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.  

Husky Howl

When I first met Tomodachi she howled at me because I wasn’t paying enough attention to her. She had one brother and a sister; both were black and brown and I am going to be honest, I preferred their coloring. Tomo wasn’t having any of that and immediately protested. I picked her up and she bit my nose. That, as they say, is that. I decided this little bit of spunk was the third member of our little family. She is just about a month or so here, I took her very early due to certain circumstances. She was eating food and drinking water by the end of the first weekend since she had her teeth. She still looks like a puppy (alien) in this short video. Now she looks like a dog and she is going to get a whole lot bigger! I am very excited, I love big dogs!

Slow and Patient

I had a plan, that was of course derailed, to share how I worked with my dogs on the command “ignore” because they really need to learn to ignore the unwanted elements in the area. Instead my first training is more physical and that is teaching “slow” and “patience.” Nakama is pretty good with “patience” already and if I say that he will generally sit and chill. Tomodachi is still learning, but she learned to sit while watching Nakama, so she will eventually follow his lead.
As for “slow,” my reason for skipping “ignore” and moving to “slow” is because two little doggies like to go outside in the fastest way possible. What this means is they pull like no tomorrow when we are going down the stairs, or at least they did. Nakama hadn’t had much of an issue with stairs because before this year we were on the first floor, so there was no risk of me falling down a flight of stairs because of his thirty-pound body excitedly moving down the stairs to get outside. With Tomodachi it is a different story. Tomo is going to be (by my best guess) at least fifty pounds, or more. Fifty pounds on its own would be enough with the physics of movement and the mass to cause me to fall, but add Naka’s thirty pounds and movement to that it was a wreck waiting to happen. So, here we go with working on the command “slow.”
I’ve moved them to walking behind me rather than in front by having them wait at the top of the stairs. If they start to go down then I bring them back up and tell them to be patient. This command has gone over pretty well, but if there are distractions, such as other dogs or people, then they still get excited. “Ignore” is on my list for next, so hopefully that alleviates the excitement after we are better at slowly going down the stairs.
In addition to making them walk behind me, I enforce this by using my electric cane as a block. My body is not as wide as the stairs, so the cane acts as a second barrier that they do not breach. Now, before anyone comes at me for the electronic stick, it is not turned on, nor would I ever use it on my dogs. My reason for carrying the cane is because there are feral dogs running amok in my Alaskan village and quite a few of them are violent. I’ve been in dog fights before where the cane has come in handy to ward off the unwanted dogs. Now the dogs in the area know I have no problem using the cane and show their submissive behavior when I tell them to go away and hold the cane in front of me.
Luckily for me, I’ve never had to use the cane on a wild creature. It is overly sad I’ve had to use it on the pets in the area that owners let loose to run rampant. I am not going to take any chances with feral dogs coming after Naka or Tomo. As a fur-parent, I made a vow to protect them and I aim to continue that until they are ready to cross the rainbow bridge.
It is kind of amusing that I did choose Slow and Patient as my first two commands to discuss, because that is how training works. I need to take it slow and have patience. Keeping those two commands in mind for myself as well as my puppers, I am sure we are gonna find lots of success in our training.

Dehydrated Homemade Doggo Treats

One thing I really like doing for my pups is offering them new experiences. Folks laugh at me for giving them human food, but as they are my soulmates I can’t think of a better way to show my love for their health. I bought a dehydrating machine to dehydrate berries and whatnot for myself, but today I included carrots, beans, and cooked sweet potatoes for Nakama and Tomodachi. Naka isn’t quite sure about the beans and he is being obnoxious with his sweet potato (meaning he is hoarding it and growling at Tomo). Tomodachi liked the beans and the sweet potato. The carrots weren’t bad, either. Now, an FYI, these are raw and unseasoned. Adding seasoning, though popular for human consumption, is bad for dogs. So when I say human food, it is appropriate for their digestive systems. I am not an expert by any means, but dehydrated human foodstuffs works for me, too, so if we are traveling or when we are on the Appalachian Trail, we can all three snack on the same eats rather than different foods.

WoofTrax and AARF

One of the walking applications I use is WoofTrax and with this application, whenever I take a walk I have a chance of a donation going to AARF. I will talk more about AARF later, but this application is great! Imagine waking and possibly earning a monetary donation to a non-profit! As you can see, we don’t walk far since my puppy is still rather young, but we do go out because both she and Naka love our walks.

My Logo!

I met, while in China, a young artist by the name of Jack Raynor. When I saw his artwork I realized I needed to commission him to make something for me at some point, and here it is! My doggos in all their animated glory! I’ve already asked for his work in the future after Tomodachi is fully grown (maybe in a year or so) because right now she and Nakama are similar in size, but she could be a big, old gal when she is fully grown. As she is a village mutt, we have no real clue how big she is going to be, however I’ve seen her older brother and he’s a big boy! I love me a big, old dog. Nakama was perfect travel size for airlines, but as I am not planning on using any major airlines any time in the near future, I am okay with the bigger fur-babies. This artwork is fabulous and Mr. Raynor is one heck of an artist.

ASD: This is My Therapy

I live with autism. No, I am not going to proudly proclaim that I am autistic, because in the English language that puts my autism as who I am, and I am so much more than a label. For quite some time my psychologist encouraged me to write about my autism. What’s it like being an adult with autism? What’s it like having a career with autism? What’s it like being a doctor with autism? Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. It all depends on my mood. My mood right now, after a disgusting display of ignorance by quite a few people is to share my therapy. I know that there are going to be some really distressed people in both my career and in general in the upcoming months, especially with holidays and Covid-19. I prepared many months before for issues that may or may not arise. I didn’t do it for a virus, I created my therapy as a recommendation from a therapist who said I may need a way to cope after returning to the US from overseas. Ergo, I adopted my companion, Nakama. He kept me from being at school all the time, gave me focus outside of education, and started me walking on my many racing adventures! All of the races are virtual, and even with the world’s crappiest Internet, I can still look at pictures from the route of the race, so even though I am physically walking the same routes over and over again, I can pretend I am walking in Australia or Chile! This is my therapy! The word therapy is not a bad word. I am pretty sure most people on this planet would benefit from some form of therapy. Nakama keeps me young and energized. Prior to Nakama entering my life I was a teacher all the time. I would be working on lesson plans for hours, conversing with students well after a reasonable hour, going to school an hour before the contracted day, and leaving a couple of hours or more after the contract day ended. Basically, I was kind of lazy in personal time, but overworking in my teacher role. I decided to adopt Nakama less than two months after starting my job in Alaska and probably saved both my soul and my body. Now I walk quite a bit and have walking goals! I made a goal for myself; walk two weeks on the Appalachian Trail. I decided I wanted to walk with another friend, so I adopted Tomodachi! Now my pups and I are working toward that goal. This is my therapy! I take my soulmates out for a walk, this is part of the therapy. I cook them dog-friendly human food, this is also part of the therapy. As a person who lives with autism, in a world full of chaos, I need to be in control of something. My career doesn’t give me that. Education is not the job for someone who is rigid, unless they have a way to cope. This is my therapy. I get to educate students in a chaotic world in which I have no control because I know that at the end of the chaos (day) I can go home and see my pups, eagerly waiting for me to entertain them. They love each other. They love me. I most certainly love them. This is my therapy. It is how I cope with all the stress of living in a world that does not give an inch, does not promise love or kindness. I found what I needed to cope. I take full advantage of my furry family. We will survive together. This is my therapy.