Saturday, December 21, 2013

12 months.

12 months together.  365 days.  Go figure.

In honor of our 1-year anniversary, here are a few lists of 12 things about life with a service dog and and about Owen that I have learned along the way.

About living with a service dog...

1.  People will stare at you, every time you go anywhere.  Sometimes they try to disguise it, most of the time they will not.

2.  Even though I will look people directly in the eye, majority of the time they will ask me if Owen is a "seeing-eye dog".  I had one parent explain to her kids - as I was getting out of MY CAR - that Owen was a guide dog to help me see.

3.  Strangers will think you're a walking, talking show-and-tell exhibit.  Apparently walking around with a service dog entitles people to intimate details about my life.  I'll share details about my neurological disorder with strangers in the middle of Target when they want to share the results of their last pap smear/prostate exam.

4.  You will get to hear about everybody's dog that has died.  And everybody who has a Labrador (which no matter what color, looks EXACTLY like Owen).  And about everybody's dog.  And everybody's dog who definitely has the right temperament to be a service dog.  And everybody's friend who knew someone who had a dog...

5.  Even with 3 signs on Owen that say DO NOT PET, people still ask to pet and try to sneak pets without you seeing.  I think there must be fine print somewhere on the sign that says "this rule does not apply to you"...

6.  In a town like mine, where I am the ONLY service dog team, I have to be cautious of how Owen and I act at all times out in public.  It wouldn't be very hard for someone to find out where I worked.  This means I have to keep the snark under wraps out in public (though I cannot be held responsible for what is said in the Starbucks line before I've had my coffee).

7.  Everybody will stare at you.  All the time.  People will stalk you in stores and stop and stare open-mouthed at you.  People will talk about you right in front of you, as if you aren't there.

8.  Sometimes people will be angry with you for no reason.  Like when you don't want to stand in the middle of a busy grocery store to talk to them.  Or when you tell their toddler "no" while they look on, allowing their two-year-old to run up to the "doggy" and try to grab its tail.

9.  Somehow, even with a 75-pound Labrador, you will scare people.  You will be accused of being "sneaky".  Because my big galumphing Labrador is "sneaky".  The best is when you tell your service dog to "chill out" because "mom doesn't have time for this" and people think you're talking to a child.

10.  People become incapable of talking to you about anything other than your service dog.  I am so shocked in public when people ask me questions about me, that I don't even know how to appropriately answer them.  99.99% of my conversations with Owen go like this: "He is so cute." "Yes, he certainly thinks he is." "Oh, haha."  And repeat.

11.  People will stare at you.  (Did I mention this already?)  You will not be able to go anywhere without people staring; sometimes, they'll crawl under your table at a restaurant to see the "puppy".

12. Everyday is an adventure.

And about Owen...

1.  Owen knows about 40 tasks and commands.  He also knows the words "cute" and "handsome".  If you use them in his presence he will turn on the charm.  It's a con to get you to pay attention to him, try and resist.  Otherwise you are falling right into his trap.

2.  Owen has an attitude.  When he doesn't get his way he will sulk.  Sometimes I even get the silent treatment.  He can only hold out for about 10 minutes before he caves, so I'm not too worried.

3.  He has no shame.  None.  He will eat a textbook and leave the evidence on his bed.  And not even look guilty about it.

4.  Owen loves the airport.  Like, a lot.  To the point that, when we get to baggage claim, I don't even try to control his behavior.  It doesn't matter if 10 people are meeting us in baggage claim, or if there is nobody there to meet us, Owen is a dork.  You never know who you might find at an airport; he especially likes looking for my dad and will try to approach random guys who have my dad's same build/height in an airport (the last time we were in an airport, he was so frantically looking for my dad he had me convinced he was about to have a potty accident - he only wanted to see my dad, stinker held it until we got to my parent's house, an hour later).

5.  Owen loves getting to work.  After doing deep pressure therapy (his favorite), he races around the room with a goofy grin on his face, very proud of what he's done.

6.  Owen loves watermelon.

7.  While watermelon might be his favorite treat (that he's allowed to eat - popcorn would be the winner if he were allowed to eat it), everything on the floor has the potential to be edible, and if I'm not paying attention, he'll try it.

8.  Everybody in the world has the potential to be a best friend.  When I don't let him meet someone he wants to, it's like I'm standing in the way of the world's best friendship.  See point #2.

9.  When he is off-duty it is like he's never had a day of training in his life.  When we go to the dog park he pretends like he doesn't know who I am (but if he loses sight of me, he panics and I have to call him over so he doesn't freak).

10.  Owen thinks he's a 75-pound lap-dog, and he tries to convince me of this at least once a day.

11.  Owen also thinks that my new, pillow-top, queen-sized bed is his bed and that he allows me to sleep in it every night instead of the other way around.

12.  He finds some way to make me laugh every single day.

One year ago I had no idea what was in store.  I didn't have a job lined up for this year, I hadn't written my thesis, I didn't know where I was going to be moving to or how I would get there.  I couldn't imagine what life with a service dog would be like.  Now, I couldn't imagine life without him.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Future

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the future of my blog.  What I want to talk about, how often I should be writing...  I have a slew of half-written posts, some that I may look at in the future, but most of which will probably never see the light of day.

The truth is, that I've been out living.  I'm working full-time; Owen and I are at school most times 10+ hours a day.  I'm using the weekends to rest, but I'm not crashing like I used to.  My body is tired, but not exhausted.  I'm not tied to my computer on the couch all day, I've taken on a lot of DIY projects.  Most Saturdays I can be found in sweats and an old t-shirt, staining and painting and sanding away.  I am planning what I want to put in my apartment to make it seem more like a home, instead of the sparse apartment I used to live in (I'm also wishing to move into a rented house sooner rather than later... if wishes were horses...) ;)

My teaching job consumes so much of my energy; planning lessons, trying to work my schedule around everyone else, and trying to teach to both IEP goals and district curriculum.  It's a lot to juggle, and just as I think I've got it figured out, another curve ball gets thrown my way.  I am so fortunate to have an amazing partner teacher who never seems to get frustrated with my endless questions and to have a very supportive team and administration.  I try hard to not bring work home, I'd rather stay at school until 7 at night than take it home.  Most nights when I get home, I can barely cook dinner before crashing on the couch.  It's exhausting, and in some ways I feel like we should be much further than the 50-something-th day of school, but a lot of days I can't believe it's almost the holidays and I worry that I've wasted time with my kids.

I've been mildly irritated by many things lately, causing me to step farther away from the internet world.  In September I stepped away from the Tourrette's facebook pages because I couldn't stand the things that were being posted.  I've spoken about it before - the overwhelming majority of parents to adults with Tourette's, the hatred towards schools, the lack of understanding of disability culture, the endless searching for a cure as opposed to raising awareness - and my biggest pet peeve, persons without a disability fighting my fight for me.  I'll be the first person to write about things I find offensive, but I try to do so in a calm, rational manner.  When people pick fights over things that are [at best] mildly offensive, and they do so with vulgar language and let their emotions overrule their message, it puts people all people with Tourette's in a bad light, even if we aren't the ones making the comments.

I'm sick of seeing posts online of people bringing dogs out into public who have no business being there.  It's not "cool" to have a disability, but apparently it's cool to bring dogs out into public pretending that you have a service dog.  People who feed their pet dogs at restaurants, who allow their dogs to greet people, who carry their dogs or put them into grocery store carts, placing them well above the level of most food give service dogs a bad image - even if they aren't a service dog.  It makes people question all service dogs in public, especially those whose handlers have invisible disabilities.  I'm sick of being yelled at in public, of children screaming about the dog in the store, of people thinking that my service dog means I want to talk to strangers about intimate details of my life, of employees getting down on all fours calling out to my dog, of somehow scaring people when my 80-pound Labrador manages to "sneak up" on them...  It makes going out incredibly frustrating at times.

My solution has been to have Owen accompany me most of the time, but not all.  He goes with me to work all day every day.  Some days he stays in my room all day while I go out and run around.  Most days he's with me about 50 - 70% of my day.  There are places I go at school that are just not reasonable for Owen to go with me, like PE with 70 1st graders.  There are times where I'm called at my room to go get a kiddo because of behaviors, and I have to leave quickly - Owen stays those times.  There are days where Owen is noticeably tired and when he pouts about having to leave my room - so if I'm feeling good enough to leave him, he can stay.  Owen goes with me to the chiropractor and the grocery store for quick after-school runs.  He doesn't go with me to get my nails done or to do my weekly grocery shopping run.  A lot of thought went into that decision, but what it came down to was that it was taking over an hour and a half to go shopping at the giant store 5 mins up the road.  I had to bring Owen with me because otherwise I wouldn't have been able to shop, but with Owen there, navigating the store was a nightmare.  Now, I drive about 20 mins into Houston to go to Trader Joe's, which is such a small, easy-to-navigate store, that I don't bring Owen.

Now that Owen and I have been partnered up almost a year, I am understanding why the one year mark is typically a tough time for teams to get through.  The director of our program identified two months, six months, and a year as troublesome times for teams - and teams who work with the program now must do followups at those points in time.  Owen and I worked through the first two rough patches pretty well on our own.  At about two months I finally stopped feeling panicked every minute of the day and started asserting myself more in our partnership, working more to having Owen actually assist me instead of just following me around.  At the six month mark, Owen started testing the water, trying to see how far he could push the boundaries (this is who Owen is, and I love him for it).  At each point in time, it was tough going for a while, and then it would get better.  Looking back on it, I could see that we were at a new point in our partnership and were having to figure things out.  I know the first year is the toughest, I just hope I'm not placing too much stock in this "one year" mark...

Unfortunately, the things I dislike about having a service dog aren't going to miraculously change on December 20th.  I love Owen, he has given me back my independence and has allowed me to do things I had only dreamed of previously.  But if you told me tomorrow I could trade him in for a healthy brain, I would.

I guess I'm lucky nobody is forcing me to make that choice.

While I love working full time (and finally earning a paycheck I can actually live on with minimal family support), I am more than ready for the holidays.  I am looking forward to seeing my family for the first time in months, and I am looking forward to getting a small break from the daily craziness.  Owen and I will be flying for the first time since May to visit my parents over Thanksgiving - and I am trying very hard not to get worked up about flying.  Before Owen, I was so anxious over flying that I had to be medicated just to get on an airplane.  After getting Owen, we traveled so frequently that I never really had time to get stressed out about it because we were constantly on the move.  I've enjoyed not flying and traveling, but I wish we were a bit more in-practice.  Luckily, my dad has upgraded Owen and I on both our Thanksgiving and winter holiday flights, so I don't have to worry about having enough room for Owen.  And we are flying United the entire time; they are great about Owen and the only problem I've ever had with them was Owen not fitting on a small plane (and the attendants were great about it and helped move passengers around so we fit).

I have also not been talking about my weight loss journey.  It's not because I have bad news; it's because I have no news.  My weight has fluctuated between 245 and 247 since I started teaching.  Considering I have not been active except for the [very] occasional walk, and I have not had the best eating habits since the school year started, I'm happy with my weight staying right where it is.  Over the holidays I'm going to work on getting my medication dosage (for insulin resistance) back where it is supposed to be (the pills make me very sick initially, so I stopped taking them during school hours - which is bad, I know).  Next semester, I want to focus on becoming more active - even if it just means a walk once or twice a week after school with Owen.  With those things combined, and keeping an eye on my carb intake, I'm not too concerned about my weight.  Obviously, I wish it were better - but I keep reminding myself that I used to weigh 274 pounds, and wear a size 22...  And then I feel a little better about not having gained any weight this year.

For the future of my blog, I am going to try and focus on one post a week.  I know there will be weeks I don't post at all, but I do not want to let months go by without posts anymore.  I am considering a series of posts about service dog etiquette as well as terminology (like the difference between a service dog, a therapy dog, and an emotional support animal) as well as addressing the growing problem of fake/untrained service dogs and "certification".  I also want to write about disability; my thoughts on the Tourette's culture and community and how it impacts my daily life (as well as how disability has impacted my personality, opinions, and life choices).

And of course, I will be continuing to write about my partner-in-crime and our adventures together.  Now to begin planning how we will celebrate our one-year partnership!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Successfully getting a job with a service dog

Now, I don't pretend to be an expert on interviewing or working with a service dog, but this is what worked for me.

Legally, I would be within my right to interview for a job without Owen and not say one word about needing accommodations until I had been hired for the job and received my contract.  There are service dog handlers who advocate this method, citing multiple instances where they have been denied for jobs allegedly because they brought their service dog to the interview. 

Personally, I did not feel like that was the road I wanted to go down.  I completely understand why some handlers would chose to go to an interview without their service dog, but I did not want to get a job if Owen and I as a team were not wanted.  I did not want to get hired and force a service dog on a principal who wanted nothing to do with one.  I was very up front in all of my interviews and today I have officially gotten word from human resources in my school district that I can bring Owen to work with me.

I had three in-person interviews, one skype interview, and one phone interview.  Ironically, the job I will be starting in a few weeks is at the school I phone interviewed with.  They offered me the job without every having seen Owen (or me!).

After two of the in-person interviews, I left knowing I would not get the job.  Whether it was a result of Owen being there or not, I don't know.  One principal was very iffy about Owen and not warm about him being there; the other interview was extremely impersonal from the very beginning.  The third in-person interview went well; I think I may have been able to get that job, but there was a lot of red tape I had to get through in order for their district to consider me for employment, and by the time I had jumped through all their hoops, I had already received a job offer in another district.

Even though I walked into all of my interviews with Owen by my side, an interviewer is not allowed to bring up the topic of disability.  I did not disclose to anybody when I was scheduling interviews that I was bringing a service dog along, so he was a bit of a surprise.  At the point in the interview when they would ask if I had any questions or wanted to add anything (and they all reach that point), I would bring up Owen and tell them a little bit about him.

What I chose to disclose was: I have a neurological condition, Owen is a mobility assist dog, he helps me by providing support when I walk to help me stay balanced as well as doing some other tasks to mitigate my disability.

I would then turn it around on them and ask if they had any questions about Owen or any thoughts about having a service dog on their school campus.  During the two in-person interviews that did not go as well, the principals did not really have anything to say at this point in time.  During the interview that went well, they had lots to say about Owen and how well trained he was - they talked about getting him a badge and how cool it would be to have a service dog on staff.  In this interview, they had all talked about being dog people, and at the end of the interview I took Owen's gear off and let him "say hi" to the people interviewing us.

I had a fourth in-person "interview" of sorts; I will be working a part-time job with an after-school social skills group for individuals with Autism in the area.  I'm still working on figuring out exactly what this job will look like, but people who work with the special needs population are always better about Owen than other people - at the social skills group they barely noticed him.  I'm optimistic about this job, and the extra income (no matter how small) will be a big help - not to mention this job will help me work towards my BCBA certification.

The skype interview went very well as well.  It was with the district that was making me jump through hoops, so had I pursued working in that district, I think I may have been a top contender for the job.  The conversation about Owen went the same way as it did during the phone interview.

When given the opportunity to ask my own questions, I simply stated that there was something I wanted to speak with them about that came up very easily when I meet people in person, but wouldn't come up unless I brought it up with them.  I described Owen (yellow, male Labrador) so that they would have a picture of him in their head and described what our gear set up looks like.  I explain that he is a very laid back dog who loves to work and ended by saying I would love to meet in person and have them see for themselves how Owen conducts himself.  I gave them the chance to ask questions about Owen if they wanted.

I was also open about being disabled during interviews; not necessarily the extent to which I am disabled, but how it affects me as a teacher.

When I met with my school principal in person we talked more about Owen and thoughts for how to integrate him successfully into the school environment.  We didn't come to any conclusions then, but it was a good first introduction to a service dog.  Owen (of course) was on his best behavior and was a good example of what a service dog should act like - mildly curious about his surroundings, but ignored the people and kids and stuff in the school.

After receiving notice that I had gotten the job (yay!), I found out who to contact in human resources about disability accommodations and sent him an email.  A week or so ago, I got the disability accommodation request form from him and filled it out.  I sent back the request form, the letter of support from my neurologist, and Owen's information from Heeling Allies.  I met this morning with my contact in HR about Owen.  He let me know that all of my paperwork was fine and that Owen is cleared to go into work with me; Owen and I are the first service dog team that has ever been hired by the district.  We are kind of like pioneers!  :)

It's nice that we are the first in that they don't have an expectations, good or bad, to place on us.  But it also puts pressure on me as a handler to make sure we succeed as a team.  There are 4000+ teachers in the district, and hundreds of new hires this year, but everybody we meet will remember us.  I am so fortunate that Owen is a great service dog, he does his job well with minimal distractions.  And he loves kids and loves getting to go to work.  He is easy going and very tolerable, he will be able to handle anything school throws at us.  It is my job to make sure Owen is always well turned-out, that he is well groomed and that our gear is clean.  I will likely get a small hand-held vacuum to keep at school so I can clean up stray hairs as needed.  I will have to stay on top of keeping him groomed so that if there are any dog allergies in my school, I can have as little impact on them as possible.

A big part of having a service dog is being a good steward and understanding the reasonable part of reasonable accommodations.  I'll talk more about that in another post though.

My plan now is to contact my principal and meet with her about making sure Owen and I have a smooth transition into school this fall.  I will work on getting my classroom set up so that Owen has his own space to stay, and I am going to get a baby gate so that if I ever had to go deal with something where Owen couldn't come (think aggressive behaviors), Owen would be safe.  I will get a water bowl to keep at school for Owen to have access to during the day, and a few good bones of course.  How I introduce Owen to the school will depend on what my principal thinks is best.

Wish us luck!  As crazy as it's going to be, I'm happy to start school with my best friend by my side. :)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

For anybody checking in (or just stumbling on my blog) - I wanted to let everyone know, I'm alive. :)

I'm working on getting my thesis finished as well as packing to move (in 3 weeks!) and blogging has not been the first thing on my mind lately.

I promise, once I have a few less things on my to-do list, I will be blogging all about Owen and my adventures with our new home and new job!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The one with the almost embarrassing Winco disaster.

Thank you to all of the service dog handlers out there in the internet world who preach that you should listen to your dog.

Thanks to their knowledge and wisdom (and embarrassing stories), Owen and avoided an embarrassing encounter today at the grocery store.

(Poor Owen would be so embarrassed if he knew I was telling this story, but I do so in order to add my wisdom to those that have gone before me).

If you're easily grossed out, you may not to read this story - but rest assured, we didn't have anything too embarrassing happen. :)

Owen had an upset tummy yesterday when we got up; as far as I knew he hadn't eaten anything funny.  For the last few days his stool had been kinda loose, but not bad.  Nothing that made me worry.  But yesterday morning, he was clearly not feeling well.  I wasn't feeling well, and I gave Owen his regular amount of fish oil in the morning because I didn't think to withhold it (which I should have).  Which meant Owen's tummy stayed upset all morning.

Once I realized he really wasn't feeling well, I gave him a snack of pumpkin and kibble.  He got pumpkin frozen in a Kong later on in the day for a snack, and more pumpkin last night for dinner and this morning.  As a result, when he had a BM this morning, I thought he was feeling fine.  A whole can of pumpkin will apparently do that.

We went to work this morning where Owen was fine, he was a little goofy when we were leaving, but I thought that was because he had been sleeping for 3 hours.  Hindsight is always 20/20.

I had to go grocery shopping, so we went to Winco.  Immediately, Owen was acting funny, dancing around the cart, pulling me forward, and not heeling at all.  I was completely flummoxed (trying to make him behave while I shopped), and then I recalled the stories I had read on forums of handlers who didn't listen when their service dog was sick because they had only been teamed up for short periods of time.  I looked at Owen, ditched our cart in the middle of the store, and we high-tailed it out of the store.  Fast. 

There was a small median right outside the store with some mud and sad looking plants.  Owen just made it.  I was very happy I pack extra poop bags in his harness just in case.

He was so embarrassed, and of course I felt so bad for having drug him to the store and for reprimanding him when I thought he was messing around.  I packed him up in the car and brought him home.  He got to snooze in his kennel while I went back to Winco.  (Hilariously, my cart was right where I left it, totally in everybody's way.)  I finished my shopping, but it was way harder without Owen at my side.  Just walking in from the parking lot, I felt so dizzy and disoriented.  I could tell I was weaving and I was having trouble making sure my feet stayed where they were supposed to.  Once I had a cart, I did better because I had something to stabilize myself with, but getting there was hard. 

Now Owen and I are both home and are both very tired; he's going to be getting meals of rice, cottage cheese, and pumpkin until his tummy problems clear up.  If he's still sick in a few days, we will be going to the vet to make sure there's nothing else I can be doing.  (Owen also has a slightly yucky looking ear, which I think may be contributing to his overall feeling of ickiness.)

The moral of this story is clear: Listen to your dog!  I know I will be from now on.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


So, there is this stigma in the service dog community.  One that everybody's service dog must be perfect 100% of the time.  And if you admit to a flaw in your handling abilities or your service dog, you are typically eaten alive on the internet.  But, it is foolish to think that every service dog is perfect every minute of the day.  It's also foolish to think that every handler is perfect every minute of the day.

However, it is important when you have slip-ups you recognize them as a service dog handler and take steps to correct them.

What would make me a bad handler would be if Owen and I had a problem and I didn't take steps to correct it.

So what's our big dark secret?

Owen seems to have forgotten that he is supposed to ignore food on the floor.

In fact, at times he thinks I'm not paying attention (even though the leash is wrapped around my body) and he will swoop down to try and grab food on the floor.  *cringe*

And I know this is completely my fault.

When we went through team training I was told that I needed to practice "leave it" at least every few days.  I have not been doing this with any sort of consistency.

We practiced once this week (and it was obvious that Owen hadn't done it in a while), but before that?  I couldn't tell you with any certainty when the last time we did this was.

I have also been very lax with Owen when he is off duty.  My whole life our family dogs have eaten food that falls to the floor when cooking.  So, when Owen started doing that I didn't think anything of it.

But now, Owen can be extremely pushy when I am eating meals at home, and I have to be vigilant when we are out in public making sure Owen ignores food on the floor. 

If he knows I am paying attention, he is on his best behavior.  But, if he thinks I'm not paying attention to him, he will try and steal whatever is on the floor even if I get him in trouble.

It's not fair to Owen that I've let him get lax on his training.  It's not fair to Owen that because I got lazy with his training that he is now getting in trouble out in public for doing the same things I let him get away with at home.

When we work with kids, we say that you have to decide if what you are about to do is worth going to war over.

This is something that I am going to war over.

Starting tomorrow, Owen and I are going back to "leave-it" bootcamp.  I am going to do all the things I am supposed to.  Owen is not going to be allowed to eat anything off the floor, on- or off-duty.  He will not have any people food, at all.  And we will work on this every day until he is 100% consistent with it.  (And once he is consistent with it, I will continue to practice so that he maintains his good manners.)

I also want to teach Owen a "watch me" command.  This is not a task, it has nothing to do with my disability, but I want him to "watch me" (look up at me) when asked.  This is the behavior he is supposed to do when we are practicing leave-it (he only gets treated when he makes eye contact with me), but I want to encourage it elsewhere.  Owen is great about checking in when we are working, but I want to be able to get his attention at other times too (especially when he is a little spacy).

We are also going to start really practicing all of his tasks for about 20 minutes a day.

Having a service dog is a serious balancing act.  I can't just keep living the same life I lived four months ago.  I've gotten good about going on long walks 3-4 times a week (although Owen is still sleeping in his kennel - I think we both sleep better with this arrangement), and now I'm going to have to be just as regimented about incorporating training into our daily routines.

Owen and I are still learning, there are moments he still acts like a complete goof and there are times where I forget my job too.  The first three months of our partnership were about keeping our heads above water, about remembering everything I needed to when we went out and about being a good steward out in public.  For these next three months I intend to focus on Owen's training and not letting me or him get lazy.

Friday, March 22, 2013

In Limbo

Right now... I'm in limbo.

And I hate feeling this way.  I hate feeling like I'm just waiting for something to happen.  But the truth?

I am waiting.

I am waiting to be finished with school.  I know I made the right choice to start grad school directly after undergrad.  I never would have wanted to go back to school once I started working.  And last semester I was okay with this choice.  But this semester?  I am going stir crazy and I'm bored.  I just want to be out and working and not stressing about money every other day (because as little as I will make my first year as a teacher, I will be rich compared to my standards now).

I'm tired of being in undergrad level classes to fulfill requirements for the program.  And it might be one thing if we were actually learning novel things, but we're relearning the same things we've been taught for four years in school...  I love the program I am in and my professors, but I'm ready to be doing and learning something new.

I'm tired of working for very little pay; it's considerably better than student teaching all last year and then having to work two part time jobs on the side, but not that much better.

I'm tired of waiting to hear from school districts...  I want to have a job and know I have a job.  Or at least that I may have a job and somebody is interested in me.

So, this is why you haven't seen many blog posts lately.  I don't really have much to write about.  Our day to day life is pretty boring right now.

In one week (yikes!) Owen and I have a [very very] early morning flight to Texas.  It will be the first time we have a layover during travel, but we have two-and-a-half hours in Denver which (experience service dog handlers have assured me) is enough time to leave the secure area, take Owen potty and let him chill out for a bit, and go back through security.  Luckily, my dad hooked us up - we are upgraded on all legs of the flight, which means Owen and I will be traveling in style. :)

The plan once we are in Houston is to meet with as many elementary school principals as possible (I'm busy applying for jobs today and checking that my applications are all complete).  I am also considering the possibility of working in private schools or as a behaviorist in other programs; while I prefer to work as a public elementary school teacher, I know the importance of keeping my our options open.

While we are in Texas we also get to meet up with a really good friend who recently moved there who hasn't gotten to meet Owen yet!  I am very excited to get to see her and catch up and have her meet my hero.

We will keep you updated as we start traveling to Texas and (hopefully) meet with people about potential jobs.  Wish us luck!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Outing Myself

Reblogged from Losing It

**Warning: possibly triggering, discusses my fight with my weight**

I'm about to post verbatim what I blogged on my until-this-very-moment-super-secret-blog, but I wanted to write a short introduction first.  You see, I thought I was ready for this moment a long time ago.  I felt so proud of myself for starting a second blog and putting a number to my weight on the internet for everybody to see.  But I didn't promote the blog and I let it stay secret.  This was my mistake.  I wasn't ready yet.  I wasn't ready to fully embrace the change I needed to make.  Now?  I am.  There is a moment in every person's weight loss journey where something hits them about winning their life back and they do something drastic that they can never turn back from (in a good way).  For me, that is this blog post.  

I am ready to reclaim my life and while I may not have fully let go of some of the things that have contributed to my weight loss, I finally feel like I am in a place where I can tackle those problems head on and really start to save my life.  Mentally, I feel like I am in a better spot than I was about this a year ago and even a month ago.  I tried a radical diet change (for the last time) in January, but it wasn't for me.  I couldn't stick with it and I found myself binging and cheating because I was miserable.  I think I have finally found a way to get myself healthy.  Obviously, my exercise of choice would be working at a barn from sunup to sundown, but because that is not an option, I've taken up jogging.  And I think I kind of like it.  Already I am noticing my body getting in better shape, considering all it's been through, it's pretty damn resilient.  Owen is going with me on our early morning jogs and he is enjoying himself and I know it will help keep him trim and healthy.

I won't make this blog into a weight loss blog, that isn't what this blog is here for.  But I wanted to be accountable to the people who read my blog.  I wanted them to know that I am doing everything I can to get myself healthy and that Owen is a big part of that.  Because of Owen I have the spoons I need to actually fathom the idea of waking up early to work out.  I'm sure I'll write infrequently about how I am doing on this blog, and obviously, when I hit any milestones, but other than that I'm going to keep my weight loss journey on the Losing It blog and everything else over here.

In full disclosure, I'm writing this post a week before I intend to post it.  If I fall through, I won't post this and you won't be reading it (so me writing that is a bit of a moot point).

For the people who are linked to this blog from my main blog, welcome.

I'm officially outing myself.

I am more than 100 pounds overweight.

I am bigger than any of the female contestants on the Biggest Loser this season.

I wear a size 22.

I have pre-pre-diabetes (insulin resistance/metabolic syndrome).

And regardless of how I got here, I am the one who is in charge of changing it.

I am incredibly stubborn.  Anything I chose to do, I can and will get done.  But losing weight?  There is so much crap wrapped up in why I am so overweight, that mentally this is something I struggle to overcome.  I finally feel like I am ready to move on.

The month of February was not a good month for being healthy.  I would do everything right Monday through Friday afternoon, and then blow it on the weekend.  Once I had one bad day, and I saw the high number on the scale, I would blow it the rest of the weekend.  I was binging (not full-on binging, but still binging).  I haven't binged in years.

I know I was self-sabotaging.  I was afraid that just like every other time I've attempted to lose weight, that this wouldn't work either, and because of that fear I was blowing it for myself.

I've also learned that saying "no carbs" just makes me want to eat carbs that much more.

I'm finding a balance.  I'm limiting myself to whole-grains and vegetables that have carbohydrates instead of refined carbs.  But the trade is that I am working on eating more veggies and working out more.

Something has possessed me to try running.

I have never been a runner.  I joke that if I try to run, I trip and fall because I am a klutz.  I would tell you that in my entire life I've never been able to run.

And this is a reason that I think elementary PE really screwed me up.  I was always the slowest runner in every gym class I've ever taken.  Even when I was a healthy weight.  I have asthma that was way worse as a kid (I used to have to breathe into a nebulizer machine every night).  Of course I wasn't going to be able to run easily.  By the time I was in high school PE I was making excuses not to run, because I thought I couldn't.  But what I'm finding out, is that it isn't actually all that hard to run jog slowly.  And I don't hate it as much as I thought I would.  In fact, dare I say it, I kind of like waking up and going for a jog.  But thanks to physical education for years and years I never thought this would be something I could do.

I was talking with a friend the other week about her running, and she was saying how she ran when she was stressed.

I know another friend who lost a lot of weight running.

I think runners look good.  It's an exercise that uses your whole body, and that shows.  Somebody who runs is fit.

I was watching the Biggest Loser the other week and Danni was running a mile with Sunny.  And it dawned on me that there was somebody who a few weeks ago was almost as big as I am, and she was able to easily jog a mile.  (I'm watching this week's episode right now and she's jogging as I type...)

I love the idea of getting up early to go for a run before I have to start my day or at the end of a long stressful day.  I like the thought of being that person.

So what's stopping me?

Well, pessimist-me said, you don't know how to run.

So, like any good nerd would do, I, quite literally, googled "how to start running."  I found this great article online which basically said: get off the couch, put on your tennis shoes, leave the house, and go run.

Huh, is it really that easy?

Turns out it is.  Owen and I went running jogging-in-slow-motion for the first time yesterday.   I brought him with me.  You see, he is my prop.  When I can't run anymore, I slow to a walk and I look like a person out walking their dog instead of somebody trying to run.  I figure when I can run for long bursts of time and look like I know what I'm doing, I'll let him decide if he comes or not.

So today, I got a little more serious.  I told people I went jogging (they were all flabbergasted) and I told my mom that I want to go to her special shoe store where they find shoes for you based on how you walk and your needs (I hurt today, but it's mainly from old broken shoes instead of workout pain).  I ordered an armband for my iPhone (it will fit over my case on the phone - which by the way, I have no idea how to take off...) and I ordered these really cool attachments for my iPhone ear buds so they will be "running" ear buds.

I cried when I realized I needed to order the arm-band extender.

I downloaded a new app for my iPhone (miCoach - I'll review it once I get used to it).  It downloads workouts to your iPhone and will coach you through them and track your pace and progress.

If you're reading this blog post, it means I completed the first set of workouts (5).

If I didn't complete them... Again.  Moot point. :)

I have a lot of goals.  I have a lot of things I want.

I want to look considerably better at my graduation from my Master's program in May than I did at last year's commencement (I hate looking at those photos).

I want to look more toned and look good in interview clothes when I go to Texas in April so that I make a good first impression.

When I start my first job, I want to be able to wear clothes like the other teachers instead of clothes that don't fit my body and don't look good.  I want to be able to squat and kneel and do all the things I need to do as a teacher (including chase kids!).

I have signed up for NBC to email me when they are holding Biggest Loser auditions for next season.  By the time I get that email, I want to not fit their criteria anymore.  I want to get that email and laugh at the fact that I thought that may have been my last choice.  I want to know I was able to do this myself.

And as always, in one year I want to not be making weight loss goals anymore.  I want to have "staying healthy" goals.

There's a website where you can set your body type, height, and other features and plug in your current weight and your goal weight and it lets you see how you look at both.  This is my picture that was created.


The image on the left is my highest weight, the image on the right would be if I lost a total of 119 pounds.  I literally have an entire person to get rid of.  I'm working on getting actual photos of myself to put up, and measurements and whatnot so that one day I can be one of those people you see on Pinterest with a before and after photo that links to my blog.  Which means I need to get going before Pinterest becomes obsolete!

UPDATE (1 week after first writing this post):

So I did it.  I stuck with running for more than one week.  In fact, I have gone jogging/running/speed-walking/whatever-you-want-to-call-it a total of six times since I first decided to try running.  I'm able to jog for longer periods of time and am able to catch my breath easier.  I like the running app I'm using, it starts out nice and easy so you don't get overwhelmed by what you are trying to do.

I have new running shoes that I was evaluated and fit for... I don't like them.  Not yet at least.  With the Tourette's, I wear really really crappy shoes.  I'm going to tic.  That's a given.  If I'm wearing shoes with support that don't break and mold to my feet, it hurts when my feet tic.  If I wear crappy shoes with no support, it doesn't hurt so bad because the shoes bend when my feet bend.  The running shoes I got have a lot of support, I need it.  My feet are in shock right now at having to use shoes that have a great deal of support, and even though they felt good in the store, they hurt like hell now to wear.

I'm sucking it up when I go running now, and I'm going to start wearing the shoes on my rest days to continue breaking them in.  I think once my feet get used to them, they will make a huge difference.

Yesterday, I weighed in at 259.4, which puts my total lost right now at 15 pounds.  My goal weight is 155 pounds; that's what the BMI calculators say is a healthy weight.  My first short-term goal is to lose 10%; 27 pounds.  That's the first big milestone where they say you make big improvements to your overall health (lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, lower risk of type 2 diabetes - all things I am concerned about).  Only 12 pounds to go!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My new "normal"

I was trying to think of a cute way to structure this blog post (or even a creative title for crying out loud), but the truth is that just isn't how my brain is functioning right now.  I had to take a muscle relaxant last week (my back went out in class last week and I ended up with a pinched sciatica nerve) and then I've had a migraine since Friday (which was only made better by going to Purim celebrations at the temple - Purim is a holiday we celebrate by eating sweets and giving children noisemakers).

My brain is fuzzy - I can do straightforward things, but my brain isn't being creative right now.

But I said I was going to do this post today and I want to do it.  I will try and be as creative as possible as today wears on, and if inspiration strikes (pray that it does) I may update the post to be creative later today.

All I have right now (and this is a stretch) is what I'm going to call the "24" format.  Remember that show a while back where each episode was supposed to be one hour of the guy's life and the whole season was supposed to add up to one day?  Well, imagine that horrid beeping noise that they had every time they showed you the time on the show as I continue to update this post today.

Beep.  Beep.  Beep.

8:30 - Wake up.  Yeah yeah yeah, it's late.  I stayed up way too late last night for no other reason than I can (and I found the latest season of a favorite show online that doesn't air in the states, so I was stuck watching just one more episode.  It's a problem.).  Owen is still sleeping in the crate at night - he was sleeping in bed for about a week, before he threw a party at night without me (the cat let him out of the bedroom) so I have Owen sleeping in the crate for now.  I sleep much better at night without him constantly getting in and out of bed and he doesn't seem to care at all.  We've gone on walks the last few days, but I want to make sure he is consistently tired before letting him sleep in bed at night, instead of kind of tired for a few days and then no walk due to weather problems.  (on a quick side note I found the dog park last night, and I think it may work - as long as the other dogs who go there aren't mean...).

Toby's spot while I try to get ready in the morning.  Gee thanks, Toby.

Our morning routine is pretty simple; probably close to what a lot of people's looks like.  I get up and get myself ready enough to take Owen outside (apartment complex, no taking Owen out in pajamas).  Then we come back in and I get Owen's breakfast ready.  After he eats breakfast I finish getting ready and figure out what we are doing for the rest of the day.  Or I blog.  Like today.

This is a picture of Owen's stash of supplements in the laundry room closet.  I will definitely be looking for extra storage space when we move this summer; there is not enough storage space in our apartment for all of Owen's stuff and my stuff.  We have so many supplements right now because I am now officially a member of the IAADP (International Association of Assistance Dogs and Partners) and as a member I can have our vet request certain products for us.  They all arrived last week, so now we have a 6-month supply of Welactin (fish oil), Dasuquin (for his joints), and flea/tick medication - somebody goofed and asked for the wrong thing (either me in the appointment or the vet tech when they phoned it in), I wanted the heartworm product because we will be going to Texas, but I'll just buy Heartguard when we go, and once we find a vet in Texas, we'll order the right stuff through the IAADP.

I was asked if Owen gets a special diet, the quick answer is "YES!"

The long answer is that Owen eats Acana, which is a high grade kibble that is made in North America and only from ingredients in North America.  He gets the grain free kind because too many carbs give him ear infections.  He also gets Honest Kitchen, which is a dehydrated "raw" (not really, because they have to dehydrate it and things get heated during the process - but it's as raw as anything will ever be in our apartment) food; it's made in a human-safe food facility and they list exactly where all of the ingredients come from on their website.  Not all from the US, but they know where they come from and that's good enough for me.  The Honest Kitchen, while unbearably expensive, has vitamins that kibble doesn't have, no matter how good it is.  He doesn't eat the grain free HK, but it's relatively low in grain and he eats so little of it that it's okay for him.  The HK has to be hydrated before Owen eats it - because of this, it expands in volume and helps him feel more full throughout the day (it also greatly reduces the chance that he may bloat).  On top of that, Owen gets fish oil and dasuquin as well as probiotics at every meal.

After Owen's breakfast, we go on a walk in the morning (it's length is determined by when we have to be somewhere).  For example, today we don't have anywhere to be in the morning, so we're about to go on a long walk and hope the sun comes out a little bit more.  Check in soon!

Beep.  Beep.  Beep. Beep.  (Apparently there are four beeps)

11:00 - Change in plans from what I thought we would do.  I got a lot of work done yesterday afternoon and didn't have much schoolwork that desperately needed doing today.  I still have some I need to get done, but not enough to warrant going somewhere to increase productivity.  So instead, this morning, we stayed home.  I worked on yarn projects (for the Etsy store; I swear I'll put it online soon) and Owen napped.

1:00 - Owen and I are about to step out the door, but I thought I'd give you a quick view of what we have to take with us. Owen and I together have a lot more stuff than I do alone, and I have to actively think about what we're bringing with us every time we go somewhere.

For example, today we are bringing: my backpack for school (thesis binder, text books, and laptop), Owen's harness (which has my wallet), snacks for me, a bone for Owen, Owen's water bottle (It has a special top so he drink out of it)... In the car I always have towels and a first aid kit. As well as extra water bottles. Think that's everything! I hope. :)

1:05 - Grooming time!  I think Owen is blowing out his coat now; Labradors are double coated and apparently twice yearly they "blow out" the undercoat.  Which basically means non-stop shedding until it's done.  I use a rake on Owen to pull out his undercoat and I use a slicker brush afterwards; about two weeks ago I was getting a little hair, but not much.  Now we get multiple clumps of hair every time I brush him.  Sometimes he's getting brushed twice daily.  I can't seem to keep up.  I hope this is him blowing out his coat because if this isn't, then it's going to really suck when he does blow out his coat.

Here's the balcony after only two days of brushing.  I have to take the vacuum out there every couple of days to clean it up.

Bonus points if you can spot the cat.

1:30 - We went to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy.  This is how Owen rides in the truck!  He has the whole back of the truck to himself, I folded the seats down to make a level area and it's padded with towels and blankets (this also makes sure I always have spare towels with us in case of emergency).  When I get a new car though (after graduation and hopefully with my first job), I'm going to get a car that has a trunk for Owen.  As much as I love my truck (and believe me, I do), it's so much easier having Owen in the trunk of the car because that way I don't have to worry about parking.  We've managed to get in and out of the truck in some pretty tight spaces, but with a car we wouldn't have to worry about somebody boxing us in.  The things we give up for our service dogs...

2:00 - Time to get my nails done.  Not Owen's, because he's still being a stinker about it.  Owen's a rockstar at the nail salon, it's pretty small and he has to squeeze in real small under the desk and stay there for a long time.  Poor Owen got glitter spilled on him while we were there so he was very sparkly the rest of the day!  I took pity on him and tried to wipe most of it off.

4:05 - Potty break for Owen outside the chiropractor's office.  This is a typical Owen attitude, I'm doing what you told me to do, just not in a way that makes it easy for you.  Oh well!

Of course the leash snagged about a dozen times while I kept trying to get him to go around the bush instead of further down the hill.  Once he finally meandered back up to where I was standing, he looked all innocent like he didn't know why I was frustrated!

4:15 - Chiropractor appointment, thank goodness!  My back has been bad all week and I was so thankful that I had an appointment scheduled.

Actual quotes from my chiropractor during my visit yesterday: "Hallelujah!" & "It's like Orville Redenbacher in there!" (referencing how badly my back was popping)

4:30 - How to drive your service dog crazy and waste 30 minutes in the process.

1. Get a horrible migraine craving for good coffee.  Don't ask me why, it just happened.
2. Decide the only coffee that will be good enough is the coffee from this bakery that you've never actually been in (although you know their cookies are great).
3.  Ask Siri where the bakery is.  (She lies.)
4.  Drive around aimlessly in an area of Spokane you have never been in before, find the sign for the bakery but not the actual bakery.
5.  Give up because now you're going to be late for class.
6.  Drive 30 more minutes to get back to campus, fuming the whole way about how there is no good coffee in the entire city of Spokane.  Pass about 20 corner coffee stands on your way to school.
7.  Arrive at campus grumpy, hungry, and with a headache.  Make your service dog accompany you to get dinner.
8.  Done.

6:00 - Time for class!  (By this point I had eaten dinner and was feeling considerably less grumpy).  Owen got a potty break before class started, but don't think I'm above saying I have to take my dog out to go potty if I need a stretch break in class!  He gets his comfy mat on days where I know we'll be in class a long time, but he chose to sleep on my feet instead.  He keeps his gear on in this class, in tomorrow nights' class he gets to go "naked" and visit with his friends.  I keep telling Owen he needs to learn how to pay attention to the lecture and take notes so I can take naps under the table!

When I say Owen goes everywhere with me, I mean it.  He's hanging out in the corner of the bathroom stall here; we have to use the handicap stall because there is no way we fit in any others.  Owen has to stand up in the bathroom, even when he thinks he'd rather lay down.  I'm sure it leads to some interesting experiences for other bathroom goers to hear me hissing at him, "Stand up!"  Once, Owen kept laying down in the bathroom and sliding under the barrier into the stall next to us where there was a little girl and every time he did there was a cry of "doggie doggie doggie".  I was thoroughly embarrassed.  I think Owen was doing it on purpose.

I don't know what Owen did, but class really wore him out!  He snored the whole way home.
9:00 - We finally arrive home after being gone almost 8 hours.  Owen's a great travel companion, I have no worries about driving back to California with him when I'm done with school (first stop on the way to Texas).  Luckily, both of my animals are great in the car...  Just not sure how they'll do together.

9:15 - Time for Owen's dinner! 

Yes, he is sticking his tongue out at me while I make him "wait" to eat his dinner.

He has to sit and wait every time he eats, he's very good at this and he hasn't tested me since the very first time I fed him dinner during team training.

10:00 - Good night from Owen.  Owen likes to pester Toby after he eats and chew a bone, but by 10:00 he is out.  I practically have to beg him to get up at 11:00 or 12:00 to go "last out".  He's a happy boy when I finally decide to go to bed and turn out the lights!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Why Tourette's is not the same as OCD

This is something I see blurred all the time.  With the new DSM coming out soon, I am afraid the line will be blurred even more.  The DSMV is attempting to categorize Tourette's alongside other mental health problems, including OCD.  Something that could have drastic implications for somebody like me who has a neurological disability not a mental health problem.

Tourette's is not the same as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  They think that they are related genetically; this is why you may see OCD in a family and have a case of TS pop up (like my family) or why you see a lot of comorbidity between OCD and TS.  But they are NOT the same thing.

I have both.  My OCD is so mild, it's really not even worth talking about.  Except for the context of this post.  I am what is called a "checker".  I check things; that the doors are locked, the stove is off, etc.  My rituals (if you can even call something so mild a ritual) take maybe 3 minutes total out of my day.  Occasionally when my anxiety spikes, my OCD spikes as well.  Then the rituals become a little more demanding, and I have to actively work to control the OCD.  I can do it if I try hard.  Sometimes it's harder than others; but I can actively choose to not engage in the rituals if I want to deal with the stress of doing so and the mental effort required to resist.

But OCD rituals are not the same as having a tic.  When I turn a doorknob to make sure it's locked, I'm not ticcing.  When I want to get up and check if the stove is off, standing up to do so is not a tic.

For some reason, one I can't quite understand, it seems that parents are much more happy attributing their child's idiosyncrasies to Tourette's instead of OCD.  A compulsion to lick things, smell things, touch things, or taste things is just that.  It's a compulsion.  It is due to obsessive compulsive behaviors.  It is not due to Tourette's.

It makes me upset to see these things.  Tourette Syndrome is not a mental health problem.  It isn't psychiatric.  It is a neurological disorder.  This is a distinction that apparently even doctors have trouble making, seeing as the new DSM plans to place Tourette Syndrome under the same heading as mental health problems - "Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders".

Now, don't get me wrong.  I'm in no way saying that mental health problems are in any way less "severe" of a disability than what I have.  I'm not saying there is a problem with having a mental health problem.  Just that I don't have one.

Saying Tourette Syndrome is a mental health problem is the same thing as saying Parkinson's or Huntington's are mental health problems.  Everybody knows that is not true.  Why is it so hard to accept that Tourette's is neurological in nature?  No amount of therapy is going to cure me.  There is no "end" for me; sure, they could do things to my brain that might help.  But nothing is certain.  Something is haywire in my brain that cannot be fixed; but that doesn't make it a "mental health" problem.  It makes it neurological.

And these parents who are blurring the lines between Tourette's and OCD are perpetuating the idea that Tourette's is a mental health problem.  It's frustrating as an adult with Tourette's to continually read these things.  It isn't my place to step in and say I think somebody's child has OCD or that a compulsion (like smelling/tasting) is not a tic.  There are even adults with the dual-diagnosis who write about those compulsions being tics.  Who am I to say they are wrong?  Of course, it sounds "better" to say it is a tic than to say it is due to OCD.  But just because somebody thinks it sounds better, doesn't make it true.

My personal theory, is that the reason things like Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Tics (CBIT) and Habit Reversal Training (HRT) are popular amongst the Tourette's population is that so many of us have the dual-diagnosis.  The line is blurred for many of us between tic and compulsion.  And when that line gets blurred, things like CBIT and HRT can work. 

Let me explain with an example from my own life.

A few years ago I had a string of horrible self-injurious tics.  They were still tics, not considered compulsions, but they were tics that had "mutated," so to speak.  Initially, I had a tic where my hands would fly up.  Then once, accidentally, one of my hands hit my head.  Over time, and due to a very severe migraine and weeks of poor sleep, those tics mutated into self-injurious behaviors.  I would ball up my fists and bash myself in the head.  Over and over and over.  But, it wasn't just a tic.

There was an inherently reinforcing quality to hitting myself in the head (sounds crazy, right?).  Migraines are helped by pressure; I've even bought (and lost) compression headbands to put ice packs in because the pressure can help dull the pain of a migraine.  By walloping myself in the head, I was temporarily relieving migraine pain.  So, over time, this tic became more of a compulsion.  It was being reinforced by the relief of migraine pain, which made the tic harder and harder to suppress.

This was the one tic I have ever been able to stop through the use of CBIT.  (No, I've never paid anybody to teach me the techniques - this was a crash course by my neurologist.)  Because the tic wasn't just a tic, I was able to use CBIT to stop it.  Other tics?  CBIT doesn't make a difference.

Now, there are some CBIT techniques I use daily that I feel are helpful.  I have taught myself how to recognize when a tic is going to happen, and I can suppress for an amount of time.  I can "transfer" tics; so if I don't want to squawk, maybe I can clear my throat or chirp (both of which are less noticeable than a giant squawk).  It's not an exact science and some people with Tourette's can't do this.  Is that because they haven't figured it out yet?  Because they aren't trying hard enough?

I don't think so.  With severe Tourette's you would do anything to try and make it stop.  If it were possible for a person to suppress, I have to believe they would learn how to do it.  However, I also think that no matter what was going on in my brain, I would have figured out how to do this.  The first year or so I didn't know how to suppress; it was a gradual learning process and it was not easy to learn how to do.  During that one year (first year of college) when my tics improved for no apparent reason, I forgot how to actively suppress.  And when those tics came back the next year, it was brutal for months while I re-taught myself how to suppress the tics and control my brain.  I think that no matter what, I would have learned how to do these things, no matter how extreme my Tourette's.  I can't imagine life without these coping strategies.

There are no tests for Tourette's, just like there are no tests for OCD.  There is no blood draw or CAT scan or MRI where they can look and say definitively whether or not you have either of these diagnoses.  They are diagnoses of last resort; when nothing else is wrong with you and you fit a certain number of criteria, the doctors can diagnose you with things like this.  The difference lies in the nuances, which may not seem that important to somebody else.  But when I am applying for work accommodations with my service dog, I would really prefer the DSMV accurately reflect my diagnosis instead of muddying up the water.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Dear parents of kids with Tourette's,

The other day I inadvertently stepped on some toes on an online group (thus solidifying my acceptance into the "extremes" group, but that's a different story).  I'm tired of censoring myself on online groups and trying to play nice.  It's hard to tell someone that is 15- or 20-years your senior that you don't value their opinion.  So often in these online groups I see medical advice traded by people with no medical background.  And I'm tired of it.  The thing is, I have two parents and a whole slew of medical professionals on my payroll.  I've seen so many specialists over the years; and the specialist I'm currently seeing is the last one.  There isn't anybody else he can refer me to.  When he says, "I don't know," it's really because there are no other choices.

The medical advice of a parent that I don't know online, isn't going to be anything I haven't heard or tried before.

So right about now you're asking yourself, why are you asking for medical advice online?

I'm not.

These parents see people like me venting about our day (because who can you vent to except somebody else who really gets it) and they step in to offer medical advice.  And then get mad when you tell them their advice isn't wanted or helpful (or that the advice they're offering is totally whack).  I know it comes from a good place; but really... I just can't get behind it.

If I wanted advice - I would explicitly say so.  But when I'm having a rotten day because I have pinched nerves and because my hands are going numb from carpal-tunnel syndrome, I'm not going to preface my vent with a disclaimer statement.  In my opinion, if somebody does not state that they want help, then don't offer it.

I'm years, countless pills, and many doctors into this diagnosis.  Do you really think that some random person on the internet is going to have heard of something I haven't tried yet?

This has long been my problem with online support groups for people like me with Tourette's.

They don't exist.

Approximately 90% of the people in these groups are parents moms of a child with Tourette's.  There are a few token adults in the group; but the "extremes" (which I don't even count as technically - think me times 10) get pushed aside.  People pity them and feel bad for them, but nobody can relate to it or empathize except other extremes.  The "extreme" group I am now a member of has 10 people in it - including myself.  The main page of the group?  There are over 800 people now.

The moms like to empathize with each other; they talk about how annoyed they are by their Touretter's tics and they trade medical advice.  They rant about their children's teachers but in the same breath say they don't believe in getting their child an IEP because that would "label" them.  Not to be callous, but if you won't label your child, you can't demand accommodations or modifications to the curriculum.  You can ask, but nobody is going to be forced to comply.  They talk about going to due process and suing the school district, which as a teacher upsets me.  I think any teacher, given the chance, would do the right thing by a child with special needs.  But when parents come in upset and angry and threatening, it isn't going to end well for anybody.

These moms blur the line between Tourette's and OCD - as if it is better to have tics than to have OCD.  Because then they don't feel the need to force their child to try and curb the behavior, if it's a tic, you can't do anything about it.  But if you label it OCD, then you should be trying to fix it.  My personal experience with OCD is that if you start allowing the rituals to occur without trying to quell them, they'll only escalate.  I'm working on a blog about it - but here's the situation in a nutshell: compulsions to taste, touch, smell, or lick things or people are not tics.

These moms like to offer people like me advice and sympathy; as though them telling you that they are proud of your accomplishments means anything.  As if them asking you if you've tried Tenex (the first pill everyone with Tourette's is given) is going to help.  But it makes them feel better.  They don't want to hear from us about the bad crap.  They want us to console them when they feel bad about their ticcer in the house.  They want to hear people tell them it's okay when their ticcer is driving them up the wall; they want to be told that they aren't a bad mother for losing their patience with their ticcer.

My honest opinion?  You don't want to hear it.

If I sound ticked off, it's because I am.  I'm tired of not having a safe space to talk about Tourette's.  I'm tired of having people who have no idea what I'm living with trying to help me.  I'm tired of constantly hearing about CBIT or HRT or some magical homeopathic supplement that you think is working.  Tourette's sucks.  It takes everything you have and then wants more.  It's hard to learn how to cope with and it's a fight every single day.  But it's one you have to learn how to fight - doping yourself up isn't going to help you learn how to cope with it.

So you know what?  Here's my unsolicited medical advice.  I know you didn't ask for it - but I'm going to give it anyway.  So there.

Medications don't fix everything.  You talk about how great your kids are doing on Risperidone or Xenazine (tetrabenazine), but do you know what those medications are doing to your child?  Do you understand the risks?  The side effects?  I read one parent talking about how there were no side effects on Xenazine - WRONG!  This is the pill I refused to even try.  There is a high rate of depression and even suicide on this medication.  With my history, there was no way I was going near it.  Insurance does not like to pay for it, making it hundreds of dollars a month for people with Tourette's.  Risperidone is highly addictive and very difficult to get off of.  It causes horrible side effects, including significant weight gain (mine came mainly from Orap, which is in the same class - antipsychotics - as Risperidone).

All of these medications eventually build up in your body; which cause the doctors to try and prescribe more.

Parents ask about Topomax a lot now; even though a lot of us with (bad) experience with the medication caution people about it, nobody listens.

Everybody says, "Medication works differently for everybody.  It's worth a chance."

But nobody says, "Medication works differently for everybody.  Maybe nothing will work."

Is it worth the chance?

Is that anybody's decision to make except the person taking the medication?

Is that the choice a parent should be allowed to make for their child?  How old should the child be until they can make that decision themselves?

The kids know they don't like the pills...  I read time and time again stories about how to get a child to take these medications.  Maybe they shouldn't be taking them...  Maybe there is a reason they are resisting the medications.

Maybe parents should listen.

My opinion - even though I know nobody asked for it - is that it's better to learn how to fight this early on.  Every minute of everyday, I have to fight the impulses in my brain that are trying to make my body do things I don't want it to.  Most of the time, I'm able to win.  But that is with years and years of practice.  If I were doped up on Risperidone or Haldol, I wouldn't be able to think straight - much less deal with my tics.  In my opinion it is always better to be clear headed than be doped up on pills.  What are you going to do when the pills stop working?  When they increase the dosage and the side effects get worse?  When the pharmacy messes up your pills?

Me?  I don't have to worry about those things.  I'm (tic) medication free and loving it.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Perplexing Question

So, I get asked this one question a lot.

And it probably isn't the question you're thinking of.

It isn't, "Is that a service dog?"

It's not, "What does he do for you?  You don't look disabled."

The question - believe it or not - is something along the lines of: Do you pet him at home?

Um... really?

Owen is exceedingly spoiled.  I don't think it's possible for a dog to be spoiled (in healthy, dog-appropriate ways) anymore than Owen is.  He eats food that is leaps and bounds above what I eat.  He "wears" gear that costs more than anything I have ever bought in my whole life.  I take better care of his nails than I do of my own.  I give Owen regular "massages" on his shoulders and upper back (where the harness sits).  He gets groomed all the time and has oodles of toys and good chew things.  He even has a cat to play with 24/7!

People act surprised that Owen gets to be primarily off-duty at home.  So, here I am, clearing the air.

Owen never wears his harness at home.  That is a "going out" harness.  Do I struggle to keep my balance at home?  Sure.  I'm slow and careful on the stairs going to and from my apartment.  In my apartment I wobble and keep my arms outstretched to help me balance.  I still tap walls and door frames inside my home.  Occasionally, I still fall.  When I do, Owen is right there to help me get up.

When he helps me get up, I'm not putting my whole weight on him.  In fact, I barely put any weight on him at all.  I use him to balance.  I put one hand on my knee (like I would anyway), and the other hand on his back.  He gets told the command "stand" twice; the first time to stand, and the second time to brace (they used to teach the command "brace" but it sounded too similar to "break" which caused confusion).  Having him to balance with when there isn't something else nearby makes a huge difference.  But he isn't in his harness at home.

I suck it up going to and from my truck.  The other morning I was unstable and hit a patch of ice and went down.  Owen was a little upset that I had fallen, but he helped me get up and we went on our way.  When we take walks, he isn't in his gear.  He's allowed to wander on-leash and sniff things and just be a dog.  He still has to mind though; if I say "here", I expect him to come here immediately.  Practicing these things is good, it encourages him minding me at all times - even when he is "off-duty".  Owen has to mind his manners regardless of where we are; he gets told "quiet" if he barks at home and gets told "enough" when playtime gets too rough for me (he likes to jump on top of me on the couch, ignoring whatever is in my lap).  He is expected to ignore other dogs (within reason) when he is off duty, I don't allow him to pull towards anything or anybody.  But he is still allowed to be a dog, just a well-behaved dog, when he is off-duty.

Owen is expected to do deep pressure therapy at home, but he loves it.  The other night I invited him up on the couch and he immediately settled right on top of me and fell asleep.  For Owen, DPT is a chance to snuggle - he loves doing it and will do it any chance I give him.  It's not "work".

I'm shocked that people don't realize that a service dog does get a chance to be a pet.  Just because I don't want random people petting Owen, doesn't mean I don't pet him.  It means I don't want you petting him.  Just because he is expected to be calm and quiet out in public doesn't mean he has to be that way all the time.  Owen is a naturally calm dog; they had to pair me with a chill dog who doesn't take things personally (I couldn't begin to count the number of times I walk into Owen or drop things on/near him).  Owen is slow and steady where I need him to be.  But he still gets zoomies like other animals and can act like a complete goofball when he wants to.

If there were anything I could do to give Owen a better life, I would do it.  We added in more exercise into our routine this week because he was getting destructive at night.  (The whole story is on our facebook page.)  But as far as Owen is concerned, he's got a pretty good life.  He gets to go with his person everywhere she goes (with the exception of a few places - like when I go to the gym for crazy busy classes), he eats good food, he has lots of toys and he even gets peanut butter once in a while. 

Wednesday night, in my grad class (6 other people and one professor I am very comfortable with) Owen had a great night.  He was a total stinker when we went to class; I went to get him situated under my desk and when I told him "under" he went under.  And kept going.  All the desks were pushed together, so Owen started wandering around under the tables looking for suckers to pet him.  He came right back when I called him and laid down at my feet, completely angelic.  I was so impressed with the other grad students.  Nobody paid him any attention at all; no pets, no looks, nothing.  It was great.  Had somebody pet him (or even looked at him), it would have reinforced the wandering under tables behavior.  Instead though, he got a correction from me and no attention from anybody in the classroom.  In Owen's mind, why would he ever do that again? 

After class we were hanging around talking informally for a bit and Owen was doing a "paws up" with me.  I told him "all done" and decided to give him some "off-duty" time.  This was something I would never ever do in any other class setting.  But the people in this class know me very well; they have seen me on the floor ticcing, unable to sit in desks.  They listen to me chirp and squawk in the observation room.  They help me out when I need it; whether that's carrying stuff or always being the scribe during group assignments.  They get me.  So I took Owen's gear off and told him "okay".

Oh my gosh, you've never seen a happier dog.  He couldn't figure out who to visit with first, and he got tons of pets.  Off-duty time ended when he tried to do a "paws-up" in my professor's lap.  Whoops!  She kind of patted her legs and leaned back in her chair a bit, a clear "signal" to Owen.  He knew he had made a goof though, and he got a few more pets before he went back to work.  He was a perfect gentleman on the way out.

With people I know, I'm comfortable with them petting Owen.  He got lots of pets in the office at school today while I was doing some paperwork.  He and I are working on differentiating "work" from "off-duty" time, even at school.  And so far he is doing quite well with it.  Obviously, if he were to start acting distracted at school, the pets would stop.  But for now, Owen loves getting to go to campus and I'm happy to let him keep enjoying it as long as he remembers he has a job to do.

Good service dog owners make sure that their dogs have time for play and downtime.  It's about finding a balance; when we start working as teachers (because yes, Owen will get to be a teacher too), I will have to make sure he gets downtime at school.  I pay close attention to Owen, looking for stress signals while we are working.  If we were in a situation where Owen wasn't comfortable and I didn't feel like we could work through it, we would leave.  And when we start working longer days, Owen and I will have to work harder to make sure we have that downtime in our schedule so he doesn't get burnt out.

So no, just because I won't let you pet my dog, doesn't mean I don't show him any affection whatsoever.  I love this crazy, goofy dog - and there's nothing I wouldn't do for him.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Please don't distract me...

...I'm working!

I have been thinking about this post for a long time.  How to word it in a way that doesn't come off too harshly.  How to approach this from a level-headed frame of mind.  How to make my point heard.

And what it comes down to is my dog.

I know that Owen is handsome (exceedingly so, in my opinion) and he attracts a lot of attention out.  And it isn't just me projecting this onto him; Darcie warned me that he was one of their top two attention-grabbing dogs out in public.  And it doesn't help matters that Owen hams it up out in public; when he spots somebody he thinks he can get to look at him (and hopefully come over and give pets), he perks his ears up, wags his tail, and does "puppy eyes".  (We actually heard a little girl out in public one day as Owen gave her this treatment cry, "Oh mommy, look!  He's doing puppy eyes!")

Usually, this is all Owen does.  He stays by my side (or wherever I have placed him) and is ready to work when I ask him.  If he starts to stray a little bit and looks like he might "break" his stay to go try and see people, I will tell him "leave it" and that normally refocuses him right away.  Worst case scenario normally is that he gets a leash "pop".  Because Owen wears a martingale collar, it doesn't do anything other than snap the chain under his chin and make a noise.  The collar barely tightens because the chain is pretty slack already, it is more about the noise of the chain when you give a correction, than actually choking the collar up.

Normally, this is all we have to do in public if Owen gets a little too people friendly.

However, this would be an ideal situation where the public respects our space and our privacy.  I understand that it is pointless to get upset over people looking at Owen; although it sometimes only takes a look (especially from kids) to put Owen in "puppy eye" mode.  But the people who make kissy noises at Owen?

I really don't understand what they are thinking.  This happened to us the other night night when we walked into a sushi restaurant (which I was a little on edge about because certain types of restaurants are more likely to try and refuse access - but we had no problem) and immediately, a group of patrons at the bar go "Awwwwh," loud enough to be heard across the entire restaurant.  As I was getting Owen into a comfy spot by my chair, this same group of women start making kissy noises at Owen.  Were they trying to distract my dog?  Get his attention?  Get him to come over?

I really can't understand why somebody would do that.  It happened to us as we were walking through the airport in Houston; a teen walking by us started making noises, trying to get Owen's attention.  Owen ignored her completely and I stared her down; she stopped immediately once I caught her attention (I think she thought I may have been blind - and I startled her).  But why would somebody try to distract a service dog?  I truly cannot comprehend what has to go through somebody's mind for that to be the choice they make.

Here's the thing.  If you distract Owen enough that he forgets his job, I have to give him a correction.  I have to get him in trouble because of other people's actions.  Why would somebody think it is appropriate to try and get my dog's attention from across the room?  I just can't wrap my brain around this one.

But these are normal things; they are easily corrected and Owen and I can go on our way.

Drive-by-petting on the other hand?  (Drive-by-petting: petting a service dog without the handler's knowledge; typically done with a hand lowered down to the dog's level as the offender walks past the service dog team)  We've already had two instances and we've been on our own less than a month.  The first was at the restaurant our first day on our own; at the time I was shocked.  Not to say that I forgive that offense now, because I still think it was beyond rude, but it was nothing compared to when we were at the Nutcracker ballet after Christmas in Houston.

Leaving the theater was a zoo, there were people everywhere.  On the way out of the theater, I turned around and saw an old man reaching out and trying to grab Owen's wagging tail!  Seriously?  I asked my dad to walk behind us and "watch Owen's tail" (he had no idea what I was talking about until we got out and I told him).  Once out of the theater, we were stopped for a moment while people tried to figure out where to go, and unbeknownst to me, a woman behind us had her hands all over Owen.  When we started to leave, Owen didn't follow with me.  Curious, I turned around to look at Owen and tell him "Let's go" again, only to see this woman I didn't know petting my dog.  She had the grace to look embarrassed when I caught her, and I thought that was the end of it.  However, as we started to leave, she ended up following right behind us the whole way out of the theater.  Owen kept looking over his shoulder at her; whether he wanted more pets or was leery of the stranger who had her hands all over him, I don't know.  Owen had to keep getting corrected to pay attention, and we were privy to the woman's conversation with her friend the whole way out of the theater.  Things like, "Oh, he's getting in trouble now," "I think that's because I pet him," and "I just pet him for a minute."

This is the problem though.  When you ask to pet Owen and I say yes (which is rare), he knows he is supposed to greet somebody because I give him the command "say hi".  He knows that for a brief period of time he can get pets, but then he must return to work.  But when something like this happens, it throws him for a loop.  And because of that, it led to a lot of corrections on my part, something I hated having to do.

My family says I should be appreciative of the parents who explain to their children that Owen is a "working dog" and that he has a job to do and that they can't pet him and of the people who respect our space and don't bother us (and I am).  But people doing the right thing, doesn't make up for the selfish people who distract my dog without thinking.  I doubt I will ever be "okay" with this; I know it is part of walking with a service dog, but that doesn't mean I have to be "okay" with it.

In my mind, it is basic dog etiquette.  I am shocked how many people say things like, "Oh, I had no idea I couldn't pet him when he's working."  Owen is my service dog who I need to have a somewhat normal life.  I don't bring him places with me so that other people can pet him.  Basic dog etiquette is that you don't interact with somebody's dog without asking them first.  End story.  You wouldn't go out of your way to pet somebody's dog while they were walking it on a sidewalk, so why do people go out of their way to pet my service dog?  I need Owen to live a normal life, trust me.  If I could feel the same way I do now about going places without Owen, I wouldn't have gone through this roller-coaster of a journey and spent $20,000 on a service dog.  I did that because I wanted my freedom and independence back.  And I have it.

But just because I choose to walk with a service dog for my health, doesn't mean that I bring him places for other people.  It doesn't give other people the right to distract me and him.  And just because I have a disability and a service dog doesn't make me a walking, talking, interactive show-and-tell exhibit.

I am practicing delivering a few responses that will help me out.  Nothing has been confirmed by a doctor, but over the last year or two I have noticed increasing processing delays during verbal conversations that I am not anticipating.  For example, if I can plan what to say before I call somebody (like a doctor's office to check on prescriptions or make an appointment), I do fine.  But if that same person calls me and I have to have an unplanned conversation it's very difficult for me.  The same goes for unplanned interactions out in public.  If I were going to give a presentation on Owen I would prepare what I wanted to say well in advance.  I talked with the other grad students tonight about rules for Owen (don't touch, don't feed, don't distract), and I practiced what I wanted to say beforehand.  But out in public when I turn around and there's somebody standing there trying to pet my dog, it throws me for a loop.  Practicing what I want to say in advance (and making sure what I say is short and to the point) will help me feel less flustered in situations like this.

Things you may hear if you try to interact with me and my dog out in public:

"Thank you for asking [to pet my dog], but he is a service dog and I need him to focus on his job right now."

"Please do not pet my dog, he is working." (getting increasingly loud and less polite as needed...) :)

"Sorry, I do not feel comfortable discussing my medical information in public."

And don't even get me started on the undergrads in the hallway who, while walking by the classroom, see Owen underneath my table and go "Awwwwwh" loud enough to distract the entire class I'm in.  (Do you know how ridiculous you sound?)