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.

Travelling with illnesses: dealing with hot weather

Help for sufferers, Posts, Travel, Travelling with illnesses series

A big issue with travelling abroad is that, often, you are visiting an environment which is different to your own. The problem with this? Drastic temperature changes can seriously impact your health, and moving from your usual climate to somewhere super hot is pretty much a recipe for disaster. These are a few things I do to minimise its effect on my fibro:

1. Drink plenty of water.

Hydration is key to dealing with heat, so make sure you top up constantly throughout the day. Rehydration sachets also come in handy if you start to fall behind, and consider carrying a water bottle when you are out and about to avoid sweating out too much H2O when you don’t have access to drinks.

2. Battle the chub rub.

Those of us who suffer from chafing; whether it be in the thigh area, under the arms, or somewhere else altogether; know just how much of a nightmare hot weather can be. There are a few tried and tested methods out there that can help prevent the dreaded chub rub, and it’s worth investing before you go, so as to tackle the problem before it starts. I like to put a layer of roller deodorant on my affected areas, and then top this with a good coat of talc. Sometimes, though, it’s easier to play it safe by making sure there’s a layer of fabric between the two points of contact (I like long, floaty trousers for this).

3. Fatigue.

Fatigue is pretty much a constant when it comes to fibromyalgia, but this can spiral out of control when the temperature comes into play. Make sure you have plenty of rest, seek shade as much as possible, and consider a decent fan as back up. Don’t forget to make use of your usual fatigue coping techniques, as these will help to keep your day to day problems at a minimum.

4. Fainting.

I don’t know about you, but I have a bad habit of fainting when I get too hot or too cold. Try not to over do things, and pace yourself as much as possible. It is best to have someone to accompany you if you feel like this may be a problem, and if you do start feel faint, alert someone nearby before lowering yourself to the ground. The aim is to get blood flow to your brain, so laying on a level surface, putting your head between your knees, or even putting your legs up against a wall, are all techniques which help with this. Stay low to the ground to avoid heavy falls (if you do happen to lose consciousness, you don’t want to hit your head as this may cause concussion, so preventing falls is very important). When you feel a little better, make sure you have some water and something sweet to boost your blood sugar. (N.B: a good excuse to eat chocolate!)

5. Clothing.

It is important for any vacation that you pack the right clothing for your destination, but it is especially so when you have an illness to think about. Personally, my fibro makes me very sensitive to temperature change, so I find it vital to pack the right clothes for my holiday. Try comfortable, loose fitting clothes in light colours in order to aid ventilation and reflect sunlight. However, remember that all climates are prone to temperature variation, and you may find an unsuspected cold period knocks you off course. Thus, always pack a few warmer layers that you can play about with depending on the forecast. Furthermore, hot weather often results in other problems, think: sweating, chafing, heat rashes. Make sure you choose breathable fabrics which are itch- free and easy to wear, and avoid piling up on accessories. For all of my ‘feminine’ followers, I avoid jewellery in case of theft or loss, but also because hot metal and skin is NOT a good combo. A sunhat and glasses will suffice during the day, and one multipurpose necklace and a set of earrings add glamour for a night out. Finally, don’t forget to bring comfortable shoes, especially if you plan to do lots of walking, so as to avoid blisters and athlete’s foot. A simple pair of worn in pumps or sandals will do perfectly.

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.