Monday, July 4, 2016

A Different Kind of Independence

         Between food, fireworks, and friends there is a lot I look forward to each Fourth of July as we celebrate Independence Day.

         I love my country. I am thankful for my country. I strive to be aware of what the price was and is for the freedoms I enjoy every day. The cost of independence is not an easy one.

        As I am looking back at the many milestones happening in my life I find it fitting that this Independence Day marks one year since I brought my service dog, Jenny, home to be my forever companion. Jenny is a huge symbol of my personal independence.

        For two years I struggled through anxiety, depression,  medications, hallucinations, psychotic symptoms, misdiagnosis, and hospital admissions. I felt surrounded by darkness and could not see any spark of hope. I would be hospitalized almost every six months just to get stable enough to come back home and try and deal with the mess inside my head. I traveled from doctor to doctor, no one knowing what was wrong with me, everyone throwing different medications at me. One day, a nurse practitioner made a suggesting that would change everything: a dog.

         My loving grandparents got my sweet little Yorkie, Oliver for me. With Oliver came hope. I loved him with emotion deeper than anything I had felt in a long time. He was able to pull me out of episodes and comfort me like nothing had in over a year.

         Oliver continues to be a huge blessing in my life, however as time went on my family and I realized I needed something that I could have outside the walls of my home.

          When the idea of a service dog was first brought up I went back and forth. I didn't know if I was "bad enough" to be able to have one. When my Junior year started and I only made it a week and a half before going back on Home Study I knew I was ready to pursue a service dog.

          This meant I would have to share my story also. Up until this time I did not like to talk to anyone about what I was experiencing. I was embarrassed and ashamed. Thankfully, the people in my life and community rallied around me and became a huge part of why I was able to get a service dog so quickly. Sooner than we all expected the email came one day that Jenny was ready for me. All I remember that day is hugging my dad while we both cried.

          A few days later my mom and I headed up to San Diego for two weeks of Handler Training where I learned how to work with Jenny and she learned how to work with me. At the end of training, on the July 4, 2015 I brought Jenny home with me as my forever companion.

          Jenny has been such an enormous blessing in my life. We work together and flow together 24/7
as if we were one and the same. Since bringing Jenny home I have become more stabilized and received the correct diagnosis and medication. Last month we were able to walk the stage together as I graduated high school. A feat I never could have done without her. Sometimes Jenny knows me better than I know myself.

          This doesn't mean that I don't still have issues. I do. I am on medication and I have things I am still working through in therapy. I use my coping skills and techniques to help me live. I have to fight hard every single day for my mental health, but Jenny meets me part way.

          Together we stand. Together we live. Together we thrive.

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