I write this at the urging of those around me, to demonstrate just how much a service dog helps someone with a mental illness. It can be difficult to describe just how much a service dog can help someone surmount their condition. Sometimes the best way to describe something is by describing the lack of it. People often ask me if I really ‘need’ my dog, because I have an invisible condition. Certainly, as the definition of a service dog goes, Lightning mitigates my disability. For those of us for whom functioning is difficult, we really do ‘need’ anything that makes our disability easier to cope with. IfΒ you found this article at all interesting or would like to support this cause, please consider making a donation to CHASAM-Paws.

Due to a bout of indigestion on Lightning’s part, I had to leave my service dog at home while doing grocery shopping today. It was unpleasant to say the least. It has been years since the last time I went in public without Lightning, and I had forgotten how strange it was to be without all the help she gave me.

Because Lightning performs medical alerts to my mood swings and hallucinations, I constantly had to be on alert. Every slight mood change, every gripe or unwanted emotion could be the sign of an impending mood swing or the un-reality that I was waiting for. At one point in a store I suddenly noticed that the world seemed ‘off’. Shit, I thought. Here it comes.

Without Lightning there, I had no gauge for how bad this was going to be. I had no warning when, a few moments later, I lost balance and had to rest on the shelf. I stressed, but it was a small one. It passed like a hiccup, and life went back to normal. Oh, I thought later, I wouldn’t have stressed if I’d known it was going to be so small.

While shopping, I constantly didn’t know where to stand. Without Lightning there to guide me I felt lost, and the familiar sense of confusion in public returned. I began overthinking where to stand. How should I place myself? Am I too close to my wife? Too far? My wife was constantly replacing me to be out of the way for other shoppers, and to ensure that I wasn’t getting lost. Normally this was Lightning’s job and I happily tagged along in my prescribed place. Lightning would keep me shielded from passerbys and ensure I didn’t bump myself onto shelves or my wife. Without my tether to her I felt boundless and never seemed to be in the right place anymore. This used to be such an easy thing, I kept thinking as I grew frustrated with my own confusion.

When walking down the sidewalk from one store to the next, I suddenly forgot where I was going. It was a flashing moment of fright, and my wife kept me walking like Lightning would have. If I’d have been alone I would have stopped still and wondered where I was, perhaps in front of an approaching car.

While managing cashes and receptionists, a task that I proudly used to do with composure and grace with Lightning blocking me from passer-bys, I now felt myself fumble. Without her grounding me, I was an agitated mess. Paying was difficult, and once more I wasn’t sure where to be or how to do things. Once more the small tasks of the public sphere were becoming difficult to manage. The past, that disfunctional space I once lived in, felt so close. Too close.

Returning home felt like a jump into safety. Finally! I was home! I was relieved, I was exhausted. I didn’t have to worry anymore about whether all my symptoms would come crashing over me. Without Lightning, home felt like the only functional place to be. Now that I write this and think back on it, this is a very different feeling than when I walk home with Lightning at my side. With her, I am happy to rest at home, but miss the freshness and fun of window shopping and of being out of doors. Without her, being in public and out of the home was no longer even a bit fun, it was dreadful. It was stressful and risky. I was lucky I had a person to accompany me. I was luckier that it was a good day and no large symptoms arrived barrelling through the day.

Now, as night settles, I enjoy the silence of my mind. The peace of being not only home, but in the presence of my service dog. Her peace, her calm against the rising tides of my brain’s chemicals, is comforting. I watch her rest and I know that I too can rest without fear of my symptoms.

Lightning sleeping on the couch