Saturday, May 4, 2019

Together Rising

In my last post I talked about being thrown a thread to hang on to in the hope that I could improve my situation enough that I want to be alive and not just existing for the sake of existing. One thing that I've done to help me move in that direction is applying for help from an amazing group called Together Rising. This group helps people change lives, and in my not so humble opinion that's just about the most amazing thing you can ever do...but I digress.

One of the things they ask you to do is share information from others who know about your situation. I asked a few friends who are family, and a few of my providers, to write what they knew about me and my situation. Something about the platform wouldn't let me load several of the letters that people wrote, but I want to share them because...because when I'm feeling low and like the world is against me I'm hoping someone will drag my ass back here and show me it's a lie. I am more loved and respected than I ever could have imagined.

Denise and Courtney
Courtney's Letter:
I have known Catherine since 2011. I was in my senior year of college, and she was the receptionist at the chiropractor’s office I went to. In the magical way Catherine seems to do, we became friends. She is a caring person with an ear for listening and a heart for compassion. We bonded over our own different but similar chronic illnesses. After graduation, and my school plans falling through, she offered me a place to live, which required her to move out of the apartment she had been in for years, and into a new one with me. We didn’t live together long, but became wonderful friends. I don’t believe I have encountered anyone else in my life who is as empathetic and compassionate as she is.

Catherine has lived through more abuse, pain, suffering, and heartbreak than any human being should be put through. Most recently, she was in an emotionally abusive relationship, one that cut her off from friends and support systems around the globe. She wanted so badly to help him, love him, to be there for him, and support him. In return, he took his anger out on her and emotionally tortured her. After finally becoming physical in his abuse, she forced him out of her life, and in return he left her with thousands in debt, and more emotional scars on top of the ones she had already been carrying.
This man continued to stalk her and harass her to the point she no longer felt safe and sought an order of protection against him. It was granted, after battles in court, many tears and lots of pain. He still continued to sit outside of her apartment, just out of reach of the order of protection and intimidate her. She decided to move, once again, to a new apartment, hopefully where she would be safe.

Since her move, she has lost her long time service dog Mya, and her service dog in training Kaylee. These dogs allowed her to work long past when her doctors said it was reasonable for her to work. They allowed her to go to the grocery store, to the movies, occasional nights out, but most of all they provided comfort and care for her when her illnesses got the best of her. After the loss of both of her dogs, she is now in even more debt, she is sicker than ever before, and is running out of options.

Catherine has not been cut a break in this world. She has worked hard to pick herself back up again and again and again. After being left with the debt and devastation that man brought to her life, she is stuck paying off the debt on no income, an ever increasing rent and ever lowering food stamps. The system keeps cutting back her benefits, and she has no way to catch up. Catherine deserves a chance, the resources to start again.

As Catherine’s friend, I hope that you can find a way to help her out of this deep, dark place she is in, and to find a way to a better, more comfortable, more enjoyable life. She deserves to have the love and compassion she has given to so many, be returned to her.

April's Letter:
Everyone knows that a receptionist is the first line of action in any business. They must be able to greet people in a friendly manner, answer phones, deal with difficult questions and clients, etc. all while promoting the business and making people want to come back time and again. This is how I first met Catherine, while she was performing receptionist duties at a chiropractor office. She was walking and taking public transportation to get back and forth to work. Catherine was even occasionally volunteering at a local theater company and was having weekly gatherings with friends.

She was doing all these things with Mya, her service dog, quietly walking with her every step of the way, because when I first met Catherine, she had already been dealing with chronic mental and physical illnesses for over a decade. Catherine’s service dogs were able to act as a grounding force when she was facing CPTSD triggers in the thrall of strangers she faced daily getting to work, at work, at the grocery store or other local businesses she had to enter to simply live life.

While most of the time Catherine’s service dogs were silent pillars of strength and comfort, anyone who has ever had an animal in their life also knows that they demand a certain amount of attention and exercise to maintain a good quality of life. The service dogs demanded that even though Catherine was experiencing a fibromyalgia flare that caused her severe pain, that she feed them and take them for walks several times a day at a minimum. They kept her body and mind moving even when her illnesses were fighting against her.

However, as time has gone on, Catherine has gotten older and her body naturally doesn’t recover as quickly from illness or injury. Illness that Catherine literally faces every day and will continue to do so as long as she lives because there is no cure for her Fibromyalgia or CPTSD. Illness that is breaking her mind, body, and spirit-leaving her with fewer good days vs bad days, and lower quality of life. As time has gone on, I have watched Catherine lose several jobs due to debilitating pain from her Fibromyalgia. I have watched her lose relationships, both romantic and platonic due to her illnesses and not being able to actively participate in those relationships, or people in her life feeling overwhelmed or burdened by the realities of Catherine’s mental and physical illnesses. I have watched her lose financial assistance from governmental programs such as those that provide food stamps, housing assistance, and health care.

There have been numerous contributing factors to the increased difficulties in Catherine’s life, however, none have been so great a loss in this battle as the loss of her true constants, her service dogs. In February 2018 I offered what little comfort I could while my friend selflessly had her service dog euthanized do to her own ailing health. While Catherine knew it was the right thing for Mya, it didn’t change the fact that it broke her to lose the one successful aid against the mental and physical illnesses in her life.

Mya’s illness wasn’t acute, so Catherine was able to start preparing for this eventuality by obtaining another dog, Kaylee, the autumn prior. Even though Kaylee was already present in Catherine’s life at the time of Mya’s death, she was still in the process of training Kaylee as a service dog, leaving her effectively alone in the never-ending battle against her illnesses. Despite this fact, she attempted to continue Kaylee’s training and work toward a better future for them both. Kaylee, young, exuberant Siberian Husky that she was, proved not only to be a lot of work, but proved to be an ill-fit for Catherine’s needs when she could not overcome her own prey drive and desires. With a lot of time and training Kaylee’s spirit may have been able to be broken into submission but Catherine could and would not cause another being to suffer their quality of life for her own when she understands how truly important this is in life. Instead she made the difficult decision to rehome Kaylee in September 2018 leaving her truly alone in the face of her Fibromyalgia, CPTSD, and numerous other mental and physical illnesses.

Since then Catherine has been drowning and she is farther away from that seemingly normal receptionist I met 6 years ago than I ever could have imagined. In 6 months without a service dog, terror has driven her to become almost completely homebound. She has no service dog to ground her when she encounters the CPTSD triggers when she has to go out to the store or doctor appointments. Instead, her doctors come to her and she asks friends to pick up her medications and groceries for her, while simultaneously feeling guilty for being a burden. Forget even venturing out for leisure and social engagements. Being homebound has compounded some of her physical illnesses so she has also found herself having to ask for help with simple household chores from cutting up food for dinner to making the bed. Catherine’s needs are greater without a service dog, but I have witnessed her social circle dwindle in this time. Long gone are the days and energy for weekly gatherings with friends. Not only has she become isolated physically, but at times she is also isolated mentally/emotionally. For a time, she was absent even from social media, as the world can be a hurtful place and she, like many, feels helpless and hopeless in the face of negative news, but even more so, when she feels she has great difficulty providing for herself let alone others.

And truthfully, she can’t. Her chronic physical and emotional illnesses mean she can’t work, so as stated previously, she relies on government programs to help provide food, housing, and health care. However, Catherine is getting pummeled by wave after wave as the government decreases its funding to these programs. She can’t help herself, the government is not willing to help, and her small social circle is not in a place to offer great financial assistance either. Her situation is becoming dire, but either blessed or cursed, Catherine has a strong soul, and she is kicking back to the surface one last time.
The last 6 months have proven that a service dog is able to provide Catherine with the continuous, 24- hour support, that her friends, medications, and doctors just aren’t able to provide. Catherine’s quality of life right now is extremely poor, and she will not break through the surface again without another service dog to quietly support her while simultaneously demanding more from her than she can herself.

I would like to make note of the fact that Catherine isn’t asking for simple financial assistance to make all her problems go away. Partly because she’s a realist, and knows her illnesses will never go away, and partly because she has dignity and wants nothing more than to be able to live the most normal life possible for her. She isn’t asking for a pre-trained service dog; she isn’t asking for an obscene amount of money to live off comfortably for the rest of her life. She is instead asking for financial assistance to clear some debt to help spread her minimal funds a little farther to care for herself and a new service dog. She is asking for assistance obtaining a new dog that she can train herself as a service dog. And lastly, and most true to Catherine’s selflessness, a specially designed wheelchair that will allow her to properly exercise a new service dog and provide a good quality of life for said dog. I can only dare hope that the generosity of complete strangers can help with assistance for these things for Catherine, and by doing so, provide her with a renewed hope and fraction of the quality of life she deserves.

Me and Kaylee
Hallie's Letter:
I am a Care Manager with... Up until this past December, I had been Catherine’s Care Manager for about 2 years. At the time I began working with Catherine, she was experiencing a lot of life stressors. She had recently fled an abusive relationship and was in the midst of being stalked by her ex-partner, and was dealing with a mountainous burden of financial debt from this relationship. In addition, Catherine's service dog, Mya, had very recently been diagnosed with cancer.

Despite these obstacles, Catherine was extremely motivated to find a new apartment where she would feel safer and orchestrated the entire move by accessing resources available to her. She attempted to maintain financial stability throughout this process, but this was nearly impossible with the financial assistance provided to her. Because Catherine would need to purchase a new service dog, she would only add to this debt. Catherine looked for part-time, at-home work that could potentially provide her some financial relief. Yet the more she worked, the less assistance she received, and she was back at square one.

Mya's health continued to decline. She had reached the time where she would need to make the painful choice of euthanizing Mya. Catherine kept drudging on the best she could, however, she was continually concerned with the training progress of her new service dog, Kaylee. It became clear that Kaylee's training was not on track with where it needed to be, in order to be of service to Catherine.
Additionally, Catherine had been fostering some kittens for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). This was a volunteer position she had held in the past and was happy to be a participant again. Unfortunately, Kaylee broke into the room where the kittens were staying and killed several of them. This was a very traumatic experience for Catherine; she had reached a crossroads with the new service dog. During this time, as her mental & physical health were already deteriorating, Catherine would have to make the decision to surrender Kaylee, who was proving to be more of a burden than a support.

With Kaylee gone, Catherine's health only declined more rapidly; the fight Catherine had once had was fading away. Many of the conversations I had with Catherine towards the end of our work together, centered around how difficult her life had become without a service dog. The safety and support it provided her were immeasurable. Catherine had been knocked down by Kaylee at one point, causing added pain to the symptoms of her fibromyalgia. She then had become fearful of falling again, and without the service dog, began to avoid leaving her apartment.

Catherine continued to work part-time, but this only created more problems with the amount of assistance she was receiving, and she was unable to tackle the insurmountable debt. Her mental health symptoms were exacerbated by the stress of her finances, making it more and more difficult for her to complete activities of daily living. And without her service dog, Catherine didn't have any of the physical or emotional support she had had in the past.

The biggest stressor in Catherine's life in the last few years has been her financial debt. She has done everything in her power to address the debt, but to no avail. Without this debt, Catherine would be able to afford the basic necessities with the assistance provided to her, while working towards saving up for a new service dog. Catherine's quality of life would improve as a result of financial stability.

2012 St Baldrick's Shave
Mina's Letter:
I am Catherine's current Care manager with... I started working with Catherine in October of 2018. At my first meeting with Catherine she told me that she had recently had to rehome Kaylee, the service dog she was training. It was obvious that this was a very difficult and emotional decision, but Catherine had to make it for the good of Kaylee and herself. Catherine made clear that she depended on her service dogs to keep her healthy and independent and requested assistance getting a new service dog. At this point Catherine was still quite mobile, doing her best to stay active, and taking care of herself to the best of her ability. However, it was clear that Catherine's spirit and drive were suffering due to her not having a service dog.

Although Catherine requested my assistance in getting a new service dog, she is the expert and did the bulk of the required research. Catherine knows the difference between training a service dog for yourself and purchasing an already trained dog in terms of cost and outcome, she knows what type of dogs are best, she knows what certifications are required, she knows what housing specifications are required, and so much more.

Looking back on our time together, Catherine has sent me information about a new resource to help obtain a service dog about every other week; she is tireless in her effort to improve her situation. Unfortunately, most of these resources have been dead ends for one reason or another. As time goes on I have seen a very clear decline in Catherine's health. This decline is partially due to not having service dogs because she is unable to fully care for herself without them. However, it is also due to her pushing herself beyond the limit trying to work. Catherine has been trying to work because the financial assistance she receives is not enough for her to survive on, and she is attempting to pay off debt that she was left with after fleeing an abusive relationship and training Kaylee. Catherine's hope of paying off debt by working has not been successful. The more the Catherine works the more her health declines and the less financial assistance she receives, when she works less she is threatened with termination and pushes herself to the point of breaking.

At this point in time, Catherine's health is at an all-time low. Catherine is home bound, she relies on her support network to bring her groceries and her medical providers have to make home-visits. Catherine's mental health has also declined. Catherine struggles with her memory and cognition. On the rare occasions that Catherine does leave her home she uses a wheelchair, has a bag of essentials that she can't leave the house without (medications, water, cell phone, etc.), and always requests that someone be with her.

Catherine and I have had many conversations about how to improve her health and financial situation and it always comes down to a service dog. Having a service dog would help Catherine improve her mobility and health which would allow her to work more and improve her financial situation and general quality of life. But, Catherine will not be able to afford a service dog until some of her debt is alleviated.

Book, the last man standing

With my life being filled with pain all day every day it is often hard for me to remember how blessed I am. My blessings don't make the pain go away, but they help me carry the load. Thank you to everyone who's supported me over the years. I wouldn't have made it this far without you.

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