I talk a lot about what they are training Owen to do and why those tasks are important, but one thing I don't feel like I've touched upon is how I see my life being different with Owen, which is kind of the whole point of this endeavor. There would be no point in training these tasks if I didn't anticipate a change in my life. And there are some big changes I'm anticipating.
First and foremost, I feel that walking with Owen will give me the confidence to go out in public more often, or at least not despise it so much. I know that this in and of itself isn't a task, but it might be the biggest thing for me. There is such a stigma attached to living with Tourette Syndrome, that even if people don't know what I have, it doesn't matter. I'm still the healthy-looking person squawking to myself or hand-flapping or head-banging. I know how it looks, but that doesn't mean I don't mind the stares and comments. It would be so amazing to go out in public and have people realize, automatically, that I have a disability and ignore it. I can't wait for people to stare at me because I have a service dog instead of because of my tics. Lots of people with service dogs hate this part of life with a dog, but I welcome it. I'm so tired of being stared at because of my disability, having Owen will announce to everybody that I have a disability. I'm certain I'll still be stared at and probably more so than now, but at least it will be due to a different reason.
Additionally, I won't be scared of going out in public. Right now I never know what my body is going to decide to do. I could be totally fine or I could have a complete tic attack in a store and end up bashing my head into the floor. I have no way of knowing. And being constantly afraid of this eventuality is what keeps me from going out a lot of the time unless I'm certain I can keep the tics under control. But if I have Owen with me I know that even if I had a full-blown tic-attack out in public, I would be okay. If I end up head-banging on the floor he can help with deep pressure until the tics pass. If I start toe walking and almost fall over, he's there ready to brace so that I can catch myself. And if I want to put a hand on something stable while I'm walking, I can touch Owen instead of the walls or other innocuous objects that who-knows-how-many-other-people have touched. That knowledge will, over time, reduce the fear.
I know that there will be a process of getting used to these tasks. I don't expect to wake up my second morning with Owen unafraid of grocery stores and large crowds. It's been over 6 years of learned behavior due to my Tourette's, and it's going to take a long time to break these ingrained habits. I'm working on lessening my work load and class load next semester so that Owen and I have time to bond and I have time to get used to my new life. Because that's what it is; when Owen has to retire I fully plan to have another Heeling Allies dog lined up. For the rest of the foreseeable future.
I hope to not be scared stiff of flying. I've written a lot about how much I hate flying. There are so many reasons, it's something I've never liked even before the Tourette's, but now I despise it. I can't wait to be able to pre-board away from everybody else and to be able to request my seat. I am so picky about where I sit on an airplane it's unreal; but it's to protect other people as much as it is for my own comfort. Trust me, you don't want to sit next to me on an airplane if I'm in the wrong seat. The right seat is one in which my right arm (ha, get it?) is either in the aisle or against the window. When I start flying with a service dog I am going to request window seats in bulkhead on the right-hand side of the plane. This way I know there is enough room for Owen (bulkhead), that he won't be stepped on by other passengers (window) and that the chance of me hitting another passenger is greatly diminished (right-hand side). And I have no qualms about explaining this to a person on the phone or the gate agent if they (heaven-forbid) try and reassign my seat. And sorry to all of you neurotypical people who like to request bulkhead because you want the extra room or because you have lots of points on an airline. Bulkhead seats are reassigned to people with disabilities; specifically service dogs and people with a non-bendable prosthetic. And I have the right to request the exact seat I need in order to fly safely. And truth-be-told I'm avoiding airplanes like the plague until then. I was in so much pain this last time I made a weekend trip to California that I was near tears at the thought of having to get on a plane again. My left arm seized up after the flight so badly that I couldn't move it and it took extreme manipulating of the muscle to loosen it up again. My back was out prior to the trip (and I pinched my sciatica nerve the week before) and the plane didn't help. I can't wait for Owen to go on planes with me; I don't think those trips will become enjoyable by any means, but maybe they'll at least become bearable.
And... in addition to the actual plane he can keep my anxiety down during security screening, diminishing the chance of me being flagged as a national security risk.
I also hope that I'll be able to be more attentive in classes. I'll be the first to admit, that as an undergrad I had to prioritize which classes were worth paying attention to, and which I was only in because the professor took attendance. Which classes were necessary to my education and which were simply necessary as a graduation requirement. And the ones that were deemed unecessary I really would just be a warm body. And it isn't that I wouldn't want to learn; I wasn't capable of learning. I wasn't capable of keeping my body quiet enough to stay in a desk and take notes and listen to a lecture. Doesn't happen. Thankfully now, I'm with professors that understand that when I stand up and pace in class, it's because I don't have a choice. And standing up helps me stay focused, whereas when I sit and try to suppress tics I don't pay attention at all. The ironic thing about this is, that when I was student teaching I still ticced (obviously), but it wasn't that bad. Almost to the point where I was having doubts about taking on a service dog. Maybe he wouldn't need to be with me all day long... And then I had day-long seminars for general education student teaching and I started classes this summer. You'd think I would know my own body by now, know what I can handle and what I can't and know that the severity of my Tourette's isn't going anywhere. It can be masked by not being in environments that cause stress, but I'm still a severe full-blown Touretter. And if I ever needed something to remind me all I have to do is go to my 4pm to 8pm class this summer.
I will have no problems asking Owen to "paws up" when I'm in class. If that's what I need to stay in a seat and take notes, so be it. If having him lay down next to my legs (or even pushing my feet under his body so that he weights my feet down) is what I need, I'll do it. And maybe, by using his tasks and by actually applying for disability accommodations, I'll be able to do well in my graduate classes (or should I say: do well without spending more time at home catching up on work then I do in classes).
And in relation to my classes (and a big reason why I'm actually applying for disability resources at school instead of simply my dog) is the fact that next summer I will be taking my Board Certified Behavior Analyst exams. I barely passed my last teacher certification exam which was the one I should have been able to do with my eyes closed (special education). It was embarrassing to say the least. This was the exam I took with a migraine, two pinched nerves, and the one in which I lost my drivers license. I took it in the normal room with 30 other people and it was horrible. I was done in 45 minutes, and for a test they allot 4-hours to take, that's not good. I didn't apply for accommodations because I didn't have any proof that I needed them. Now I will; I'll have a year's worth of proof that I need a quiet-testing environment, that I should be allowed extra time, and that my service dog has to be with me.
I am so looking forward to meeting Owen and going through team training, and I'm trying to blog about it instead of driving people in my "real" life crazy about it. Because they really can't get it. They can't understand what it means to have lived with their body as a prison for 6 years, a very painful and very humiliating prison. And if you can't understand that, how can you understand the difference I anticipate. No, my life still won't be "normal". "Normal" people don't need a dog to perform daily living skills or go out with their friends. But it will be the most "normal" life I have lived since my diagnosis. I will feel safe out in public and I will be able to live my life the way I want to, not the way my disability dictates.