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.

Depression and Fibromyalgia

Depression, Posts, What is fibromyalgia?

Author’s note: A while back, I had a little help coming up with a post idea, and I wrote it up, but never got round to finishing it. Well, here it is, finally completed, more than a year later. Better late than never, I guess…

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My wonderful mother-in-law gave me an idea tonight whilst I was talking to her, so I decided to take her advice and write a post on it.

She told me that I should look into the effect that fibro has on my mood (and vice versa) to see if (and why) there may be a correlation between the two. My response is this:

Yes, fibromyalgia does have an impact on my mood. A BIG ONE. The multitude of horrible facets that fibro gives you; the pain, the tiredness, the forgetfulness, and so on, mean that it’s very difficult to stay positive. For me personally, antidepressants are a must, but there’s loads of other things I try to do on top of that to help me stay happy. I keep tidy (OCD plus chronic illness is a recipe for disaster), eat healthy, do things that I enjoy, and surround myself with positive people, plus many other little touches; all of which keep me happy(er). Obviously the odd low mood is inevitable once in a while, but I try to keep it under control as much as I can.

Furthermore, my mood ALSO has an impact on my fibro. We all know that having depressive symptoms can leave you feeling under the weather in terms of your motivation, but it also effects the physical body too. I find that when I am down, my pain levels reflect this and my energy levels drop as well. In addition, I have a greater sensitivity to temperature change, noise, and brightness, and my cognitive abilities begin to deteriorate. I can safely say that yes, my mood does impact my fibro, although why I have no clue.

Funnily enough, it shouldn’t be a surprise that my mood and my fibro are interlinked, as they are co-morbid with each other. This makes sense, since both are thought to stem from issues relating to the nervous system. Due to this, I have been prescribed a very useful form of medication known as an SNRI. If you are unfamiliar with these, they are a type of antidepressant which effects chemicals within the nervous system (serotonin and norepinephrine, to be exact), and has the simultaneous effect of dulling my pain and lifting my mood. Bonus.

Now, back to the original question, I can safely say that my mood and my fibromyalgia are interlinked, especially since they are co-morbidities. However, the exact reason as to why can only be explained with the development of fibro related research. As for now, we can only guess that it is due to neuropathic structures and the role of the nervous system. I wrote a similar post to this, explaining a few theories as to what causes fibromyalgia, so you might want to check it out here. I will also be writing a few more posts soon which will relate to this topic, such as what symptoms are common, what co-morbidities may be linked, and some more scientific explanations surrounding fibromyalgia.

In the meantime, let me know if you have any of your own science-y questions, and I’ll try my best to answer them (no promises- it’s been a while since my A-levels!). Likewise, if you think you have an answer, I’m sure we would all love to hear it.

 

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.