"I believe that a service dog would greatly improve my quality of life, and offer me the ability to live and access public spaces independently and safely as I continue on my healing journey."
Hello, my name is Saph and I’m a 26-year-old non-binary folk from the beautiful land known as North Carolina. For the first 21 years of my life I witnessed and experienced physical, psychological, and emotional abuse and environmental trauma in my home. Throughout my adolescence and as a young adult I struggled with major depression and anxiety, panic attacks, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. I began pursuing talk therapy and medication in college, and while it allowed me to maintain a facade of normalcy, it didn't really make me feel better.
Each day I felt like I was weighed down to the earth by a 3-ton anvil shackled to my ankles, and consumed by fear of apparent danger all around me. Three years ago I put all my stuff in my car, and left.
Since then I've struggled some more, but I've also settled into a new home, and worked extremely hard to heal the aftereffects of the trauma in my upbringing. Through the support of my psychiatric care team, I was able to get a diagnosis that helps me understand myself and my experience of the world: c-PTSD.
Chronic or Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can occur after ongoing exposure to traumatic and/or frightening circumstances like war, captivity and abuse. When we are afraid, our nervous systems kicks in to protect us. Many people know this series of events as Fight/Flight/Freeze response. When something especially terrifying occurs, our bodies can be so traumatized that they return to that state of Fight/Flight/Freeze even when the threat is no longer present. During prolonged exposure to abuse, the nervous system is constantly activated and as a result it can get stuck. In these cases, cases like mine, it can feel like an alarm is going off all the time, telling you that you are in danger and prompting you to react.
The following video, used to train trauma response teams, does a great job explaining PTSD: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-tcKYx24aA
The most well-known symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are "intrusive memories" like flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks from triggers; but, there are many more visible and invisible symptoms.
In the beginning for me it was mostly feelings of depression, hopelessness, guilt, shame, and rage but those symptoms that have lessened as I’ve acknowledged and begun to heal from my trauma. However, in addition to intrusive memories, I often experience physical pain in my legs, back, and shoulders.
PTSD can also lead to avoidance of places or things that may be triggering. This is especially harmful as it usually leads to isolation. Often for me, leaving the established safe space of my bedroom is a task that seems insurmountable. It feels as though there is so much to be afraid of--and to be honest, there is.
Triggers live everywhere for me--a horn blows across the street, someone accidentally brushes against or walks too close to me. Things as unassuming as a look from a stranger can activate my nervous system, sending me into Fight/Flight/Freeze mode. This is what happened in college--being out around others everyday meant I was constantly triggered and when I returned to my room sometimes all I could do was stand in front of the bed and look at the wall for hours. I've learned this is called disassociation, and it’s a way that the brain detaches from physical and emotional experiences.
This year, having learned so much about my disorder and triggers, I have been trying to go out more and not let the potential of being triggered stop me from experiencing life and making friends. I applied and was accepted to film school and I'm getting involved in things I enjoy again. However, triggers still exist, and while I am learning to manage my fear of and response to them, I am largely doing it out in the world alone.
This is why I need a service dog.
Service Dogs are a type of working animal trained to perform specific tasks to assist disabled individuals. Psychiatric Service Dogs for PTSD can do tasks such as grounding and deep pressure therapy in response to anxiety and/or disassociation, retrieving items in the case of mobility issues, serving as a touch barrier between their handler and other people or things to reduce triggering, and guiding a handler out of a building or away from a situation and to a safe space to recover.
Having a service animal to assist me in these areas will be life changing, and allow me to manage my symptoms, access public spaces, and live independently.
Because of the specific temperament and qualities required for such intense work, the amount of training, and the resources (food, vet bills, etc) required for these dogs to properly do their job, it can be a very expensive process, sometimes upwards of $20,000.
Thankfully, I have found a great non-profit to work with. One Step to Freedom has a great track record training services animals for people with PTSD and other psychiatric conditions and I have been approved for their program. I’m creating this fund to ask for your financial support.
I am ready to take the final step toward freedom, but I know that I cannot do it alone so I am asking you, whoever you may be and whatever you may have to give, to please step with me.