There is no tangible way to explain with words what my “pill bottle” does for me. Thankfully, I am not talking about an actual “pill bottle”, but rather a metaphor for my service dog. Realizing that you have something like PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is difficult enough, but then when you start taking medications to relieve those symptoms and the side effects become worse in a different way from what the original problem was it can feel defeating. I am married to an incredible wife, and a dad to three amazing children, and so feeling hopeless with a mental disorder is not a good place to be in.
Prior to receiving my service dog, Dozer, in January 2017, I was basically locked away in my house not coming out to do anything. I tried working, and the stress of just driving to work by not being able to discern the threat levels of the traffic around me was too much to bear. Going to school plays were seemingly impossible. I even tried going to church, and I found it difficult to exchange pleasantries with people that I did not know. On top of all of this I was starting to have anxieties about everything under the sun. I was anxiety ridden about the food I would eat, cleaning chemicals (my wife always thought that one was on purpose), being bitten by a mosquito, etc. While these are fairly normal anxieties to have occasionally, I was literally consumed with these anxieties, including the ones related to PTSD. One of the often recommended therapies for people with PTSD is to find something that individual loves doing and go do it. This proved to be difficult as I had anxieties about the things I enjoy doing, like camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, and other outdoor activities. I even tried once to paint a model of the ship, the Titanic, and I lost it over the paint and cement that you have to use to put the pieces together. The waiting list to receive my “pill bottle” was a very long approximately two years. I remember as I got closer to this date fearing that my world was completely falling apart. My marriage was on the rocks, I was basically an absent parent, and my lack of employment, and poor financial decisions had left my whole world in shambles. I recall speaking with my wife about two weeks away from me going to K9s for Warriors in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL that I wasn’t sure if at this point any of this would do me any good. However, after much conversation, we realized that there was nothing to lose. So off I went to receive what has become my life saver.
Dozer, from day one began to change my outlook on life. While I have only had her for really just a few short months my life has changed drastically. I still have bad days, and wonder if she’s helping or not, but then those big dog eyes pierce into my soul, she nudges my leg, I start petting her, I feel my heart start slowing, and I can breathe again. I never go more then a few minutes in my anxieties these days. There has been only one change, and that has been Dozer.
So why do I give such a demeaning title to this remarkable dog that has changed my life? Well, unfortunately the stigma that seems to be associated with service dogs and PTSD, particularly among Christian circles has made having my service dog like rattling a zoloft pill bottle in front of peoples face as I meet them. There is so much misunderstanding about PTSD, and service dogs really that it is completely understandable to have a lack of understanding for these issues. On the other hand, judgment, especially from Christians is very disheartening. I would say that PTSD/mental disorders seems to be the most misunderstood and judged illness that comes from the Church. Nonetheless, I know what my service dog does for me. I thought that when I received my service dog that this would be the most uncomfortable thing, trying to deal with people in relation to helping them understand my need for a service dog. Instead, because of the amount of good she has done for me I am gleeful to explain what she does for me. Even when I do explain what she does for me I still get looks, and glares, and that is unfortunate.
There are probably a lot of people in the congregation at your local Church that struggle with gluttony, pornography, covetousness, humbleness, and more. After all, 1 Tim. 3 talks about the qualifications of a Pastor, and mentions “above reproach”, yet I have never met such a Pastor. Most good ones will be the first to admit that they are not above reproach. The other thing is this idea of transparency. In a world of social media, and texting, we no longer meet people where they are, but instead we meet people at the safe distance they want us to meet them at (which is typically as far as their perfect social media life will take you). For me, Dozer breaks down walls instead of builds them. She does make some people feel awkward, but I think it may be their own insecurities. We all have flaws, my pill bottle just wears a vest.