Last week I visited my home state of Maine and had the chance to see some family and friends. Over lunch one friend asked me about Bady and Niles and how I am doing with my PTSD. I shared with her some recent realizations of mine. I’ve come to the ~ joyful ~ place of realizing that I don’t need my service dog in the same way I used to need him. Many days can go by without much thought of PTSD or symptom management. But then, on occasion, I experience a trigger and am reminded why I need my service dog.
A couple of Sundays ago I arrived at church early to get ready for worship. I didn’t have either dog with me. When I pulled into the parking lot there was – unexpectedly – an unfamiliar car parked near the front door. When I drove closer to the car I saw a man in it. I panicked, chastised myself for not having a dog with me, and drove away. I was experiencing a panic attack.
About a mile down the road I remembered that we were having a guest musician that day and he (someone well known to me) was probably there early to practice. I turned around and drove back to the church, feeling stupid for panicking and embarrassed that he obviously saw pull in and out of the parking lot. If Bady (or Niles) had been with me I still might have panicked at the first sight of the car, but I probably would have been able to process and remember and recognize instead of going into a full-blown panic attack. The rest of that day I was a bit jittery, owing to that early morning experience.
So, as I shared with my friend, even though I don’t need my service dog every day, when I do need him he is so important. That’s why it is important to me to have a service dog ready to do ‘the work’ whenever it is needed.
Which leads me to my second realization. Niles is now four, as you may know, and until recently I haven’t done the work with him needed to get him ready for full-time service dog work. Bady was 14 months when he started and has been with me now for nine-years. (Our anniversary is August 25.) Bady, quiet literally, saved my life. As much as I love Niles, it’s been hard to put that same amount of trust in him. Up until now I’ve made excuses. I don’t need him like I needed Bady. Niles doesn’t know my triggers.
The truth is I do need him like I needed Bady…. maybe not everyday, but when I do it is so important that he be up to the task. And he doesn’t know my triggers because I haven’t taught him. Bady experienced my triggers as they were happening, but Niles can learn through training scenarios, so when I am triggered he knows what to do to help me.
It is humbling to recognize that I do still need my service dog. No, Bady has not cured me. Niles won’t either. But Bady has allowed me to live fully and beautifully and Niles will, too. It is so hard to think of that day that Bady will no longer be with me, but when that day comes he will have left me with a beautiful gift…. my life.