A Death in the Family

I can remember the first time I realized I rarely am touched by death, even when it is very close to me. Jason Todd was in Batman’s arms and the only one touched by his death was Batman.

Yesterday morning, leaving a party my Step Brother Talon was in a car accident and died. His friends, instead of calling 911 abandoned him. Could he have lived? Most likely, although we will never know.

This isn’t a PSA. This is just my mention that teens do not belong behind the wheel when drunk. No one does. The highest cause of death for teenagers is DRINKING AND DRIVING. What is the lure of alchohol?

Here is what I remember from my 21st birthday drunk off. Everything tastes like pee or worse. Everything smells like barf or worse. People say the weirdest things when drunk. “You have such lovely eyepatch tits.”

Wouldn’t you rather actually LIVE to be 21? When drinking loses it’s allure? Why not avoid the risk of a ticket, of killing someone, and the guilt that comes with knowing you could have made better choices?

Am I saying don’t have fun? No. I am merely saying stop being a ridiculous entity and try putting the beer away. One way to find out if your friends are friends forevar like you swear they are? Say no to the drinking. Play with their minds a bit. If you can’t have fun without booze, get off my damned roads!

The funeral is on Thursday. I will be there, with the service cat. I will be trying to support my family. I still feel a bit like this is not real. My stepfather is not wearing a cowl, and I do feel sorrow. It still just doesn’t seem right.

My niece put it into words. “My guinnea pig died. Unky Talon Died. Is great grandma next?” My grandmother may not appreciate the sentiment but she is old. She is supposed to be the next to die. The hanging sword isn’t supposed to mark the young right?

Sorry to babble, I know the world isn’t going to stop while I seek understanding, and comprehension. The world will go on, and so must I.

I remember our first real conversation. None of his friends were around, and neither were our parents. He discovered I wasn’t just a two dimensional side show freak and I discovered how smart he was. I was surprised, because in all honesty he didn’t act like he had much of a brain. It turns out being stupid is the cool thing where we used to live.

I will miss him. I didn’t spend enough time around him. I always thought I’d do it next time. I’d visit more. I have a bit of regret there, although there were times when I did visit and he’d say Next time. We all have the person in our lives we next time with. I am not sure this leaves more bad memories than good, or good than bad. We fought often, and I always had hopes for his future I never shared.

It turns out there are now two people I have cried for in passing. Maybe it is a sign of something. Maybe I am just really sad.

Corned Beef Homelessness

I was humming “The Rising of the Moon,” today and remembering Saint Padraig’s Days past. Part of it was the entire discordance in my body, the rest of it was a mixture of too much green and random facts about Saint Pats. I had seizures all day, starting directly after the TVC Toastmaster’s Meeting began. This left me exhausted, and my mind was not on the evaluation.

I still did my best, but, instead of baseball I wanted to think about the children i used to know. When I was homeless, at the first shelter I was running under the presumption that there was no joy to be had there, no safety, no happiness, no love. So far this had been proven correct, until I woke up on Saint Patrick’s Day Morn. This was about four years ago, I was all alone in the world. What woke me was a soft bundle of skin clinging to me tightly, crying.

The little girl was blind, and could not tell where her mommy was, and I felt nice and safe. So, sitting up I carefully ran a hand down her back and asked her what her mother’s name was. It was an hour before wake up call, and the girl had just gone to the bathroom, but her mommy had left her there, or so she thought. I put my shoes on and forced my body to move. Once I had my footing we walked to the bathroom, through the snow, my coat wrapped around the girl. I was cold, but, she was smaller and I decided she likely needed it more than I did.

I could hear someone calling, “Maggie?” In the darkness, I could not see but I could hear her. “I hear my Mommy!” The relief filled the child and she wanted to run off, but was afraid because this was their first night at the Shelter and she had fallen a few times, trying to find her mother. We made it to the bathroom, over 500 yards from the main building. Her mother was in tears when she saw her child and scooped her up. “I thought you were gone forever.” They said this in unison. I took my coat, her mother had hers, and wrapped myself in it, creeping back to bed.

I tried to go back to sleep but it was too late for extra rest. Still, I reasoned this wouldn’t be a big deal. They often treated women like garbage there, I am certain they still do. This day was different, if you could ignore the fact that the men had a restroom inside the main building and did not have to go outside with wet hair, they even had six toilets instead of just two and theirs was accessible. I couldn’t ignore it but was told if I so much as protested I would be out with no shelter.

When we cleared the floor, set the tables and had our breakfast, a bowl of sugary cereal each, the children came in. They rarely got breakfast, unless someone saved it for them, first come first serve, and children without a home are just as reticent to leave their warm beds as those with. I often saved my cereal for a child, and this morning I presented it to Maggie, after it turned out there was no more food. She recognized my voice and told her mother I was the nice lady who had saved her. I smiled for the first time, since losing my home. For a moment I didn’t hurt so much either. Then my stomach started whining at me, it wasn’t hungry it was just the sheer amount of allergens I had to eat in order to not die. The knife’s edge I walked on had become narrower and more harrowing.

I pulled on the very shirt I wore today, one of the few I managed to salvage. It was my only green at that point. I let my hair down, liking how it felt. I felt pretty again, a first since my back injury and homelessness. I wanted to dance, though I did not trust my legs for that. Then the staff asked for volunteers to run arts and crafts. The adults all grumbled, no one wanted to bother with the kids. I raised my hand. I have this strange reaction to chances to do things, I usually say yes.

There were acrylic paints, glitter glues, glitter, glue, and a lot of paper. I was given the one pair of scissors and we set out to work. Maggie was the first to want to try something, so, I helped her cut out clover and let her smear the glue all over the paper. She was having a blast. I remember her laughter, “It’s gooey!” Her mother watched, but less carefully since I had returned her unharmed without knowing either of them. Another girl came over, then a boy, and they made green paper chains, then, on white paper we painted leprechauns. Soon, the entire building was covered in green.

That smile kept returning too. After the first chain was hung, a few of the men began to pin the decorations, growling out playfully, “We need more green over here.” Smiling as one of the kids ran a decoration over, the smiles started to spread. By the time the annual news cameras came, filming us just to show how great the people who run the place are everyone was smiling. I remember the reporter, a short man with a puce tie, muttering, “Why are they so damned happy? Don’t they know they are homeless?”

As we sat down, a kind man bringing me a plate as I had begun to fall over again I realized why I was happy. I had stopped focusing for one day on my homelessness, and had instead focused on making someone else happy. I wanted to make sure that those kids had a happy day. I wanted to see their smiles. It was cold out, snowing, but inside the warmth of family and friends was found. I also had the first meal that was not going to make me sick since arriving there. Corned Beef with a side of freshly mashed potatoes. There was enough for everyone, a rarity there. I even was allowed seconds on the meat and potatoes.

I hid from the camera, this was helped by the smile that would not abate, I could not stop grinning. After all, the children were laughing, our temporary home felt like a home for once and until it was time to sleep no one fought, there was no need to try to steal food, and we were all content. The next morning there was no green, just the cold snow. There was too little food once more and it all went back to being a gray existence, dull and painful. Except, that I still felt happy.

My happiness was not permanent, yet, my acceptance that I could feel happiness made it easier to exist in a state of contentment. Without that day, I might very well have been too depressed to fight for survival a month later, when I nearly froze to death. That shelter is a special hell, for those in need, for those who no one cares enough about. It is not up to code, safe, and they do not try to make you safe or happy. It was merely a whim that lead to that one day, a kindness so rarely given.

As more and more families lose their homes, they head to shelters just like that one. Today, I remembered my own agony as I fondled a bit of green paint hidden just inside my sleeve, the paint stain is left over from that day. I too considered why I kept the shirt, and I realized despite it being a bit uncomfortable, always too warm , I keep it because this shirt has memories attached. It isn’t just the shade of green that sets my hair afire, smooths my skin, and makes me feel absolutely beautiful. The beauty I feel is instead in the subconscious associations with happiness.

When you have nothing, you still have your soul, your life, and the ability to love.
Happy Saint Padraig’s Day. May the road rise to meet you, your friends and family greet you, and love fill your heart today.

Medicalization of Humanity

I have spent my life being a patient. Most people do to an extent but a lot of non disabled people do not wind up in a doctor’s office monthly. Those that do are usually seeing a psychologist. I have been talking to my biological mother again, because she needs my help. In exchange for helping her with training her dog to be a Service Dog I asked for payment in therapy. Not literally, but, figuratively.

I think she was startled but, I am wounded emotionally. I am so angry at her, and I need to forgive her. I can’t do that without working out some of the issues and I want a mother. Some of the things that have angered me include over medicalization of my emotions. Being human has never been an option for me, despite the obvious inability to escape it.

From reading my blog you know already I have a history of abuse and chronic illness. You might have also noted an undercurrent of loathing for labels, though I am working to embrace mine. Some labels cannot be avoided. After becoming an adult I went and paid for a psychoanalyst to evaluate me. I wanted to know if, without my mother’s influencing them with her fears, I was really as insane as everyone told me.

I did this because I didn’t feel crazy. I felt depressed, but, not crazy. I did not think I was becoming a sociopath like my father. I put effort into fighting that, and won. What I did, to help prevent influence in this doctor’s office by my past was withhold information. It took several calls to find a doctor willing to work with zero patient history, but, the woman who did the test with me understood my need to find the truth.

In my childhood I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar, Depression, and a slew of other labels that never quite fit, including Multiple Personality Disorder. Most of these get renamed with each DSM, and with number V coming out (I don’t know my roman numerals and I am not looking up the translation, it is either four or five), I am again feeling pensive.

Part of it is the sudden ability to cry. For the first 23 and a half years of my life I could not cry without bleeding. I cannot seem to suppress my tears anymore. Again, some of this is because of effort though the effort sends me receding into myself at times. With that test, I was freed from the stigma of most of the labels I had received.

Those that stuck are depression, lower case because it is something that is perfectly natural considering my family history and personal history. It also is not something I will ever treat with pills again. Another is obsessive compulsive disorder. I need the world to be in order, and this comes from my past. Anything out of place could cause a beating. My disability has helped me with this. I cannot order the world, and I am healing because of it. I had no way of cleaning my room for years, it was horrible.

The test also helped hint at something else, I am Autistic. I have Aspergers. I haven’t told many people, just my Person and my mother. Now the world knows. I feared the Stigma of Autism. My best friend (All my friends are my best friends) Maxis is autistic and helped me to realize that my Autism just lets me be me. It has made things more difficult in some ways but I have adapted, and am extremely high functioning and no one can tell. My labels are not readily visible.

I also am an adult with Attention Deficit Disorder. I adapted as a child, after taking Ritalin. The Ritalin made what turns out to be a side effect of the autism, my extreme sound sensitivity, worse. I couldn’t stop screaming, all my pain was there, and of course I turned out to be allergic to it. My mother pulled me off of the drug despite my institutionalization. I recollect hearing her voice through a closed door, I was curled up in a corner in the Time Out room, being punished for not brushing my hair. My mother had come to visit and I had cried telling her how loud everything was, and hearing her tell the staff off for drugging me was the best sound out of all of them.

I am still sound sensitive. I can hear the sounds most people tune out. When a computer is turned on, each second I hear the scraping of the needle in the hard drive. it is deafening. I have five running right now, and have adapted to the cacophony of my world by adding more stimulus. I have yet to find true silence, even with a power outage but that is the best peace ever. Still, having mental distractions helps me cope.

I find it a bit ironic that being nearly deaf in one ear has not decreased my ability to be overstimulated by sound. Overloading is so far what works best. The great part about hearing everything is hearing my cats purr, when no one else can. Sometimes that sound is the best in the world. My nerves have always been just as sensitive, my skin feels too much and that can cause even the touch of William’s paw to have me crying out.

Still, in my life more damage has been done by mental health practitioners. I have been supposed to find a therapist for almost a year. First, I used the excuse of insurance, which did not cover without a copay. Then when that was fixed, I used the excuse of truth. I do not want a Therapist. I really hate them, and do not trust them. I am aware of my need now, to find one. I need someone to work with, so that I can help myself and my mother.

I remember my first Therapist. Her name was Candy, and my father upon finding this out asked if my Mother was taking us to see a stripper. He thought it was funny, I thought it meant that the doctor tore up paper. Instead, she told my mother that she could change my father. She told me and my sister, we all shared the sessions, how women must learn to cook and my bruises and burns, were just the signs that I was going to be a great wife.

I never believed her. My sister did, and when I told her at night that I thought that Candy was insane, she told me that she is a doctor, so therefore I must be wrong. I kept it to myself but at the age of four I just told her things I thought she wanted to hear. My father was sent to a mental hospital after attacking a man, or something like that a year later, and my mother did not let him back in, despite Candy telling her we would all go to hell. I think the woman let her religious tenancies effect her job.

The next therapist I saw was the one who had me put on my first Antidepressant. I was almost eight, and Doctor Baca decided I was depressed. Likely he was right but he never let me address why. He wasn’t a listener but talked about how I needed to try harder in school, how I needed to bathe more, how I needed to do things to be popular. If I got a word in edgewise he used it to shame me. I had begun to develop breasts, and upon relating the nickname I had at school, because my bra broke in Phys Ed, he agreed. I was slut shamed. The Nickname is not related here as it reveals the name that I have shed, but it contained the word whore.

The list of bad therapists goes on and on. No person is perfect but even the best amid them just wanted to label me. Many tried dangerous tactics and all of them post Doctor Baca insisted on medications. I took so many pills, and many had adverse effects including causing me to gain 100lbs in a month, but, the pills were more important than the girl. Each doctor took any crying as a sign not of emotional release but of depression. If I was happy at all it was a manic, if I was angry it meant I was psychotic. I lost touch with emotion itself.

My response was to try and kill myself, though, I couldn’t figure out how and asked my mother to help. The first time wasn’t the cause of my institutionalization, though the threat was leveled. I just didn’t comprehend it. The suicidal ideation passed and yet my brain warred to follow the rules that were leveled at it. My needs were far from met, and my Autism being undiagnosed meant I had no help. I was adrift, and lost.

The worst weekend of my childhood came then. I was beaten to the point of nearly dying, and denied medical treatment. There is much more to that story but it will not be blogged about, my fear of being attacked over it is too strong. My entire life was changed at that moment however. That is the hinge of life for me. That too, is when my personality changed the first time. The direct result of head trauma. That is the weekend where the first breaks in my back were had, my Xrays showing as an adult that when I was about eight I had four vertebrae break in my back, two in my neck. They healed well enough thankfully but I was in agony, I was alone, and I knew that I should not trust anyone ever again.

I was also threatened with food. My father had decided I was fat. I wasn’t yet, I was perfectly healthy, but he decided I should stop eating. He also instructed me to cut myself, though I did not manage that one. I did manage the eating disorder. He had told me too, if I did eat he would know and would beat my mother to death. I had to protect her. She always has needed my protection. So I gave up food. It was not hard, due to the pain.

Pain is the best appetite suppressant I know of. It kills the urge to eat in me, and is the reason for many people becoming malnourished with access to food. I lied to my mother the first few days and told her I wasn’t hungry, but, then she told me my refusal to eat hurt her. If I didn’t eat she’d surely die. Catch 22. No matter my choice she would die. I decided to eat, then, I would just throw up after dinner. Then my “daddy” couldn’t kill her and she wouldn’t know so she wouldn’t die.

This worked for a while, and my stomach stopped hurting and my skin even healed from some of it’s symptoms of allergy. I was however, bulimic by the diagnostic standard. No one asked why I was bulimic at the tender age of eight. My family didn’t figure it out very quickly, but, eventually they did. I am sure I had a decline in health. My memory was very foggy, and I had begun to have bursts of rage. Perhaps this came from the head injury, the painful seizures that I had started to have, hiding everything, or the burden of the household falling to an eight year old girl. It could even be the bulimia, the overdosing of drugs by my doctors, or, all of the untreated genetic ailments.

My stepfather had begun molesting my older sister, he was too afraid of me to hurt me, so I shaved my head. We discovered then how misshapen my skull is. My skin had begun to split on my breasts, and I thought if I was a boy then I would always be safe. I was of course unaware of the stigmas that were to come, but, I thought being male would make it all better. So, I tried to cut my breasts off. I failed, and for that I am grateful now. I am not sure what the therapists told my mother about all of this, but, from my perspective no one took into account that something might be wrong physically or that the abuse took a toll.

I was taken to a hospital, dumped off, and my mind and body were invaded. I do not know why these doctors thought a physical examination was necessary my first night there, but, they gave me a complete physical, including a pap smear. There was no explanation, but, I lashed out. My first night there was spent in the padded room of solitary confinement.

Diagnosis were tossed at me like darts at a board, seeing if one could fit close enough. Most of the girls there were suicidal, all of them had been molested or raped. Each of them had been battered, and all of the children were in pain. The staff were not all kind. One of the male staff would hit me, but I never said a word. He told me if I did, he’d see to it that I did not get to see my mother ever again.

My hair is also complex. Only half of it is curly, and this is all in the under hair. I had to bathe twice a day there to pass their cleanliness challenge, because of the Hidradenitis Suppertiva causing excessive sweat. I was allergic to the shampoo and cried each time I bathed. They gave me more antidepressants.

I mentioned once, how much my body hurt to the doctors there. I was quickly learning though, that all they wanted was for me to suddenly become a normal child. I wasn’t sure what that meant but noted what the children who got to go home endured. They could not yell, they could not scream, they ate every meal but not seconds, and they were nice all the time, if the adults were looking. I began to master the system. This meant no crying, so I got even better at being a machine. I let my world fall into their system of order.

I did go home, but, I couldn’t keep up the act of perfection. So, the cycle hit over and over again. I still couldn’t eat but was gaining weight. I was shamed for it. I was stuck then in either my mother’s clothes or sweat pants. Time passed and I was a teenager. My first period came on the eve of another hospitalization. I thought I was dying. The inability for people to discuss this function without clinical talk or shame had cost me knowing that this was going to happen. It didn’t help that my mother had told me all about how evil my Uncle Verne is. Verne is a rapist, a pedophile, and of course he would surely be out to get my mother’s children.

She had me stay with my grandmother while she made arrangements to have her crazy and devalued daughter locked away. My uncle called. Grandma had left me alone, despite my mother’s very valid fear that I would kill myself. I was considering it staring into her medicine cabinet when the phone rang. This was before caller ID hit that small town. I thought it was my mother. I thought maybe she had realized that the kids at school were mean, my hands hurt, and so did my stomach and I just couldn’t live like that. It was a strange voice. His voice was raspy, cold, and hearing me he sounded suddenly excited. I talked with him for a while, until I realized who he was. We didn’t trade names but when he called me by mine, I asked if he was my uncle.

There it was again, that duality, I was told by my mother that upon pain being dealt my way, I must never be rude on the phone. I was also told I must never let my uncle know where we were, who we were or to hurt me. I was terrified. Then, I felt warmth running down my legs. I remember what I said, “I am sorry Mr. Uncle Verne, I have to go now. I will tell my Grandma you called.” I hung up and went and sat in the tub crying because I was bleeding.

I thought that I was going to die, which, saved me from my suicidal thoughts. It was partly there because so often I was asked if I wanted to die. The idea wasn’t original to me, though I may have wound up having it anyway. I am not blaming the doctors, as without them I still would have died, I am merely questioning their methods. For every emotion there was a label, a drug, and a punishment.

For my fear of my period I was told I was a misogynist. I hadn’t even known what that was, but, upon being told I hate women, I thought it apt. At that time I wasn’t aware that self hatred is not the same, and the over labeling and medicalization was helping me to dehumanize. I was instead a child trying to make people love me. At this time my memories of my Sensei had been suppressed, and yet the mark of them remained, I was subconsciously seeking that same love.

The rest if my timeline, up until the Ranch, mentioned in earlier posts, is a blur, a mix of self hatred, cruelty, and a few bright moments when I went off the medication without telling people. Not all of my memories were destroyed by the meds, and the medicine did help me learn to control my flashbacks. I was so lonely however, unable to make contact with myself, isolated, and then something amazing happened. My freshman year of Highschool, I became the Valentines Princess. In my school this was on par with the popularity contests of Home Coming Queen or Princess and Prom Queen. My classmates elected me, and openly made this truth known, because of the simple fact that the most popular girl in school was pregnant and did not know who the father was. The pregnancy was not the issue, many other girls were pregnant too, it was the culture of this town. If you were not sexually active you were not acceptable. It was that she had cheated. Perhaps it was a form of slut shaming, but I was only aware of the fact that I had won. I had been chosen to represent the beauty of my class, a symbol of the perfection of love.

These memories are so crisp, as is the memory of my sudden happiness ending, realizing I had to tell my mother that I had won and needed a dress. There was no way I could take the title. I went to tell the coordinator, another student in my class and she found me first. She had already talked to the other wealthy students, and they were going to pool their allowances to buy me a dress, a trip to the salon to style my hair and they were going to have my hair done. They also were going to give me a free ticket to the Dance. At this point, my mother had left my Step Father, and money was so tight we could barely afford food. When I told her however, I expected anger and was given joy. She was happy for me.

We went through the rituals of beauty, I even shaved my legs, ignoring the pain that caused. We had my hair done, and, when I walked out with my Tiara in place, taking the arm of the boy I thought was the most handsome in school, ignoring his displeasure at being my escort, I stared out at the people in my school and was given a moment of joy. No one booed. I had expected that, after all every day I was on the outside. I kept the roses the principle bought each of the Valentines Court members for years, only shedding them when I no longer needed the reminder of my value, for I am worth more than roses and a popularity contest.

When I told my therapist about the feelings I had had, he told me I was becoming a narcissist. He berated me for every single feeling, and I went back on the meds. I was so certain he was right, and that my mother was too. The messages given to me during these visits to the psychologist were all so negative. Tomorrow I am calling and making appointments again. I am an adult now, perhaps, this will free me from some of the pain I feel. Perhaps I will find one who is willing to work with me on how to emotionally survive my physical pain. If I am offered medication my first visit, I will not return to that doctor.

I am still fighting for my humanity. I grew up meeting and failing expectations, never making my own. I am an adult now, and my own expectations are met. Yet when I cry, even at the end of a sad movie, I question, evaluate, and judge myself. My crying is the hardest, it is the most difficult for me to allow. I have come to embrace Happiness, anger, jealousy, but sorrow is the biggest terror. Even in the media we face the words of stigma. Pharmaceutical companies, doctors ignoring the validity of emotion, deranged fathers, and depressed mothers (Feel free to rearrange, relabel, or adjust these two for your own needs) all collude against humanity.

This is not the only way that people are dehumanized just one example of it. There is something in the air, something in the water, or perhaps just a tradition diluted with time that has caused dehumanization to become far too common. Civil Rights are torn away from people based on their supposed inhumanity, the disabled are not granted access because we surely aren’t human. I tried so very hard to shed my humanity, yet without it I cannot sing, I cannot write, and I cannot breathe.

I am afraid of psychologists. What if they refuse to not try and force me to take drugs? What if it turns out in the future I was wrong and needed the antidepressants? The consequences of these choices are the real fear. I fear too, that my next psychologist will refuse to see my pain as real. The wheelchair is not enough for some people, or it is too much. I will be writing a how to article on shopping for psychologists, after I am done, detailing my method. I will share it here.

The Antidote for Discrimination Is…

I have felt the urge to blog repeatedly, but until now I have not given in. Blogging can be as personal as writing. I have spent the last week in preparation mode skimming the internet reading other blogs, seeing what I liked, what I didn’t like, and the power behind the words. Some of these bloggers brought me to tears, and that is no small feat. Others made me laugh, some caused me to feel sorrow, and a few gave me the chance to feel angry.

I wasn’t sure how to start my first post, but, since I am an advocate for all disabled, all women, all men, all people in need I will start there. The topic nearest and dearest to my heart is Service Animal Law. Some of you who read this might think you know about service animals, and you might be right. Others will presume that a service animal is only for a blind person. You are not correct. A service animal, by the federal definition, is any animal trained to assist a disabled person with a task. This does mean that if you have a seizure alert dog, it has to do more than that. The law even gives behavioral guidelines.

I have a service cat. She is trained to do things including retrieval, seeking assistance from specific humans in the case of an emergency, medication reminders, object retrieval, and she has also been trained to help me balance. A lot of these tactics came out of her instinctual responses, but those needed to be honed. She also had to be trained to handle a crowded mall. Now she handles it better than I do. People often ask me why a cat, and my response is simple. I am not allergic to cats, most of the time but I am allergic to dogs. I also trust cats, and I haven’t trusted many dogs in my life. I have to trust my service animal partner.

I have faced some serious discrimination because of being disabled. When I was still walking most of the time, it was harder because I was in extra agony since forcing myself to walk through a store took all of my energy. The more tired I am, the more pain I feel. There have been times when I have had shopping carts jerked out of my hands, causing me to either fall or nearly fall. I have been denied the right to buy groceries, and recently I have been illegally denied medical care.

I am perusing legal action but I am well aware that other people might not know how. Today, one of the blogs I read, reminded me that not every person is trained in how to handle discrimination. When you are disabled, you might feel more vulnerable to attack, and when people threaten to take away your service animal or refuse access, it can be terrifying. I feel often as if I am going to be hit if I push forward. I was an abuse victim for most of my life, but, adulthood came and I found a way to break free. Not everyone is that lucky.

So, here it is, my guide for other disabled people with any LEGAL service animal on how to advocate their rights. A side not before I begin, if you do not need a service animal, do not lie. We will catch you eventually, and the crime has a punishment. Depriving people of their rights through your shallow behavior is the worst thing you could possibly do, and, whether you believe in Karma, Hell, or just recriminations in this life from other people, you will pay for it. The law will get you, Advocates will get you, and if Karma gets you, it will be worse than anything I could dream up.

The Guide– Dedicated to Renne, Helen, Aimi and Snow, but especially Bree. (All Links will open in a new window/tab.)

Step 1. Stay Calm. This is for me the hardest part of advocating for your rights. Sometimes I want to run, other times I want to scream and cuss. Neither tactic is helpful. As hard as it is, you have to be the bigger person, and stay nice. You can have anger in your voice, do not deny the emotion but do not let the emotions over ride your goal.

Step 2. Calmly as you can, state that they are breaking the Federal Law. This is what I have practiced saying in the Mirror daily for the last two years. “You are violating the Federal Law. The Americans With Disabilities act provides protection for my use of my service animal.” When I say this I hand them a copy of the law. You can get a copy of the service animal laws from the ADA.  I  have the business brief printed with my state law on the reverse side. You can obtain access to your local service animal laws at http://www.animallaw.info/ I carry  my print out in aUSB case on my scooter keys. You can also buy laminated cards from various businesses with the law on it that explain your rights. For some people this is easier. Those cards are usually kept on your animal’s harness.

Step 3. Explain the law in simple terms and how they are violating it. This does mean you need to know the law. Not only does knowing the law protect you from discrimination, but, it lets you educate people. The biggest cause of discrimination in my experience is a lack of knowledge. If someone isn’t willing to learn, or admits they know, then you have a larger problem. One of the main causes of confusion with service animal awareness is that few businesses train their employees. It is illegal to require a service animal to wear a vest or show an ID tag. When someone asks me for this for my cat, I show them the law and educate them. Often, they will try and state she cannot enter because she is not a dog. My local laws state only dogs can be service animals. The laws are written so that the stronger law prevails. This means that if the Federal law says I can have any animal, that is trainable and meets the standards and the local law does not, we refer to the federal law. However if you live in a state like California that requires ID tags for all service animals, then, the law requires you have an ID tag. This is another source of confusion, but, it is an attempt at increasing the rights of many.

Usually by this point I am either in the building or they are just going to break the law anyway. If you have reached this point, it is time for Step 4.

Step 4. Take a very deep breath, and remember Step 1. Then ask to speak to their supervisor. If they refuse or are the supervisor you can try explaining the laws again, or calling another advocate to try and help. I keep the number handy to the local advocacy organization, and they have helped me countless times. Even knowing I can call day or night, is helpful because I do not feel alone. At this time I have no national links, but if you are in New Mexico, contact Service Animals and the Law. (Link forthcoming). If you have links nationally to websites that can help, post them in a comment. I want this page to be a resource for any person in need.

At this point you should be through the trying time, most managerial staff listen well and correct their employees. Recently I had to fight my way into an apartment complex using this tactic for three months. Even when I had food poisoning I had to try and follow my rules, but, eventually I prevailed. Advocating for yourself is the hardest part of having a service animal.

Not every person responds to this and if you still cannot get through to them, you need to contact the ADA. You can email them a detailed complaint, include names, addresses, contact information for both parties, and send it to ada.complaint@usdoj.gov . If you would rather call you can contact the ADA via their hotline using these numbers: 800-514-0301 (TTY-800-0363).

Remember, you are strong, you are beautiful inside and out, and you are not alone.

Other posts in this series: What is a Service Animal?

Additional Resources will be added as I find them:

Information:
http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/
http://www.deltasociety.org
http://www.ada.gov/svcanimb.htm
http://www.ada.gov/qasrvc.htm
http://www.equipforequality.org/resourcecenter/ada_serviceanimals.pdf

http://www.animallaw.info/
Service Dog Vests and Supplies:
http://www.pettop.com/
http://www.raspberryfield.com/
http://www.activedogs.com/servicetherapyvestharness.html?gclid=CI-6iKm7rpgCFQEpGgod3QL9Ug
http://www.ldsleather.com/patches.html
http://www.petjoyonline.com/ADA_Federal_Law_Information_Card_for_Service_Dog_p/svd-0054.htm The Law Info Cards
Scholarships
http://www.assistancedogunitedcampaign.org/scholarship.html
http://www.keystonehumanservices.org/ssd/ssd.php
Blogs:
http://www.servicedogblog.com/

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