I did my time in the military and during that time I went through some incredibly stressful events which lead to my diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I was medically discharged from active duty in Feb 2005. From that time until October 2008 I hardly spoke to others about my time in the military. My husband and some close friends knew about what I was dealing with, but other than that you would never be able to look at me and SEE something wrong.
It was hard trying to keep myself all in one piece during this time. I had multiple melt downs through the years. I have cycled through friends, was back stabbed and spoken ill of. I have had people who I had considered friends tell me that they wish I had died in Iraq (oddly, so do I some days). All this just made me want to withdraw and keep everything inside that much more. I sometimes questioned my diagnosis.. I thought they had made a mistake somehow. I certainly never thought of myself as “disabled”. I thought that maybe I was just messed up in the head or that maybe if I tried harder to be normal then things would be okay.
Last October the local newspaper wanted to do a story on a Veteran with PTSD. I guess since I was fat and pregnant with my daughter at the time I made for a good pick! I was scared to tell my story and to answer the questions. I worried how I would be perceived by other people, as well as what direction the story was going to take. By the end of the session I had cried a lot and shared a lot. I felt incredibly guilty for doing the interview initially. I’m no one special after all. There were guys deployed with me who came back fine. They were able to do their tour and come home and be okay. I must be weak or defective to come back with all the issues I came back with.
After the story ran, one of the editors emailed me and told me about a group called Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). He said I should check them out. I went online to http://iava.org/ and joined, even though I wasn’t sure what they could possibly do for me. A few months later a folder came in the mail with a bumper sticker and a packet telling me about their new online community. I decided to join that so I could chat with others in my shoes. I had never met anyone else who had been through what I had been through.
It was while talking with other Veterans on the site (in the private PTSD Support group) when I first learned about what is known as a “psychiatric service dog”, PSD. I laughed it off at first because like most people, when I hear “service dog” I think of either guide dogs for blind, signal dogs for deaf, or those dogs who help people in wheelchairs. I read what the Veteran had to say but didn’t think much more about it. A few weeks later I was laying on my couch cuddling with my Boxer, Harley, and I thought how if I were able to teach Harley how to do things that would help my PTSD, AND be able to bring him with me every where I went… How would this affect my life?
The next day I went online and was shocked at the lack of information there is on these types of dogs. I did however, run across a site called Puppies Behind Bars, http://www.puppiesbehindbars.org. They train dogs to be used as either be explosives detection dogs, or as service dogs for Veterans. This program appealed to me because they had knowledge of military and of people with PTSD. It was a long shot applying, they place very few dogs a year, but I felt it was worth a shot. Never know if you never try right?
My first hurdle was my husband. At the time we had three dogs at the house, we had two barn cats who had recently been ran over by the tractor so they were living in the bathroom until their rods came out of their legs, two horses and two more barn cats at the farm. My husband had a hard time wanting ANOTHER animal in the house, he didn’t care if it did dishes and took out the trash, he was against it. I had to do a lot of research to get him to even consider the idea. I spoke with my family (mom and dad) to see what they thought. I had to tell them all the things that I thought a service dog could do for me. I wanted to make 100% sure that this wasn’t some impulse thing. For that reason I waited about another month before applying for Puppies Behind Bars. Before I sent out my application I spoke with my husband again about it.
After mailing in my application my next hurdle was to speak with my psychologist about the dog as I needed a letter from him that he supported this and felt it would help me. I wasn’t sure what he would say, but he was all for it from the start, even wanted more information to look up on his own. We spoke about it one week and at my next appointment two weeks later we discussed the practical side of the dog, a lot of time and emotion would need to be invested on my part, how would I handle people asking questions in public, how would I handle a confrontation, etc. When he was satisfied that I had done all my homework and research he agreed to write the letter.
After about a month of application and interview process I was given the good news that I indeed was picked to receive one of these dogs! I have been all over the internet trying to find more information on PSDs as well as Service Dogs in general. There are very few books out there on the topic and NONE one PSDs. I decided to keep a blog of my journey with this dog. I hope someone out there Googles Psychiatric Service Dog and is able to learn some useful information from me.
I leave in October for training, but will try to update as things occur.