When I came upon my second dog, Ginger, I was moving toward a dreadful, dangerous, depression. I avoided antidepressants because I wanted to die. At the time, I don’t think I would have harmed myself, but I had started privately dreaming the universe would do the job for me. That my plane would crash or I’d accidentally get hit by a bus or merely be permitted to depart the earth quietly and gracefully, to just erase myself.
Then there was Ginger-Bella. Twelve weeks old – fragile, inquisitive, energetic, whose joy playing with a stuffed toy was contagious. Ginger compelled me to laugh when I had relinquished laughter. The simple act of petting Ginger mollified the torment in my head.
Just like therapy, doctors, medications, exercise, massage, etc., Ginger unwittingly became my tool to manage an invisible disability. Ginger didn’t eliminate my depression. I wasn’t magically better in a day. But she offered me seconds of joy, pinpricks of light at the end of the tunnel where I hadn’t seen any previously. For six years Ginger has aided my recovery process.
The individual importance Ginger provides is compelling me to quit thinking about dying. Because even on the remarkably darkest, hardest days, Ginger needs me. I am accountable not only for my own existence but for the life of another – another that I love desperately and who needs me just as much as I need her.
I did a thousand other things to pull myself out of my Complex-Ptsd diagnosis, to make life reasonable, to learn to honour myself, to learn to manage my story. But Ginger was the one element that could constantly get me out of bed, to the hospital, to yoga, to see my doctor, and to work, even when I wished for nothing more than to sleep forever.
Ginger is an emotional support animal (ESAs), a title that, in Canada means nothing. In the United States, ESA’s are given a few benefits: First, that no U.S. landlord can deny housing with support dogs and, second, that U.S.-based airlines must allow us to fly with our dogs in-cabin with no fee.
Because of these benefits, ESA’s draw a ton of criticism. I’ve listened to people say, ESA’s are for individuals who are fakers, selfish, self-righteous, system-players. Society doesn’t believe there is such a thing as an invisible disability.
But Ginger isn’t a dog who permits me to fly. Just like full-fledged service animals, ESA’s are about the independence and health of a disabled person. ESA’s are merely permitting somebody with an invisible disability the same freedom – to visit their friends, move across the country, or simply find a place to live – that’s afforded to communities who’ve never suffered the emptiness of depression, loneliness, worthlessness or anxiety attacks that lead to unhealthy decisions.
This is why I tell my story, share my relationship with Ginger, why I want you to know how Ginger saved me, why I want you to know that I might not be here today if Ginger had not entered my life. There’s a big misconception in Canada, that ESA’s are for people who get nervous in flight or pet lovers who want to take their animals everywhere. ESA’s are about guidance, perseverance, and support healthy decisions.
Because of my dog, I am not only alive, but am living my life to the fullest. I cycle offering awareness for Ptsd with Ginger and started a nonprofit. With Ginger, I’ve found ways to make my Complex-Ptsd and depression manageable, and hopefully someday gone altogether.
So, as I have many times before, I send a whispered thank you into the sky for Ginger and all the ESA’s like her who render life possible, endurable, and even cheerful for those who struggle. And I wish as I continue to tour, I can turn on clarity, empathy, compassion, and understanding about how very much we need ESA’s in the world.
By Brian Nadon