The Confidence I'm Gaining With My Service Dog by My Side

My apartment is filled with fur. My proposal document stares me down. My mind wanders to my research, and I begin to panic. He comes up next to me, places his head gently on my feet, applying the pressure I need to calm down.

He is my service dog. I am learning to adjust to a world where I must navigate ADA laws. I’m learning to field the stares and intrusive questions such as “Who are you training the dog for?” Nobody, I want to shout. I want to shout at the top of my lungs, yet a quiet voice inside me says, “Me.”

I have invisible illnesses. I have anxiety, major depressive disorder and PTSD. I have dysautonomia, and I never know when I will pass out again from the inability of my autonomic nervous system to regulate my blood pressure or when my anxiety will cause me to black-out.

Just because I look healthy doesn’t mean I am. Just because I can run 15 miles and am marathon training doesn’t mean I don’t have my challenges. You can’t see what it takes to get out of bed every morning. I don’t need to hit the snooze button to oversleep my three alarms. You see, my body is exhausted. My mind doesn’t have the energy to face yet another day. My physical body doesn’t have the strength to crawl out of bed, brush my teeth, and figure out what I need to do today. I’m exhausted, emotionally and physically. I try every day to put on a face, to get out there in the world, and now I am tackling it with my service dog.

I appreciate it when you ask if you can pet my dog. I appreciate it when you let me start the conversation. Having my service dog by my side, I am gaining confidence navigating the world. I’m starting to learn I have a voice and my invisible illness does not define me. I’m coming out of my shell, learning about myself, and discovering things about myself I didn’t know.

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