Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Three Strikes and You're Dead

Maeve and I were trying to get back to our campsite today when I was violently reminded of how the Fair Housing Act's recognition of emotional support animals can save lives. In honor of suicide prevention week, I ask that you read the following:

In the late fall and early winter of 2009, I was living on Cape Cod temporarily while I waited months for a bank to decide whether my full-price, no-conditions offer on a short sale was acceptable (don't get me started on the insanity of the banks during the housing collapse). My lease in CT had ended and a friend had a summer house that would otherwise be empty for most of the off-season. He lent his house to me until I could close on my house.

Strike One: In early September, I had received a very generous offer from a breeder in Texas to donate a 9-month-old standard poodle to be trained as my service dog. I had asked the breeder to give me a little time as I was in the process of buying a house and currently was living in no-pets housing. By the end of October (when my lease was up), the breeder was getting antsy. Unfortunately, the house on the Cape was not a good place for me to have a dog either. The breeder let me know she couldn't hold the dog any longer.

Strike Two: In late October, just days before I my lease was up, my brother-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer. Not only was I concerned about him and my sister, but also he and I had quit smoking within a week of each other and we were only weeks apart in age. They lived in the same CT town from which I was moving to the Cape – three hours away.

Strike Three: I was already suffering from a long and deep depression.

I was repeatedly in danger of impulsive suicide that fall and winter. The Cape is beautiful, but gray and chilly in that season and I was alone but for my cat. I walked on great beaches, but even that was not good. I had full-fledged panic attacks on the beaches more than once --- as a result of things that weren't usually frightening to me, such as seals frolicking in the waves.

I lost hope. Suicidal ideation was constant; the risk of acting on it waxed and waned in cycles little longer than a week. My medication was increased repeatedly to reduce the risk of my death. On good days I was walking around in a dense medication fog, drinking cup after cup of coffee in order to stay awake for any reasonable period of time. In order to see anyone I loved or to see a doctor or therapist, I had to find a way to stay awake enough to drive for hours.

In addition to the drugs, my doctor and therapist were emphasizing the necessity for me to get to a hospital if the urge to die became very strong. The problem was that I couldn't remember the way from the house to the Cape Cod Hospital. I had to practice driving the route over and over and over again.

Today, the GPS led me right by that hospital. Instantly, I relived the hopelessness and pain I felt when I had practiced driving to that hospital. This time, however, I was fully awake and alive and I had Maeve. The contrast of the old life and the new was drastic.

Because of the Fair Housing Act, I could have taken that utrained poodle puppy while living in my no-pets apartment in CT – and I would have done so and extended my lease. I would have stayed where I was and started the training process. I would have been far less likely to commit suicide and would not have had to be medicated at the levels I was. Unfortunately, I didn't know the law; my doctor didn't know about the law; my therapist didn't know about the law; my family didn't know about the law; and my friends didn't know about the law.

In honor of suicide prevention week, please help me spread the word about the rights of people with psychiatric disabilities to have emotional support animals (pets) in no-pets housing, without deposits or fees in all 50 states. See How to Get an Emotional Support Animal and Maeve's Manifesto for more information.

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