ASD, PTSD, Anxiety, and an ESA

As someone with autistic spectrum disorder (not that I consider it a disorder, but that is the proper vernacular) and anxiety, I realized a while ago that I would probably benefit from an emotional support animal. Not to be confused with a service animal, which puts me on a soap box because of all the people abusing the terms incorrectly. My Nakama-kun is an ESA, which means (until recently) he was able to travel with me on planes and I could not be denied housing due to having a dog. An ESA is a pet, they are not trained like a service animal; though I was told I could qualify for a legitimately trained service animal, I chose not to because, from my understanding, a person with a legitimately trained service animal is not to have any other pets in their household. I love animals and wanted a second dog at some point, so forking over tens of thousands of dollars for a service animal who could go everywhere with me did not seem necessary. However, my ESA has transitioned into service animal mode quite nicely, and I am sure his little sister will get there, too.

Animals are rather intuitive and can easily tell when there is a physical wound. Tomodachi licked the burn of a flatmate the other day after he admitted he’d burned himself making his family Thanksgiving dinner. Nakama is like that, too. When we were doggie sitting last winter holiday the pup was losing his teeth and Nakama was over in that poor pup’s mouth licking the wounds. I am pretty sure that’ll happen when Tomodachi loses her milk teeth, too.

For me, even though I’ve had the physical wounds licked by Nakama, it is the ones that we can’t see that require more attention. I’ve lived with a few issues that can stop me dead in my tracks in terms of anxiety. One major issue is PTSD brought on by a fear I inherited from when I was six years old. This fear was brought back to life rather quickly on a Thursday when I was dehydrating kale. The smell reminded me of this fear so much I was in a kind of state of shock. Nakama sensed something was wrong and decided it was time to go on a lengthy walk (by lengthy I mean we went on a half-mile tundra trek that took almost half an hour). During that time I was able to calm myself and walk with my puppers.

My PTSD issue is from a childhood experience that many might consider ridiculous, mainly because I always hated how it affected me. So, here is the start of this fear. When I was six I had an opportunity to go to the high school in my hometown and gather with a bunch of other students in elementary school for some various activities, including woodwork, music, and theatre. I still have the tic-tac-toe board I made in that woodwork class, and I remember the music class, but didn’t get any further than that in the day.

During lunch I was standing with my group and one of girls pointed to a girl in another group and commented on how her brother was extremely ugly. I looked at the girl and didn’t pay much attention to the scarring on her legs. Then, when we entered the cafeteria I saw her brother and I ran, like legitimately ran and hid under a table. What I saw may or may not be what I remember seeing, but the fear was definitely real. This young boy, a year older than I, had been burned so badly on the face that to my recollection he was blackened. I do not know why seeing him affected me so, but it terrified me enough I had to be taken home. The following year a family friend told me this boy was there and I ended up going home with her and playing with her daughter instead of staying at the school.

Sadly, it gets worse, and in truth, for me, more ridiculous. For two or so years after seeing this boy with the unfortunate accident, I lied every Thursday to get out of having to walk to the daycare center from the bus stop after school. I claimed I was sick because by doing so I would already be at the daycare center and not have to run into this boy. My folks thought I was being bullied and didn’t find out the truth till much later. In a stroke of luck for me, this boy and his family moved away and I was able to move on, slightly. A couple of movies, Batman and The Neverending Story had a couple of scenes that scared the absolute bugger out of me. I still can’t do Batman, and when I see even pictures of Nicholson’s Joker, I shudder. I did finally finish The Neverending Story movie while in uni, so it took eight years before I knew the ending of the movie (not that it mattered much since I loved the book growing up). I still, at the age of 40, close my eyes during the one scene that brings about the PTSD.

The brain is a funny thing, though. By the time I was a senior in high school I was sure that the movie Batman had caused the fear and that the burned boy was something I saw second. It wasn’t until even later, around the age of 30 I realized that my brain had mixed the two up horribly. I know I was six when I met this boy because I recall almost every time I saw him. The movie Batman didn’t come out till 1990, which would have made me nine, but I couldn’t have watched the movie on VHS until I was ten or so because that was how movies for rent worked at the time. Renting a VHS was almost a year after the movie was in theatres. Clearly my fear had caused some timeline issues with my brain because I couldn’t have seen Batman until the boy and his family moved away.

A little background on the boy, from my recollection of conversations had with my mother. He and his brother and sister had lived in a part of the world that had quite a few bugs. As a way to keep the bugs off the folks used a net to cover the beds at night. An unfortunate accident with a lantern and a net caused the three siblings to burn; the boys’ faces and the little girl’s legs. They had come to the United States for medical care. Why this boy’s burn affected me as it did, I will never know.

Jump forward to last week and I am dehydrating kale. The smell of the dehydrated kale was similar to the smell I remember from home after Ma had picked my sister and I up from the daycare centre. The owner of the centre had played the movie Batman and everyone else enjoyed it, but that one scene with the Joker and the joy buzzer terrified me to the point I was in shock. When my sister and I were at home, watching Bambi and playing dolls, Ma was making something in the kitchen that had a particularly pungent smell. My sister mentioned watching Batman at that point, and clearly from that remark the smell was ingrained in my brain as a “bad” scent. The kale from the other day had that same smell. Thus, the anxiety and the need for my ESAs, Nakama and Tomodachi. They helped me through it and I was even able to dehydrate the rest of the kale, but I am pretty sure I will not dehydrate kale anymore, which is sad because that stuff is good!

Weirdly enough, or maybe not, I am not a medical doctor, so I don’t know if this is random or not, to tell you the truth, but I digress (and make a horrible run-on sentence that I am not going to correct), I am able to watch shows like CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, and Law and Order (whichever one) and see a burned corpse and it does not affect me. Clearly I am “over” the fear I experienced when I was six, but with PTSD it is the recollection of how afraid I was that gets to me, still. Plus, as I aged into middle and high school I developed an almost sixth sense when it came to watching movies. For some reason I was able to sense a part that would bring back that fear and leave the theatre, whether it be to pop into the loo or to grab a popcorn or snack. It never failed me.

Wow, that is a lot of possibly unnecessary information. I do tend to chatter on so, but I appreciate being able to write about this issue, especially since it surprised me as it did. The fact that Nakama helped me keep my cool by insisting that we needed a tundra trek right as I was about to have a meltdown proves just how much he and I are in tune with one another. It doesn’t end there, though, with the mental disorganization.

I also want to bring up that sporadically I end up with vertigo. I know when to expect these issues, so I’ve been lucky not to be driving or anything, or take precautions. The feeling is usually fleeting and I can get back to my regularly scheduled program quickly thereafter (which is good because they have hit me while teaching and that is not a positive). There is a surgery that would correct the main culprit of the vertigo, but thanks to the crap healthcare system we seem to embrace in the United States, I am denied this surgery for various, unnecessary reasons. Even my psychologist thinks it is rubbish, so I continue on with the vertigo and deal with the aftermath.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving I ended up with a heck of a spell to the point where Nakama stopped his playing and immediately was by my side. I was sitting at the time, so it wasn’t a big deal, but he was in my space and there for me as the best dog-tor in history. This particular stretch lasted four hours for me to recoup, so I was grateful for my dog because he definitely helped me feel safe. That is what a service animal does, makes a person feel safe. Whether it is a pet someone is claiming as a service animal (which really bothers me) or an actual trained creature (not trained by the person using the animal, but by a group who is trained in working with service animals), dogs are a wonderful companion and friend (thus, the names I’ve chosen for my two soulmates!).

Being soulmates to a companion animal is not for everyone. Dogs require dedication, training, love, and respect. The way I treat them is the way they are going to treat me. I play with my puppers, they play with me (usually when we are supposed to be sleeping!). I care for them, they care for me. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. Basically, I’d do anything I can for them and I know they would do the same for me because that is what folks who care about one another do. Now, if only I could train Nakama to not be a punk, that would definitely help! Whether a punk or not, especially since he is stubborn and still coming to terms with the fact that we have a new, third member of our tribe, he is definitely someone who has helped with my afflictions. We definitely belong together.  

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