My support pup saved me from an isolated-vacuum of a lifestyle, could one help you too?
Originally posted on Artfully Autistic Feb 25
I’ve wanted a dog of my own for decades, but after years and years of isolation due to chronic illnesses and autistic burnout I started to feel like I needed one. I needed to not cry alone, a cheerful influence, a persistent reminder of life’s little joys.
My therapist agreed it’d be helpful, but I didn’t get the official paperwork done as my landlord didn’t mind my pup-having-aspiration — if I wanted to move somewhere that didn’t allow dogs or needed a travel exception I’d need the paperwork to formally make her an Emotional Support Animal, but for now, my needs are met without it. (Therapy and Service Animals additionally require special training but have more accompaniment privileges.)
It wasn’t easy to find my darling doggo: I needed an adult dog under 10 pounds, who’s healthy, fully potty trained, and rarely barks, as well as being cheery and snuggly. It took over a month of autistically hyper-focusing on communicating with 30+ shelters about dogs that might make the cut (and filling out SO MANY mind-draining applications), but, eventually, I found my sweet lil’ pound pup, Foxy Queen. We met on December 12th, 2020, she’d lost a leg while homeless and had also just gotten spayed, so was half-bald with far too many stitches — but she was still a wiggly ball of joy from the moment I saw her. The shelter volunteer passed her into my arms, she immediately stuck her little nose into my elbow, I melted, then the volunteer said, “We seem to have a match.”
There was a physical adjustment period as far as walking her every day (#spoonie), the financial increase hasn’t been a non-issue, and on bad days I do struggle to care for us both — it’s not a decision to make lightly — but, for me, having an emotional support dog is absolutely worth it.
Here are 10 ways my Foxy supports me:
- Gets Me Outside Daily: The lights, sounds, and unexpected nature of leaving the house can make it feel like my brain is in a freakin’ trash compactor, but problematic genetic mutations make it so I can’t get vitamin D from supplements, I’ve gotta get it from the actual sun. And, in addition to vit D deficiency causing depression, not leaving a studio apartment for days at a time it’s depressing in and of itself, which is how I was living before my Foxy. Our daily walks have enabled me to appreciate the annual changes in the nature of the neighborhood, establish positive (but comfortably-distant) relations with neighbors, and helped me to feel more connected to my surroundings at large.
- Contribution and Meaning: Being able to contribute so little (compared to what I was doing before becoming homebound) is very painful to me, I find meaning in being part of something, in working towards something, in helping and taking care — so it’s depressing to spend the vast majority of my time just trying to take care of me, getting my basic don’t-get-worse exercises and routines done, dealing with social services issues, doctors and prescriptions, etc. It can make me feel like my life is pointless, like I’m pointless. Writing definitely helps, but I can’t do it very often (#autisticburnout), so taking care of my lil’ tripawd angel girl gives me desperately-needed relief in that department.
- Less Lonely: In addition to autistic burnout I’m dealing with fibromyalgia, both of which limit my mobility and ability to be outside my home, so I’ve had to be in brain-necessary isolation the vast majority of the time since October of 2015. It’s necessary, but also gets seriously difficult to be so alone, especially while in pain and dealing with insanely frustrating brain functionality issues. It’s still hard, and of course I still get lonely sometimes, but my sweet and hilarious little cuddlebug helps keep me feeling grounded and connected.
- More Aware: When you’re just alone with yourself for years on end, it can be easy to lose sight of abrasive behaviors that might’ve accumulated whilst unchecked. My Foxy’s reactions helped me to see that I’d redirected many healthy but “weird” stims (hand-shaking/flapping, rocking, etc.) into unhelpful ones — like yelling in frustration at uncooperative inanimate objects — which actually work up my nervous system instead of calming it, while also causing a needless ruckus for anyone who could hear me. Now I’m no longer in a seeming-vacuum of aloneness and a little “wtf?” head tilt or startled jump reminds me there’s better ways to regulate.
- Meltdown Warning: My gal’s not trained to sense upset emotions, but many animals just get this kinda stuff. She often tells me I’m heading towards a meltdown before I even realize I’m getting dysregulated. I’ll be troopin’ along, thinking I’m frustrated butwhateveritsfineicandoit — then I get interrupted with a little paw on my knee and a sweet face looking at me like, “Chill your roll, or it’ll roll you,” and her reminder (usually) sucks me into the moment, causing awareness of my nervous system, so I may do whatever I need to do so my brain doesn’t blow.
- Cry Comfort: Sometimes what’s needed is a good cry, other times I cry not due to neural dysregulation, but because it’s really fucking hard to support yourself while disabled, and it can all just be too much. And when I cry, my baby lifts her tiny paw to my heart and licks my tears. It’s the sweetest thing I’ve known since being comforted by my mother.
- Routine Help: I’m AuDHD, so I very much need routine but also struggle to maintain one due to issues like distraction, time blindness, and need for novelty. But dogs need, need, routine or you’ve got potty problems on your hands, (errr, in your carpet). And she’s so good at keeping track of time. She reminds me when it’s time to go out, time to eat(s), time to turn off TV, move to the bed, etc. — I don’t always listen to her about-me reminders, sometimes I just need that one more show or whatever, but her keeping me aware in the first place is extremely helpful. Bye-bye endless time vacuum!
- She’s Stimmy: Sensory stimulation, stimming, is a way for autistic people to regulate our unique nervous systems — and my baby helps me in a few ways there. Firstly, her fur’s bonkers soft, so snuggles are oh-so soothing. Her weight on my body is also stimmily-soothing, helping me to stay calm while I get things done at my computer or cozying up on top of my belly when I lie down. She’s also just so cute! Watching her be her adorable hilarious self is a visual stim all on its own.
- Dopamine Booster: ADHD is essentially a dopamine deficiency, so it’s awesome that my pup helps there. In addition to the already-mentioned sunlight and added exercise of her walk, which boost dopamine, it’s also naturally increased via snuggles. Additionally, while novelty can bring challenges to my autistic-self, it also activates the dopamine system, and she’s just the right amount of unpredictable. Plus she’s funny, and laughing is a booster as well.
- She just freakin’ makes me smile.
Did I miss anything? If you have an emotional support pet, how does it help you?