Chrysalis Clubhouse Welcomes Clubhouse International Guest

By Cody Vogel and KZ

In our effort towards eventual accreditation, the Chrysalis Clubhouse invited Clubhouse International guest, Jack Yatsko to our Clubhouse Program meeting on April 20, 2021. Jack is the Chief Operating Officer with Clubhouse International and one of his specialties is providing support to new Clubhouse start ups, like us!  Jack joined the meeting virtually, as he lives in Hawaii. Clubhouse member, Cody Vogel, gave Jack a heartfelt overview of our Clubhouse journey thus far. We then gave Jack a virtual tour of our space and asked questions about Clubhouse International. 

Hi my name is Cody and with me today are my Chrysalis Clubhouse colleagues and we are happy to have you joining us today, Jack. The Chrysalis Clubhouse has been around for a year now. Ever since starting our clubhouse COVID has played a major factor with being able to see one another in person and being able to have in person social events. With COVID around we have also had to join zoom meetings on Tuesdays and Fridays which for me and others in the clubhouse isn’t what we prefer to do. It is what we need to do to prevent any spread of COVID.

The Chrysalis Clubhouse is a place where anybody is welcome and where nobody judges or gets criticized for their opinion. This clubhouse is a place where you can get support from not only the staff at Chrysalis but also from the members of the Chrysalis Clubhouse. Another way the Chrysalis Clubhouse can support you is through career development, meaning that if you want to work or are working or even want help with school the Chrysalis Clubhouse members and staff will provide their guidance or knowledge to help one another.

Another way the Chrysalis Clubhouse helps people is with a person’s wellness–and when I say helps I mean the members or staff will give their best advice and best support for any member. The Chrysalis Clubhouse wants every member to feel and have the support they need. With this support we also want people and the members to come to the Chrysalis Clubhouse through our zoom meetings or get emails about the clubhouse to be able to attend our meetings.

Now Chrysalis allows people and members to come in person while we still do COVID procedures like cleaning surfaces, taking temperatures, staying 6 feet apart, and wearing masks. I hope you see how much the Chrysalis Clubhouse is important to each member and how we want to become something much bigger. Thank you, Jack!

Photo Caption: 

As if this day wasn’t exciting enough, following our Program meeting, we held a wellness event at a nearby park, where colleagues Cody and kz finally learned who was faster. Cody’s shirt says it all about the outcome of this race. 

PTSD month, a fathers story

By Tina Turvey

June is PTSD month; PTSD or “ post traumatic stress disorder” became well known in veterans, called “shell shock”. Now we know that the condition can occur in not only vets but in victims of violent crime, the witnessing of traumatic events, first responders like police, EMT personal, and fire fighters. I have seen and experienced the effects of PTSD all my life; my father became affected while serving during the latter part of the Vietnam era years. Serving on the USS Kennedy (a naval aircraft carrier) My father was a fireman who put out breakout fires in aircraft. I sat down with him and asked him the following questions:

  1. How has your experiences in the military made your life difficult or hard to Manage?

I was lucky that during the time I was in the military I was training in martial arts which helped me cope. Dealing with and trying to get rid of PTSD anxieties, nightmares and flashbacks after my discharge was more of a problem and I needed help to get things under control.

  1. What helps the most with your symptoms? What helps the least?

Exposure therapy helped me the most; not confronting my fears helped me the least. The goal of exposure therapy was to slowly  expose and face stress causes. Stairwells triggered me the most and produced very disturbing memories and flashbacks as I fought fires in the stairwells of my ship. I avoided them for years! Increasing my exposure to them lessened my symptoms.

  1. What would you like people to know about your experiences?

That I have learned that there are very few problems in life, including PTSD that can’t be improved.

  1. Do you think or recommend people  follow your service? Knowing your difficulties?

Military life is not for everybody. It entails great risk and great rewards. I would do it all over again. Many have died–I know that. If one is young and healthy I would recommend it; but as I said, it is not for everybody.

  1. What do you think would help vets the most in this country? Do people receive adequate help in you opinion? How can people show appreciation for those who suffer for the common good?

I cannot say enough good things about the Veteran Administration. They help vets out a lot and if you really care about vets and out active duty personnel just thank them when you run across them, same with the police and firefighters.

Chrysalis Wellness Initiative: Tobacco Tackle Announcement and Updates

By Hilleary Reinhardt

Announcement: Chrysalis is officially a tobacco and smoke free campus! Chrysalis takes a holistic approach towards mental health recovery, focusing on individual’s entire lives, including mind, body, spirit, and community and understands the impact that tobacco use and smoking has on the whole person. Chrysalis staff members, program participants, and visitors all benefit from the improved health benefits of creating an environment free from tobacco use. 

In May 2020, Chrysalis was awarded a Bucket Approach Integration Award from the UW Center for Tobacco Research and Interventions (UW-CTRI). The Bucket Approach is an evidence-based tobacco dependence intervention tailored to smokers coping with mental health concerns and designed for those who work in the behavioral health field. Over the past year, with the support of UW-CTRI, Chrysalis has been working on a project called the “Chrysalis Wellness Initiative: Tobacco Tackle”. Through this project, we aimed to support the Chrysalis community as we increase the number of conversations surrounding tobacco use and created a tobacco free campus with the goal of reducing tobacco use in the Chrysalis community. 

Our Tobacco Tackle committee, consisting of staff, Chrysalis participants, and human resources has worked to educate our staff on how to have conversation with Chrysalis participants about their tobacco use and facilitate Chrysalis becoming a tobacco/smoke free campus in a way that does not promote shame or stigma. Over the course of the last year, the Tobacco Tackle Committee has been able to do the following with the support of Chrysalis and UW-CTRI:

  • Bucket Approach training with UW-CTRI in all staff meeting
  • Creation and rollout of smoke free policies in the Chrysalis Handbook
  • Signage around office to promote quitting
  • Creation of electronic resources for staff to use when discussing quitting with participants
  • Quit packs consisting of a fidget and quit resources
  • Implementation of the Bucket Approach into individual Chrysalis programs 

We at Chrysalis want you to know that we are here to support you in your journey to quit smoking or using tobacco and we support you WHEREVER you are on your journey!

We would like to give a special thanks to UW-CTRI for their support through the last year–we would not have been able to do it without your guidance and financial support. 

Celebrating 10 Years of Moving for Mental Health

A Q&A with Executive Director Dani Rischall

Q: How did Moving for Mental Health get started?

A: Ten years ago I was just starting my job as Executive Director at Chrysalis and quickly realized I could use some additional support in my role. I signed up for a Nonprofit Management Course at Madison College. The course was full of wonderful peer learning opportunities and a great instructor, Boris Frank, a well respected nonprofit management and development consultant. Part of this course was focused on selecting a project where students could work together and receive consulting services from Boris. I was lucky enough to partner with Beth Swanson, a special events planner. 

Beth and I worked together to create Moving for Mental Health, a Chrysalis fundraiser and opportunity to promote the value of physical activity on mental wellness. It was very important to us to connect this event to the mission of Chrysalis and not lose sight of this as we continued to plan. We loved the idea of sourcing food from the Chrysalis employer community and bringing our supporters together to connect and build relationships. 

Q: What has changed over the past 10 years?

A: Moving for Mental Health started small. In class we often talked about the sneaky expenses that often come with special events and wanted to mitigate these as much as possible. Our first year we have just under 100 participants and raised $3,985. As the event grew so did the participation and the funds we raised. The event has grown to  200+ participants (pre-pandemic) and raised over $15,343 in 2020. Collectively over the past 10 years the event has brought in $89,098 and netted $74,186. 

We also grew out of our original location! In 2012, our first year of Moving for Mental Health we hosted the event in our office space and gathered together for a post-race community building in our parking lot. In 2015 we realized we needed a bigger space. We were really excited about moving to Tenney Park as it was still in our neighborhood, offered more amenities, was a beautiful location, and we could use the same course.

Q: Why is Moving for Mental Health important to you?

A: I am proud to share that while the event has grown a ton, some things have stuck around. To me, these are the important things. 

  • The focus has always been on building community, celebrating wellness, being accessible, and having fun. While we realize there is a race component to Moving for Mental Health we have always made it known that this is not a competitive event. We welcome families, participants young and old with all physical abilities to join. This has also been a super fun way to connect with our community partners as people who have lives outside of the office.  
  • Food is important. We are bummed to not be able to share snacks this year, but in years past (and hopefully years ahead) we have been able to gather together to enjoy delicious food donated by our wonderful local businesses owners. 
  • We have the friendliest course markers. Our staff, board members, and Chrysalis participants have been on the course each year motivating runners, helping everyone stay on course, and bringing all the smiles. It is consistently something our race participants comment on and is a huge source of pride. 
  • Lastly I want to comment on the funds that we have raised over the years. In the nonprofit world having unrestricted funds is extremely valuable. While the dollars might not seem like much year to year, they do add up and they do give us an incredible opportunity to support the Chrysalis mission in innovative ways. Below are a few programs/initiatives that have grown from the funds we have received through Moving for Mental Health. 
    • Chrysalis Pops, our first Social Enterprise! 
    • Consumer Advisory Committee. A paid opportunity for Chrysalis participants to gain valuable leadership skills and share their voices.
    • Increased Advocacy Efforts. At Chrysalis we recognize we have an important role to play as service providers AND as systems change agents. 

Q: Where do you see Chrysalis’ Annual Moving for Mental Health event in another 10 years?

A: Oh this is a fun question! I see the Consumer Advisory Committee and the newly created Chrysalis Clubhouse taking a lot more ownership over the event. In general one of our organizational goals is to center the voices of those with lived experiences in our work. I would like to see how we can continue to do this within Moving for Mental Health. 
Another key component of Moving for Mental Health is stigma busting. I see so many wonderful ways we can continue to reduce the stigma connected to mental health and substance use through this event. As we have grown as an agency I have been less involved in the planning and implementation of Moving for Mental Health. I think this is exciting because we continue to have new staff, new participants, and new ideas infused into everything we do. This helps keep the event fresh and fun. It’s exciting to not know what the event is going to look like in 10 years but feel 100% confident that it will continue to be an amazing opportunity to reduce stigma, promote wellness, support the Chrysalis mission, and build community!

International Women’s Month

By the women of the Chrysalis blog writing group

Each March we celebrate International Women’s Month. This month-long recognition reminds us to highlight women’s achievements and continue to discuss women’s empowerment and gender equality commitments. This month, and the 11 other months of the year, Chrysalis celebrates ALL women–especially Black women, women of color, queer women, trans women, and immigrant women. The women of the Chrysalis blog writing group spent time sharing with one another stories of influential women in their lives, discussing what being a woman means to them, and sharing how they are influential women. Below are some of these accounts: 

There have been many amazing women in my life–my grandmother Mary was one of them. Recently passed, it occurred to me what an awe inspiring life she led. Born into a farm family in 1933, she was set to work at the age of 3 washing dishes for a houseful of men; and took on farm labor soon afterward. 

A lover of education and books, she attended business college after high school; studying administration and accounting–majors not common with women at the time. For her, secondary education was a must. Reminiscing her last day of high school she said that she cried on the bus ride home thinking that her academic life was over.

She was a great example to generations after her. Along with mothering four children and leading a successful 65 year marriage, Mary had a long and successful work life. She truly believed a woman did not have to choose between a career and family–she could do both or either. In this way, in my opinion, she was a true feminist; believing a woman could do anything in her heart or mind.

During her lifetime my grandmother worked at the Texas Electric Company, did the bookkeeping at a bank for over twenty years and finished her work life at a general practice physician’s office. Caring for the public she told me that she would telephone bank customers before they overdrafted their accounts; giving them time to deposit funds before a fine was issued. She truly was a loving person. 

I followed her example, going to college with a business major. In my family I was taught that a life is what a person makes out of it. Grandma Mary was an excellent role model in what a strong woman is. I hope to follow her footsteps, leaving a mark after I am gone.

~Tina, CAC Member and blog writing group

Being a woman means quite a few things to me. Due to my own past, relationship with myself and other women in my life, I have somewhat constantly worked-shopped what being a woman means to me throughout my life.
At this point to me, being a woman means, people like doctors will not take you as seriously or treat you the same way, it means certain life choices and roles will be assumed for you, it means too often you have to advocate for yourself twice as hard just to be taken seriously, it means being assumed to be weaker or more vulnerable, it means being asked too much of in one area and totally underestimated or even looked over in another.
Thankfully, now in my life I am able to see the dichotomy that women can hold within them.
Because aside all that, being a woman means we have profound capability to deal with and overcome those things. Being a woman means, even though we encounter doctors who don’t take us seriously, we know ourselves better than any doctor or person that is trying to assume our experience in our own bodies or tell us how we feel. Being a woman means you have the same right as anyone else to get the answers and attention you require from a doctor.
Being a woman means you can choose whatever life path, roles and scenarios you want to make for yourself, no matter what anyone, your family, friends, or society thinks. Being a woman means not accepting the rude and antiquated things like being talked over or assumed to be weak or vulnerable; it’s flipping the assumors on their heads and showing them that being a woman means being strong. Strong in every way. 

As women, we hold so much power. For all the power that has been taken away from women over history, to the power that is still presently stifled in women by antiquated societal norms; we have at least double. Being a woman means having the strength and power to overcome injustices and push on through all of life as our authentic, powerful, selves. 

~Darby, CAC Member and blog writing group

One reason I am an influential woman is that I have my paintings up on display around Madison Wisconsin; I have shown in galleries, coffee shops and local businesses. My paintings feature bright colors and textures. I have openly shared my recovery story and how my art has helped me through some dark times. My talent is touring darkness to light and showing this process through paints and colors. I hope to influence those who look at my art to feel inspired! 

~Jenny King, Employment Specialist and Vocational Peer Specialist

Before the month is over, we hope you take the time to journal, reflect, or talk with your friends and family about the influential women in your life and how you can honor and recognize the strength, persistence, and ingenuity of ALL women!

Let’s Talk About It

By Alysha Clark & Eric Peterson

In the Thursday, March 26th Chrysalis Staff meeting, we discussed the “Let’s Talk About It” book that seeks to preserve protest that was created in Madison as a response to the murder of George Floyd.  This book opened the door for Chrysalis Staff to create their own response art after watching videos that highlighted the recent acts of hate, stemmed from racism and misogyny, against the Asian American Community.  Here are some words from Vocational Peer Specialist Eric, as he went through this process. 

 “Invisibilize; eyes made invisible, that not seen is not known in our shutdown lockdown breakdown we become aware of both our humanity and also how separated we are by modern culture/modern nature into our cubicle lives–for a vast global culture, modern man is still separated by the original fears.  Made more evident, painfully clear by this pandemic of isolation, we see everything on our digitized screens as we all see our lonely disconnect selves along side, crying inside to be released and join the multitudes out in the sun….one day soon, to reach for a new idea..to indivisibilize…” -Eric Peterson 

Sharing Big in The Big Share

By Jenny King

Chrysalis participated in the Community Shares of Wisconsin Big Share fundraising event on Tuesday, March 2nd.  We started out with a goal of raising $6,000 for our #AntiStigma Programs and by 10am had exceeded that goal ended up with a total of $10,813!  Read below to hear some feedback about the event, including Dani who jumped in the Yahara River and KZ who shaved her head because we hit some massive fundraising goals!

“It was so incredible to participate in The Big Share and feel such a strong sense of community even over a virtual platform. I thought the Chrysalis staff and community engagement was amazing. I even had a friend who is a professional in communications reach out to ask how we were able to pull it off. It was super cool to let her know it was a true team effort and everyone played a part. It’s incredible to get to work alongside so many passionate, creative, and fun people. A huge shout-out to the Chrysalis community and all our supporters. THANK YOU!!!!” 

~ Dani Rischall, Chrysalis Executive Director 

“One moment, I’m muttering “I’ll shave my head” during a Big Share planning conversation with my Social Butterfly committee colleagues, and the next moment, I’m sitting in my kitchen, with the dog grooming tool getting dangerously close to my hair. I really had no idea what to expect from this year’s Big Share, but was pleasantly surprised how fun it was to build such a sense of community during this virtual event. I thought we set a rather ambitious fundraising goal with some very creative ways to showcase our fun-loving and playful sides. Despite my “hair grows” thinking, I was feeling a bit nervous about actually losing my locks, but with the support (and banter) from the Facebook live folks, it was way more fun and interactive than I imagined.  Two things I learned from this experience are: there are many different interpretations of “shaved head” and be careful what you mutter under your breath! And finally, the thing I always knew but was reminded of during this year’s Big Share, my Chrysalis colleagues and the supporters of Chrysalis are an incredible bunch of humans.”

-Kathy Zeigert, CCS Supervisor/Clubhouse Director

Chrysalis loves their pets!

By Kurt Stapleton

Black History Month: Centering Black Mental Health

A Q&A with Tara Wilhelmi

Q: What brought you to the field of Mental Health? 

A: I have always had a “counselors heart”.  Even as a youth I often played the role of conflict mediator.  Talking with new people, having brave and authentic conversations has always come naturally to me.  In 2018 I was invited to attend a peer specialist training hosted by a local start up organization focused on interrupting community/gun violence.  As I sat in the training learning about what it meant to be a peer specialist I remember thinking “WOW! I have been doing this for most of my life & you’re saying I can make a living doing it??”

Q: What do you think are some of the systemic barriers for black people within the mental health system?

A: Generations of white supremacy & anti black ideology and practices in healthcare & educational systems specifically have created a pool of mental health providers and administrators who engage Black people on a spectrum that ranges from awkward to oppressive.  White supremacy upholds practices and ideals that strip Black people of their humanity – how can you understand and empathize with people who subconsciously you have been programmed to view as subhuman or “other”?   Even when providers are Black/BIPOC their “white washed” eurocentric education often forced them to internalize the same white supremacist concepts and ideals about Blacks in America as their non Black colleagues. 

Q: Can you share more about the work you are doing with Chrysalis to create a Certified Peer Specialist Learning Community?

A: My community recovery and wellness organization, EOTO, has been partnering with Chrysalis over the past year.  After meeting Dani & Alysha we quickly discovered a shared passion for expanding and supporting the peer movement in Dane County and throughout Wisconsin.  We had several lively conversations about siloed peer specialists, challenges for non peer or clinical staff to provide supportive and reflective supervision to those peers when they often lacked a true understanding of the peer role, and the lack of diversity in Wisconsin’s current peer workforce.  We also discovered that we shared both solutions based and social justice focus outlook on these issues.  The planning for our current collaboration began almost organically from those conversations and now we are ready to launch our Certified Peer Specialists Learning Community.  Our cohort based, collective learning curriculum highlights best practices to support organizations who are interested in integrating new peer support programs or expanding existing ones while also providing a sense of community and professional support to peers in the workforce.

Q: Why is this work important to you?

A: Peer Support has allowed me to continue my own personal journey of recovery and wellness, it has provided me with bankable skills that combine (among a list of other things)  my “counselors heart”, my own lived experience and resilience, and my entrepreneurial spirit with the ability to share those things with others.  As a Black woman in Wisconsin I am deeply impacted by our state’s continued status as “the worst place to raise a Black family” and other sadly familiar narratives about racial disparities in our home state.  As a mother to Black children I have to do everything I can to impact change – everything to help them heal and belong to a community that is healing- from generations of racialized trauma and internalized white supremacy ideologies.  As a member of the extended village that is the African Diaspora I feel obligated to use my voice and the lessons I have learned to support others on their own journey to healing and wellness.   Partnering with an established and respected organization like Chrysalis – working side by side with impressive, knowledgeable and passionate women like Dani & Alysha – feeds the fire of hope for our future that sustains me when fighting for equity, equality and systems change starts to weigh too heavily on my mind & soul.

Q: What can the community do to support this work?

A: The community can connect with us and other organizations to learn more about what peer support is and how it impacts long term recovery.  Individuals who would like to join an email list to receive our Certified Peer Specialist Learning Community Newsletter can click here to do so. We’ll share updates about free training opportunities, information on how to support Certified Peer Specialists within your community, and more.

You can donate here to EOTO LLC to support Tara’s amazing work: https://culturallyrooted.wedid.it/

The Role of Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals in Our Lives

By: Andrew Lopez, CPS

People seem to be becoming more aware of the role of service animals and emotional support animals. While it is good that many business owners and employers are becoming more aware and tolerant of their use, unfortunately there is still a lot of misinformation about the roles and rules of these animals.  I’m writing today to provide some useful information on these supports to clear up some misconceptions.

First of all let’s outline what a service animal is and what an emotional support animal is. They have very important differences.

A Service Animal is either a dog or a miniature horse and can be no other animal. This animal has to be trained to do a specific task and used by a person with a disability. The task that the service animal does must be done in order to overcome a barrier created by the person’s disability. Service animals have rights in the general public as well as housing. Their protections are covered under both Americans With Disabilities Act and fair housing law. A business owner or manager of a location may ask if the owner of the animal is a service animal and what task does it perform for the individual. If the individual states that the animal is not trained to do any specific task the owner or manager can treat the animal the same as any other normal pet. The training that was given to the service animal could come from a service animal training academy but may also be done by the owner themselves or other entities. There is no official license or identification card for service animals at the current time. An owner may choose to carry a card provided for them by a training Academy to make this conversation go smoother.

An Emotional Support Animal (also referred to as a therapy animal) can be many different types of animals.  These animals need not be trained to do any specific type of task. Emotional support animals are protected under fair housing law but are not protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Their rights extend to a person’s own residence but not to public accommodation.  In order to claim an animal as an emotional support animal the tenant must communicate with the landlord or building manager and provide a letter from their doctor or therapist verifying that the individual has a disability and that the animal is necessary for the individual to overcome challenges created by their disability within the residence. Ideally this should be done before the animal moves in with the resident. Service animals have the same rights and requirements as emotional support animals within residences.

Some things that are common between both service animals and emotional support animals are that it is illegal for a landlord to charge an extra rent or security deposit for the animal as it is not a pet but instead a tool used by the individual with a disability. There are limitations on both service animals and emotional support animals. Both animals must be well behaved and can lose all of their rights under ADA law or fair housing law if they harm other people are intrusive or destructive. A service animal may not bark or bite or otherwise pester other individuals and if it does so the owner manager is well within the rights to require the animal and its owner to leave.  Reputable service animal training academies understand this and socialize the animals that they train to be comfortable around  other humans and do not interfere with the business of other people. Similarly an emotional support animal may not cause damage to the residence, harm other residents of the building or make intrusive noises that affect the well-being of others in the residence.

We are fortunate to have two members of the Chrysalis community who have experience living with the aid of emotional support animals. Below are their statements about what the Emotional support animal brings to their life.

“Three years ago my life changed for the better. It wasn’t just the new apartment that I moved into–it was the fact that my doctor sent a letter to my new landlord citing that I qualified to have an emotional support animal according to Fair Housing Law in order to live independently.

I adopted a black cat from a shelter and my life changed for the better. Theo (the cat) seems to know and understand how to calm me when my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms flare up. He lays across my lap at such times until I can calm down. He also helps with my depression. When I want to give up on life and living independently he will want fed or attention and the thought comes to me “he needs me, I need to pull through this pain”. I rescued him from the shelter and now he is rescuing me from the dark hole of mental illness. He has been a positive force in my life–I rescued him and now he is rescuing me.

I believe that emotional support animals are the new necessary. Anyone who suffers from mental illness can testify to the fact that more and more medication although sometimes necessary, doesn’t always provide a better quality of life. Animals provide an alternative to a massive amount of medication that doesn’t always work.  I am grateful for a doctor who realized this fact and prescribed me a different kind of therapy.”- Tina Turvey

“Emotional support animals provide support and comfort to so many people in many ways, and I have been fortunate the last 7 years to have my dog by my side supporting me in all the ways he has. I have struggled with my mental health since childhood, and like for many who have experienced similar, it was extremely rough for me during my teen years. I have also had a profound love for animals since childhood, and at the age of 15 I started working at kennels, vet clinics and dog daycares. In these jobs, I always found an immense sense of tranquility and self fulfillment in providing care and forming relationships with those animals; this sort of healthy outlet and relationship did not exist elsewhere in my life. I struggle with forming and keeping relationships with people, and I had tried many forms of treatment and support to help manage my symptoms, but was still regularly struggling. So before my 17th birthday I asked my dad if I could get a dog for my birthday. It had already been a suggestion for me by therapists and others that were familiar with me and my struggles, so thankfully he also thought it was a good idea and agreed I could handle the responsibility. I think my best choice as a teenager was asking for that help, because he has saved my life more times than I can count since then. 

He gave me a reason to get out of bed everyday, I had something to live for and someone that lived for me, I had someone to embrace when I was struggling without judgement or question. When I struggle with my anxiety or depression or self harm urges or anything I could go to him. Often, I need that change of scenery and fresh air to help emotionally regulate, but often find myself paralyzed within myself. Having my dog be there to encourage me to keep regularly getting up to stretch my legs and out for some fresh air really helps me make sure I get that. In caring for him I was reminded and able to care for myself more, and that has built over the years. 

When I left my dad’s home, my psychiatrist made sure I had the paperwork showing that he was an ESA that was needed to make it possible for me to find housing with him. I have lived without people many times over these years but thanks to him, I never had to be alone. I had this unconditionally loving ball of fluff that needed me as much as I needed him. I had someone that looked at me with only love, that I could curl up with and cry into, that I could stroke and scratch to help me ground myself, a reason to live and feel love when struggling with suicidal ideation, a safe person to go to when battling components of my PTSD. 

A few years ago, I started facing some medical issues that expanded, I was diagnosed with EDS, an incurable genetic condition that causes chronic pain and a whole slew of other problems (varying widely person to person). I became overwhelmed by medical appointments and testing as well as trying to cope with my new diagnosis and how it drastically affected my overall quality of life and day to day passions. My mental health has taken quite the strain and many blows through this process, my feelings of helplessness, suicidal ideation and thoughts of self harm became more persistent, the world became heavier again and I was regressing.  But my dog was there for me, as difficult as my medical things made it to take care of him sometimes, my love for him fought my will to give in to the world that seemed to be suffocating me. I would come home from doctor’s appointments feeling scared and hopeless and don’t know what I would have done without my dog to be there for me to cry and to have space to feel those feelings. Having that support makes it possible for me to cope the best I can with the medical things I am enduring as well as even make it to that next step like calling to make an appointment with a specialist. My love for him has encouraged me to keep pushing to take care of myself and to get up everyday and do the things I need to in order to take care of both of us. 

When he came into my life I knew I needed him, I didn’t know just how much. I know this may sound cliche, but I would not be here today if it weren’t for my dog. There is nothing in the world I appreciate more than him and what he has done and been for me without even knowing he was doing it. There are a wide variety of reasons someone would benefit from an emotional support animal, and I know I found many I didn’t even expect in my own experience with mine.”
-Darby Gregerson

Below are some more resources from authoritative sources on service animals and emotional support rails. I’ve also included a few links to local service animal training academies.

“Service Animals: Disability Rights Wisconsin”
https://disabilityrightswi.org/resource-center/service-animals/

“Emotional Support Animals: Tenant Resources Center”
https://www.tenantresourcecenter.org/esas

Custom Canines: Service Dog Academy
https://www.customcanines.org/

Occupaws: Guide Dog Academy
https://occupaws.org/

Wisconsin Academy for Graduate Service Dogs (WAGS)
https://wags.net/