The Role of Service Animals

Coping Strategies, Help for friends, family, and significant others, Help for sufferers, Posts

As you probably already know, service animals are truly an asset to our society. Search and rescue, airport security, plus the ever faithful guide dogs for the blind, in fact, there’s even a canine department for the police- but you know that, right?

The thing is, we know that animals, and dogs in particular, can be very useful in helping us humans out when we need it most. Well, today I will be talking about a few specially trained animals who can help out chronic illness sufferers, including a few, uh.. more unusual species that can help.

The ‘Standard’ Service Dog– If you suffer from debilitating symptoms which make your day to day life difficult to do alone, you may find it helpful to get a service dog. Nowadays, most service dogs are trained to carry out simple household tasks that you would otherwise find difficult. For example, if you struggle to bend over without pain and stiffness, your service dog can help you by retrieving things from low surfaces, doing basic sorting and tidying tasks, and even loading and unloading your washing machine. Dogs such as these can be trained to use special grips in order to open doors and cupboards, as well as being able to identify the objects you require. One of my favourite clips from the internet shows a guy who has trained his dog to fetch him beer from the fridge- although very lazy, this is a brilliant example of how service dogs work.

Emotional Support Animals- Sometimes your illness might be less physical, and more mental. Or maybe the symptoms of your illness, whether physical or otherwise, are difficult to cope with emotionally. In these cases, an emotional support animal may help. Any animal can be a service animal, but usually, dogs take the lead.

Take Drew Lynch, for example. He is a brilliant comedian who suffers from a neurogenic stutter following an accident in his 20’s. You might know him from his 2015 appearance on America’s got talent, or, like me, through his Youtube channel. He has an absolutely beautiful support dog called Stella, who often appears in his sketches and videos. Stella helps Drew simply by being there (and occasionally telling him how stupid he is). As an emotional support dog, it is stella’s job to identify Drew’s triggers as they take effect, and to make sure her human partner doesn’t get too stressed out over it (as well as helping him out if he does).

Often, anxiety can make your symptoms more prominent, which can be uncomfortable and in turn potentially make your anxiety worse. It is an unending cycle which can eventually cause major problems to your health and wellbeing. Having a support animal, however, can help you to identify your problem early on and manage it before it becomes too extreme.

Therapy Animals- There is a third category of support animals which offer support without any training being required. For someone with no access to a professional service animal, this may be the way forward. Potentially any animal can work as a therapy animal, but the majority are usually of the small and fluffy variety.

There are actually services available in which you can sign your pet up to be a therapy animal, meaning that they can visit hospitals and care centres and provide comfort for those in need. Often, care homes for the elderly arrange for various different animals to come in, in order to provide a sensory experience for the residents. I’ve even heard of shetland ponies doing rounds in children’s hospitals.

There have been endless studies into the role of animals as therapy, and it is widely accepted that petting a purring cat or cuddling a dog greatly increases endorphins such as the happy hormone serotonin and the love hormone oxytocin. Furthermore, it has been proven that not only do you feel this, but the same process happens to your pet, too. It’s a win win situation.

For me, my animals have always helped, especially Carmen, my 10 year old Albino Corn- Snake, who is surprisingly relaxing to hold. She likes to sleep in my jumper too, which is, admittedly, a love it or hate it experience. She’s a bit like marmite, apparently.

Anyway, what I really want to tell you about, and what I have probably mentioned a few times before, are my very first self-owned furbabies, Cleo and Layla. My partner and I decided a year ago that we would get a kitten, and after my mother in law mentioned her friend’s new litter, we got very excited. Cleo and Layla’s mum is a farm cat who keeps getting pregnant before her owner can spay her, thus, the kittens needed a home asap. After plenty of deliberation, we decided that two was better than one, and haven’t looked back since.

Our kittens are pretty much inseparable, and spend the majority of their time trying to swindle their way onto my lap (I don’t complain). Needless to say, I checked off the therapy cat idea. However, they have surpassed my intentions, and now actively try to support me. It is as though they have accepted me into their pride to the point where they can identify my mood before I do, and, the best bit, they try their best to help when they see that I am upset. Both cats, but Cleo in particular, will force their way into the room if they hear me crying, and know a few verbal commands, which they obey.

Fitness for fibromyalgia sufferers

Fitness, Help for sufferers, Posts

24/08/2018

I’m really unfit, no joke. I can’t even walk upstairs without getting breathless. It’s not because I am overweight, though, I just don’t have the muscle strength.

At 5.2″, I’m only tiny, but once upon a time I used to be pretty strong for my size. That all changed when I was diagnosed, because muscle weakness took over. Now, I’m back at square 1 and determined to get on track again. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, your health gets even worse when you spend 18 months in bed.

Today, for the first time in 2 years, I used a gym. I didn’t do much, only 25 minutes, but I feel so much better. I’m happier than I was an hour ago, and my body feels fresh and energised. I don’t want to hide under the covers any more. Best of all, I have a good excuse to have an hour to myself for a relaxing bath.

My plan is this:

After today, I’ve got another week or so with the same schedule, so let’s see if I can work out every day, and push myself to do more. I’ll use my usual pacing routine to stay within my fibro limits, but aim to add an extra set of reps to each exercise per day, so that I can gradually progress. I’ll update you in two weeks time. Let’s see if I can beat my best.

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1/11/2019 (14 *ish* months later)

Okay so that didn’t work. I felt great about myself for the rest of the day, and then I slipped back into my old ways. In fact, I ended up feeling so crap within the next week or so that I stopped blogging and forgot all about this post… until today.

If you read my post from yesterday, you will know that I put a load of weight on, and then started to lose it again. So what does this mean? Well, for starters, exercise does really work. If you burn those calories, you will lose weight. However, you need to do it sustainably. This means doing exercise that you can keep up with on a regular basis, that will last you forever (or at least for a long time). My plan had no sustainability at all. For a healthy person wanting to exercise, it would be great, but I didn’t take into account that I have to work around my health.

I realised this year that the large amount of walking that I did at school and then at university was what kept me slim. It was super sustainable since I had to do it anyway, and it was a simple walking route that I did repetitively with little variation, making it easy to manage. Then, moving to live on top of a hill (uh oh) plus losing my usual routine, meant that I suddenly didn’t walk everywhere like I used to. It took a while to get myself back to normal, and when I did, it was by using my pre-existing daily activities as exercise.

I decided to focus on increasing my activity levels mostly when I was doing something useful. For example, I found it difficult to wash the dishes because it hurt to stand there, and I got a lot of brain fog and would end up dropping my favourite ceramics. The sink had started to pile up, and I felt nauseous when I thought about washing dishes. Instead, I put some music on, and did what I could whilst singing along (plus occasional dancing). It kept my legs and back moving so they didn’t seize up, and the singing prevented the brain fog from kicking in. I ended up doing a full set of dishes, no problem, and the clean sink actually made me feel good for once. I now do this every other day in small doses, and haven’t smashed a glass in a couple of months.

More often than not, it turned out that I was procrastinating the easiest stuff, and actually, my life was a lot easier when I just did it. The little extra  bits of activity built up throughout the day to burn more energy, too, so I started to feel and look a lot healthier. In the end, I nearly doubled my steps, just by doing what I wanted, rather than putting it off out of laziness or fear. The best bit is, the more you do, the more normal it feels, so over time, you can gradually build yourself up to having a more active lifestyle, whilst getting something enjoyable (and useful) out of it too.

I’m not super slim anymore, and I’d still call myself overweight, but I am much more active than I was a few months back. I can sometimes run up the stairs, I can carry more than one bag of shopping again, and I don’t find it quite as difficult to have a shower anymore. I’d say that’s an improvement, right? I can’t call it a miracle cure or anything, but simply doing that extra little thing that I had been putting off every day or so has gradually led to a better version of me. I still don’t do exercise, and haven’t stepped foot in a gym since I last mentioned, but I find my exercise though my daily tasks instead, and it’s just enough for me.

Share with us below; what is your favourite routine? Do you get much exercise or will you be starting something new? I’d love to hear about your progress, or if there was anything you learned to avoid after your diagnosis.

One year on…

Depression, Fitness, Lifestyle, Pain, Posts, Update, Work

It has been just over a year since I last wrote a post, and, in that time, a lot has happened. You might have known that I dropped out of university last year, following a dip in my health over the autumn and winter. I had a bad experience living in university halls and ended up moving into a rented house with my partner. Shortly after, I realised that university wasn’t for me, and officially finished just after Christmas. Around the same time, I had a few new additions to my medication, a couple of emergency trips to A&E, and a major loss in my social circle.

Having lost most of my friends upon leaving university, and generally having most people ghost me due to my fibro, I was left with barely anyone to talk to. The rest of my social circle is either too far away, or just doesn’t really care.  Luckily, I still had my best friend in the form of my partner, Joe, but other than that, I was incredibly lonely.

Well anyway, I decided to take the advice I had been given, and find my company elsewhere. On mother’s day, I became a mother myself.. to two gorgeous little kittens, Cleo and Layla. As therapy animals, I am allowed to have them in rented accommodation, even if it is otherwise not pet- friendly. As my GP had advised it, my Landlord said it was okay.

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Cleo and Layla have literally kept me alive this year, and have been there for me constantly. In fact, they are currently perched on the end of my bed, sleeping as I write up this post. I will definitely be writing more about them soon, as I have been planning to do a service animal post for over a year now and, to be honest, I could ramble on about my fur-babies for hours.

This isn’t the end of my story though, as there has been a lot more that has happened this year.

Joe has settled nicely into a job now, and we have, just about, got a steady income. However, since I can’t hold down a job, we have had a rough time with money troubles this year, too. At one point, we couldn’t even afford a weekly grocery shop, and Lidl seemed expensive. All things considered, we needed to cut down on our expenditure. It’s now nearing the end of our (quite expensive) tenancy, and so our miraculous plan was to move house, to somewhere cheaper. Funnily enough, the house we found is only 12 doors down from where we are now, is even more beautiful, and is £250 cheaper per month (bargain). I’m hoping that these savings will give me the opportunity to start up my own craft shop, and slowly but surely help us to progress.

Over the last year, I also gained a lot of weight. Having dropped out of university, I suddenly wasn’t walking to lectures on a daily basis, and having Joe’s car meant I didn’t have to walk anywhere else, either. As useful as it is to not be losing as much energy over travel, it also meant I wasn’t burning off as many calories, and these started to build up. Over the space of the year, I went from 9 stone to 13 stone, gaining almost half my original bodyweight in fat. Not only is this unhealthy, it made my fibro more difficult to cope with, and made my self esteem plummet even further. It wasn’t until I had to care for the kittens, and started to form a daily routine, that I started to lose it again. Since August, I have now dropped back down to 11 stone, and I am hopeful that I will continue to lose some more.  Before the kittens came along, I spent nearly every day in bed, and only got up for a few hours a day, when joe came home in the evening. I felt that I had little to no reason to exist, so would hide under my duvet all day, feeling poorly. This went on for months, hence why I put on so much weight.

Note to self: hiding under the duvet doesn’t work for more than a day or so. Eventually, you have to come out.

Thats not the only trouble I had this year, either. Say hello to my nasty little friend, insomnia. Although I have always struggled to sleep at night, it has now reached ridiculous levels. I used to need between 1 and 4 hours to go to sleep, but now, I can be still awake when joe gets up the next morning. It doesn’t happen every night, but still occurs several times throughout the week, leaving me to oversleep through the day and make the cycle even worse. Fun.

I am in the process of applying for CBT, and I am also thinking of asking my GP about sleep medication. For now though, I am completely avoiding caffeine, going to bed early, eating healthily, and trying to get as much fresh air and exercise as I can during the day. I am looking forward to moving soon, as it will give me the opportunity to be more active around the house, as we will be packing, unpacking, decorating, and sorting the garden, most of which I will do whilst Joe is at work. Hopefully, this will help me to lose weight and sleep better too, fingers crossed.

For now, I would love to get back into writing on this blog, as I realised today just how much I have missed it. Keep an eye out over the next few weeks for some more posts, as I will definitely be writing again now I have written this.

Let me know if you have any questions or advice, I’m always open to comments and love to hear feedback!

Bye for now 🙂