the difference between a psychiatric service dog and an emotional support animal.

However, the online service dog community is also very helpful. They are willing to point people at programs or trainers that suit their needs and help people with financial difficulties come up with ideas for funding. The community is ready to help with writing campaigns at a sign of injustice and isn’t afraid to take mistaken or bigoted people to task, even if they write for well respected newspapers. If someone’s service dog gets sick they are always there with support and help finding ways to get treatment if money becomes an issue. The people in the service dog community care and they care passionately.

If you can’t meet teams in your area the online service dog community is invaluable and I’d say they are great even if you can. It’s great to have people who get it, even if we disagree on some issues. It’s great to have others who can understand what it’s like to have an access issue, or what it’s like to take a dog to the zoo.

This actually brings me to my next point, access for service dog handlers and the public. It’s a joyful topic, full of good times and understanding and caring business owners.

Okay, I lied. The general public’s understanding of service dogs or in some cases that there is anything beyond guides is very low. It makes sense that more people know of guide dogs, as they are did start the first service dog schools and hold their dogs to a very high standard. I must say that the constant questioning of whether I am blind is most annoying, not because I’m insulted, but because what my disability is or isn’t is not up for public consumption. When one adds in American society’s feelings towards mental illness, I rarely feel disclosure is in my best interest. Some in the service dog community itself are still against the idea of service dogs for people with mental illness, so I expect even less acceptance of the general population.

One thing that gets to me is how few business owners know the law. Right now I’m covered under Maine state law, but I do think that a business owner should at least know the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act} at this point. It has been nearly 20 years, after all. So, I take pamphlets with me, even when I don’t have Figaro, to tell businesses about their rights and responsibilities. I figure if I keep this up, it should cut down on access issues, not only for me, but for all teams.

One thing I wish people understood is that petting a service dog can put the handler in danger. Yes, our dogs are trained to ignore you, but even the best dog breaks training. I love Figaro, but I wish people would talk to me not him and accept that maybe I don’t feel like talking that day. Drive by petting is one of my peeves, because by the time I process it, people tend to be too far away for me to scold or educate. I understand that people love dogs, but just as you shouldn’t go around grabbing a person’s wheelchair, you shouldn’t touch my dog without my permission. He’s not a public petting zoo.

People have attacked service dogs, kicked them, spat on them, set their dogs on them. This is unacceptable. Beyond the fact that a service dog may be someone’s independence, it’s also a living creature worthy of respect. Our dogs are not abused slaves and honestly, I think most service dogs have a better life than most pet dogs. What pup wouldn’t want to travel with their person and help them out, all the while seeing new things and people?

I try to believe that people are mostly good, if misguided, and therefore I’m going to keep educating. I hope that someday access issues will be far and few between and more people who could benefit from a service dog could have the partnership I’m able to have.

This is my next to last post in this series and next time, I’d like to talk a bit about cost of a service dog and ways to get a service dog.

An emotional support animal (ESA) is a US legal term for a pet which provides therapeutic benefit to its owner through companionship and affection. Emotional support animals are not specially trained to ameliorate disability as psychiatric service dogs are. They require only as much training as an ordinary pet requires in order to live peacefully among humans without being a nuisance or a danger to others.

Guest Post: Puppies and Pills Part 1

About thetroubleis: Thetroubleis is a 19 year old with bipolar disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and dyspraxia. She’s a WOC who is also a transracial adoptee and pansexual/queer, depending on how she’s feeling that day. She enjoys knitting, video games and is a music geek.

How I came to path of getting a service dog* was a long, strange journey. My experiences are my own and by no means represent the entire service dog community. My country and state laws are most likely different from some readers as well, so I’m only writing from my own perspective.

I’ve been bipolar since I was child along with my other disabilities, so I don’t remember being normal. I’ve always just been me. I am my normal. Although my other illnesses were diagnosed latter, looking back i can see how they impacted my child and now, how they affect my adulthood.

In junior year of high school, I was reading up on dog training, because I thought that might be something I’d want to do as a job. I’ve always like dogs, they don’t judge me and my Samoyed Kesha loved me unconditionally. One day I came across the topic of service dogs and was so amazed by them. I put the thought of them away in my mind until I read across the concept of psychiatric servicee dogs.

At first, I was skeptical. How could I dog help someone like me? I thought that service dogs were only for people with “real” disabilities. My mental illness wasn’t disabling, was it? Just because I couldn’t go out in public alone or deal with crowds didn’t mean I was disabled. Loud noises and lighting hurting and causing melt down was just part of who I was. It took me some time to to come around to the idea.

When I realized all the way in which I dog could help me, I read and read. Anything with even a small mention of service dogs was worth reading to me. I came up with a list of tasks based on my symtoms and things a dog could do the help them. I was ready.

Sadly, service dogs, especially types that are very new are expense. Psychiatric service dog are pretty new on the scene and the one program I had found in my state that trained them had closed. I was crushed. I tried to brush it off, because I didn’t have the money for a dog anyway. That was about to change.

I headed off to my first year of college and did badly after being cut off from my medication for a time, along with personal problems. I was called back home several times, because my parents had decided to sue my former high school for discriminating against me. They choose to settle.

My money problems were solved! Now where was I going to get a dog? I know it was best to buy from a breeder with service dog lines because even though some shelter and rescue dogs work out as service dogs, the chances of them washing out is much higher. I knew I’d have a hard time with my dog washing out, so I wanted to lower that chance as much as possible.

I started hanging out on Dogster.com and met a psychiatric service dog handler named Veronica who shared a disability with me. She was using a pit bull Weimriner mix as a service dog, but the dog was getting older and had to retire. She had picked a Standard Poodle to train as her next service dog and although I wasn’t partial to the breed, I went and checked out the breeder.

He was so nice. His wife friend were both service dog users, so he knew so much. We talked about what I was looking for in a dog and what tasks I wanted done. He said he thought I’d be a great home for one of his puppies and I put down a deposit and waited.

Sadly, with my puppy being in California and me and Maine, it was hard to coordinate a proper short flight for the puppy. He was already going to keep Figaro for a few extra weeks to get him used to the crate, but I ended up not meeting my dear boy until he was 4 months old. We ended up driving all the way to Boston to get him, but it was the best, safest flight for him, so I didn’t mind.

I had to finish up at school before we could commence training, so he went home with my parents, three hours away. When I finally came home, he took right to me. He’s was lovely boy, very intent on pleasing me. Teaching him was pretty easy, even for a novice like me.

I found another service dog school, one that helped owners train their own dogs. We signed right up. They have been an invaluable resource and i couldn’t to all I have without them.

Figaro and I were a team, the very best of friends. I spent that summer just bonding with him and the best thing happened. He started to alert to my panic attacks before they went full blown. I had been hoping he would, but hadn’t expected it. When I realized what was going on, I was ecstatic. He had his other tasks to make him a service dog, but this, the alerting was so helpful. My bipolar disorder is extremely rapid cycling and he started to alert me to that, as well as hair plucking. I hadn’t fully realized what a smart dog he was.

This partnership was the best thing I have ever done for me. I still take my pills and still go to see my doctors, but having a service dog in training is a big help. Although Figaro meets the legal definition of service dog, I only call him such in legal situations because his public access behavior isn’t where I would like it right now. Thus, he isn’t with me in public unless it’s a training exercise. That’s okay though, because I stay home for the most part. It’s nice and I have to admit having something need me is pretty great too. It’s good to not fail at something, to have purpose.

Next time, I’ll be writing about the public and service dog community.

* I’m using the United States of America’s of service dog and the state of Maine’s definition of service dog in this post. The USA’s definition is as follows:

“Service animal means any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items.”

The state of Maine’s definition is

“Service animal” means:
A. Any animal that has been determined necessary to mitigate the effects of a physical or mental disability by a physician, psychologist, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner or licensed social worker; or
B. Any animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a physical or mental disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to intruders or sounds, providing reasonable protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair or fetching dropped items.