Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why I'm Sometimes Uncomfortable Answering Questions about Why I Have a Service Dog

I've been thinking about this since I went to the church that is going to be doing the fundraiser for Isaac to get food from their food pantry.

I sent the pastor of the church a letter explaining that I have PTSD.  I allowed her to come to my home to learn more about me and my need for a service dog.  She asked me, after first saying it was OK if I wasn't comfortable answering the question, if my PTSD was related to military service or something else.  She assured me it wouldn't affect their decision to hold a fundraiser for me but said some of the board members were just wondering.  She said she thought some of them had some sort of connections that they might be able to use to get some funds if I was a veteran.

I told her it was OK, I was comfortable sharing some information, and that the PTSD was a result of severe childhood trauma due to growing up in an abusive home.  I went on to explain that there is currently a fair amount of funding available for returning veterans with PTSD that need service dogs, but not much funding for people that have PTSD as a result of other causes.  She said she would let the board  members know that.

So I was comfortable sharing with the pastor, and the church board, information about why I need a service dog.  Now, I kind of feel like I need to share some of that information, whether I feel real comfortable with it or not, if I want them to donate money for my service dog.  I mean, sure, I could say, "Hey, I really need a service dog but I don't want to tell you why.  Would you give me some money for my dog, though?"  But I think people are much more likely to donate if they know why I need a service dog and how my dog can help me.

But it wasn't just that.  I am not ashamed of the fact that I have PTSD.  For goodness sake, I write a blog on which I tell anyone with internet access about it!  I've also written several articles, published online in various places, in which I've talked about having a service dog for PTSD.  It's not a secret.

Most people that know me know about the PTSD, to various extents.  No, the lady that sells me stamps at the post office doesn't know, nor does the local library or the cashier at the local Kroger.  But all my friends know, all my family, all my health care professionals, even my dentist.

But I tell them when I want to, when I'm ready, when I feel able to talk about it.  And when I write about it, whether it's an article for publication or something to post on my blog, it's when I want to.  If I'm having a bad day, if I'm feeling particularly anxious, if there are things I don't want to think about on a particular day, I don't write about it then.  I don't choose to discuss it with friends or acquaintances then.  I share what I want to share, when I want to share it.  It's on my terms.

When a stranger at a store or restaurant asks me why I have a service dog, it sometimes catches me off guard, although I guess I should be used to it by now since it happens so often.  But sometimes I'm already having a hard day, I might be tired or stressed about something, I might be feeling anxious (which is common when I'm shopping, by the way), and I'm surrounded by strangers.  It's not an environment that makes me feel safe and comfortable sharing personal things that are kind of hard to talk about.

When I was at the church getting food from the food pantry, I was anxious just being there.  It was a place I'd never been before, I didn't know anyone there (except for Mike, and that's why I asked him to go with me), I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do or where I was supposed to go, all things that create a lot of anxiety for me.  And I was asking for assistance, in the form of food, which is something that makes me feel kind of uncomfortable.  Even though everyone there was really nice and helpful and respectful (except for a couple of intrusive questions about my service dog), it still feels uncomfortable or a bit humiliating to me to have to get that kind of assistance.  I feel the same way about applying for food stamps or subsidized housing.  So in that situation, surrounded by a whole lot of strangers, I was uncomfortable talking about personal, painful things like why I have PTSD and need a service dog.

When people ask why I need a service dog, they don't know they are asking me about how I was abused as a child.  But they are.  And since you have no idea why someone might need a service dog, or a wheelchair or any other type of assistive device, it's better not to ask them, unless you have the type of relationship in which it would be appropriate to ask about personal, painful things like that.

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