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.

Explaining your chronic illness to children

fibro fog, Help for friends, family, and significant others, Help for sufferers, Lifestyle, Pain, Posts

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that one of the hardest parts about having fibromyalgia (aside from the obvious) is being able to communicate what it means. Usually, people get the gist if you compare it to something more ‘normal‘, like being hit by a bus, for example. When it comes to kids, however, it gets a bit more complicated.

I find that, being the “cool” and “fun” auntie that I am *winks*, it gets difficult to tell children why I can’t play or pick them up or run around all day. It’s particularly heart breaking when you notice that they stop liking you as much. In general, though, I find that kids are very accepting of me being ill, it’s just a case of explaining why I don’t get better.

Here’s what I have found out:

1. Children struggle to understand long term illness.

If I tell my niece I am poorly, she gets it, but she expects me to ‘get well soon’ (as she wrote on the adorable card she had drawn me one time). It is difficult to explain that this won’t happen, so I try to make it easier by explaining from the start that I always feel like this. Don’t forget, it can be quite distressing from a child’s point of view, to be told that your grown up friend is always unwell- I’ve occasionally been asked by kids if I am dying, or if I am sad. Obviously this is not the case, but it might look like it to them. To help with this, I make it clear that when I am tired, I might look grumpy, but it doesn’t always mean I am, and that otherwise, I am perfectly healthy. Don’t be afraid to repeat this, as children often forget these things, and may not remember that you are okay.

2. A magic kiss or rub doesn’t make it better, but it’s cute that they try.

When my niece gives me a hug to make me feel better, it is important that I say thank you, and let her know that it cheered me up. It might not make my pain go away, but the fact that she tried is nice, and she deserves a thank you for going to the effort to make me feel better. Seeing a positive outcome will also teach her that she is doing the right thing, and being nice to someone really can help a little bit, even in the worst scenarios. This is a lesson that will keep her going throughout life.

3. Being responsible for a child is just as mentally draining as it is physically.

I know that my brain will struggle to keep up with a child’s fast pace, and I have to remember to take a break every now and then, so that I don’t wear myself out. A good way around this is to tell your child that you need a nap, they will leave you for a good half an hour to get some ‘me’ time, as far as I’ve learnt. Kids are very understanding about being tired, since they also need plenty of sleep, and I tend to find that they have no issue with letting you (pretend) sleep. You must also consider that the responsibility you hold for that child is important, so if you do feel like you can’t handle the situation, get another adult to step in whilst you take a break.

4. I’m not as strong as most people my age/size/gender, so I can’t pick them up.

Depending on the ‘format’ of your child, they might be a little on the large size, but still want picking up (i.e; a 5 year old who wants you to play). Since I am a petite 5.2″ female, I struggle with anyone over the age of 4, since they can get rather heavy. I let my niece know this, and she understands that although she is allowed to sit on my knee, I am not strong enough to pick her up all the time. She then runs to her uncle and asks him instead (teehee). Occasionally, she forgets this, but a brief “sorry, I’m not strong enough, why don’t you ask …….. instead?” does the trick.

5. I’ll be sacrificing my whole week if you ask me to baby sit for the day.

I don’t like confrontation, and sometimes, I just can’t say no. However, I know it is important to remember that you do have the right to say no whenever you like, and especially if it will effect your health. As a rule of thumb, I won’t babysit for anyone for more than a few hours, since I know that it will leave me drained. If I have to, I make sure I have the help of another adult, who can take over when I can’t. If a child asks me to spend time with them, I generally give them about an hour or so before telling them I have important adult stuff to do. Remember, it is important to spend time with the children in your life, but don’t over do it if it will make you ill. Likewise, don’t be mean to them, a simple explanation will work just fine.

I hope this helps you to explain your situation to the children in your life, whether they be your own or someone else’s, and for any parents out there, don’t forget to think twice before asking a friend to babysit. It might not be as easy for them as it is for you.

Don’t forget to comment if you have any tips for childcare with chronic illness, and let me know if this post was helpful at all- I love to hear your feedback.

See you soon, guys.

This will help if you feel suicidal.

Depression, Help for friends, family, and significant others, Help for sufferers, Posts, Uncategorized

Having been away on a volunteer trip for the last two weeks, I somehow managed to mess up my antidepressants. Oops. I’ve been in a bad way recently, and most of my blog is on hold for now. However, I thought it was urgent to post this, so here goes…

This is what you should do if you find yourself in a similar situation; feeling depressed or even suicidal.

1. SEEK HELP IMMEDIATELY.

Call a friend, a family member, or a helpline.

Having someone to talk to can help calm you down and rationalise what may potentially be an irrational bunch of thoughts. And besides, at least it gives you someone to rant to! Getting help can make a difference in what could potentially be a life- threatening situation.

I’ll add some useful helpline links at the bottom of this post for anyone who may need them, but a quick Google can do just as good.

2. Be mindful.

Practice breathing, focusing on your body, and acknowledging (and then dismissing) your thoughts. By spending a few minutes doing this, you can help yourself to relax and think more rationally. This is especially useful if you have no one there to help and have to rely on your self to calm down.

Another mindfulness trick I like is to count out loud three taps of my dominant thumb onto each finger of my dominant hand, starting at my pointer, working to my pinkie, and then going back along to my pointer again. Basically make a pinching motion three times with each finger and repeat until you feel calm. This helps you to focus on something physical, grounding you to the present.

3. Get to your safe space.

It is very important to find your safe space, somewhere where you can relax and feel comfortable. Often, this will be under your duvet, in the bathroom, or in another quiet place. However, if you are feeling suicidal, it is important that there is someone else available to you if you need help. I would advise that you have a ‘secondary’ safe space, at a friend’s house, for example, where you have the added benefit of another human for comfort and support.

When feeling severely depressed, this is a good method of reducing any external stimuli, which may otherwise impact any anxiety or bad thoughts that you may be experiencing.

4. Treat yo’self.

Eat your favourite food, read a book, listen to your favourite song, or watch a film. Whatever it is that helps you to feel better.

Personally, I like to hide under my bed covers (safe space) with a good book and loads of food (think: ice cream, chocolate, cheese, crisps), or I’ll run a bath and sit mindfully whilst it is filling. Locking myself in the bathroom with the noise of the tub filling gives me a chance to get away from the stress of the ‘outside world’.

Anyway, that’s all for today, but I’d like to round up by asking my usual request, let us know if you have something to share! And one last thing..

You are loved ♡

********

International:

https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/

https://www.befrienders.org/need-to-talk

UK only:

https://www.samaritans.org/

https://www.mind.org.uk/

********http://chronicallyme.org

Six tips for a Sufferer’s S.O.

Help for friends, family, and significant others, Posts

It’s difficult to know what fibro is like when you don’t actually have it, and plenty of people have asked me what I would like them to do to help, because they simply don’t know what I need. I’m going to share some tips; for best friends, parents, siblings, significant others, and anyone else who wants to help. I think you’ll find that most sufferers will appreciate it.

1. Educate yourself!
Nothing is quite as powerful as knowledge, and one of the most simple and inexpensive things that you can do to help is to learn a little about the illness. Read up on the symptoms of fibro, have a look into common pain management techniques, and find some articles about current research. I can almost guarantee that your fibro sufferer will love the effort that you have gone to in educating yourself about their illness.

2. Ask questions.
Some people don’t like others prying on the state of their health, but most fibro sufferers will agree that it’s nice to clear the air. It is difficult to know what to expect when you haven’t got any experience, and who better to refer to than the person themself? Ask them if you can help in any way; maybe by carrying something heavy, putting the kettle on, or even just enjoying their company in silence when they are having a bad day. Remember though, no one wants their independence taking away, so try not to over do it too much.

3. Know when enough is enough.
Like I said previously, it is easy to smother someone when you are trying to care for them. Similarly to before, if you feel unsure, just ask.

4. Treat them like you would everyone else.
No one likes to feel belittled, and the quickest way to do that is to act as if they aren’t ‘normal’. Of course, nobody is normal, really, but don’t change your actions towards someone simply because they have an illness.

5. Pick up after yourself.
If you live with a fibro sufferer, it can sometimes be difficult to remember that they can’t do everything that others can. This means that simple tasks around the house can get much more difficult than you think they are, and the last thing a chronic sufferer will want is to pick up their mess, let alone anyone else’s!

6. Gentle reminders can go a long way.
Many people with fibromyalgia get the notorious ‘brain fog’. Not only is this annoying, but can be potentially dangerous. One of my biggest issues is forgetting to take my meds on time, and a quick nudge from my boyfriend really helps to avoid a flare later in the day. It can also help with other forgetfulness problems, such as leaving my keys in the fridge by accident or forgetting to let the dogs outside before bed.

7. Patience is a virtue.
I can honestly say that having fibromyalgia drives me up the wall, whether it be the pesky ‘fog’, the achey muscles, or just feeling tired and miserable. I can only imagine how my poor family must feel when I snap over something silly they said or did, simply because it pushes me over the edge. Please remember that us sufferers don’t intend to be mean or bitter, but sometimes it is difficult to cope. Likewise, you may find that spending a lot of time around a grumpy, moaning, bag of bones isn’t very fun, especially if they are mid way through a flare and haven’t washed in a day or so (sorry!). If this is the case, make sure you get some ‘me’ time, and give yourself a break. Nobody blames you for getting irritated, and you will find that you appreciate your special person a lot more when you next see them. In the mean time, try to have some patience.