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I have to start by saying: this is my journey to getting an emotional support animal, in Massachusetts. Processes may vary from state to state, and your experience may be different than mine. I struggled so much through this process, and I hope it makes it easier on you. Thanks for reading in advance.
I have been struggling with my mental health for as long as I can remember.
For the past year, I have been seeing a therapist and psychiatrist monthly to work through my trauma, develop positive coping skills, unlearn a lot of the way I think, and to have an outlet to vent. The combination of therapy and medication has transformed my life.
In November of 2020, my therapist asked me why I didn’t get an emotional support animal? I said that I thought about it, but my landlords were EXTREMELY strict with the “no pets” rule.
I read through our lease to be sure, but read an addendum that read “except for service or support animals”. It was vague, so I got the proper documentation and submitted it to my landlord.
My therapist had me talk to the social worker in my primary care physicians office about what symptoms my emotional support animal would alleviate. Loneliness, lack of energy, motivation, and drive. Taking care of something other than myself. I went on and on and on.
My doctor wrote my letter, requesting reasonable accommodation, and I submitted it to my landlord.
I was denied initially. I received a certified letter from their lawyer, stating that the letter was insufficient. They wrote, in long legal jargon, that the letter needs to explicitly say that the emotional support animal needed for a disability.
Though I don’t view myself as disabled, my doctor did write the letter including my mental health diagnoses. This is NOT required, however I asked that it be as detailed as possible to ensure they wouldn’t deny my second letter.
Within 2 weeks, my letter was approved! At this point, I had a dog picked out and ready for me, a small lab mix named Star. She is everything I needed and more.
Star gets me out of bed in the morning so I don’t stay there all day. She encourages me to go on long walks, to get exercise, and to socialize with other dogs at the dog park.
When I cry, Star comes to me and lays on my lap. When I start picking at my eyebrows, scabs, etc., I stop and pet her instead. When I need a quiet day to myself, she makes sure I’m not alone. She is the best part of my morning through the night.
If you are on the fence about getting an emotional support animal, I encourage you to do it. See a therapist, start working through your own stuff first. Make sure that you are well enough to take care of another creature.
Try alternatives first. An emotional support animal is basically prescribed as a treatment for depression and anxiety. It’s a process to figure out what is best in your mental health treatment.
Please, do not lie about your pet’s status as an emotional support animal to bypass rentals that don’t allow pets or charge a fee. There is such a stigma around the legitimacy of emotional support animals.
There is no certification, no online shortcuts. A commonly used website, Certapet, is not legitimate. You do not pay to get an emotional support animal. You don’t need to buy a vest. For the love of god, PLEASE don’t bring your emotional support animal to restaurants, stores, etc. that are not dog friendly.
You just need your doctor to write a letter, explaining why an emotional support animal is needed for your mental health treatment. Not all doctors will write this letter because not all doctors think an emotional support animal is needed. Honor this, and wait until you can move to a pet friendly apartment.
I struggled through the process, and almost got derailed entirely when I was initially denied. It is our right as individuals with mental illnesses to ask for reasonable accommodation, like an emotional support animal.
Don’t be ashamed of this, do what you can to give yourself the quality of life you deserve. You are so worth it. Leave any questions, comments, or stories in the comments!
Affiliate Disclosure: This blog post may contain affiliate links in it. This means that if you make a purchase by using one of the affiliate links provided in this article, then we will get a small commission at no extra expense to you. We only promote products we love and believe in.
My therapist has always suggested that I turn to positive affirmations (short “I am something floofy” phrases to help when I feel as if I’ve succumbed to my depression and really just can’t go on)
I always brushed her off, I either felt depressed or I felt okay. I struggled for the longest time utilizing the positive coping skills that we spoke about when I was in the middle of an intense depressive episode.
How could I focus on saying “I am beautiful” when I felt like anything but? How could I convince myself that “I am strong” when I felt unbearably weak?
Last week, I made a point to try this. Lately with the social isolation, folks dying left and right, and frankly my mental illness, I’ve been a mess. So here they are, listed here for you as well as for me on my mirror!
I am alive.
This one is simple and factual. Nothing to do about it, I’m alive, breathing, and living even when I don’t want to.
I am capable.
I have gone through this before, and I’ll go through it again.
I am loved.
Whether or not I believe this, I know it’s true. My family, my friends, my girlfriend. If nothing else, my dog adores me.
I am safe.
I will continue to put myself in safe situations and surround myself with people who make me feel safe.
I am learning to love myself.
This is one of my favorites to remind myself, I am a work in progress and I am figuring myself out every single day.
I can take things one step at a time.
I can’t do it all. Believe me, I’ve tried. Step by step I will keep moving forward.
I am human.
Once again, factual. I am human, I am not infallible. I will make mistakes and continue to learn from them. I will fall down, but will keep getting back up.
I know how to manage my depression and anxiety.
It might feel like my life is out of control and my mental illnesses are at the wheel, but I have the tools to get past it. It might not be easy to pull from these right now, but I do know how to manage it.
I am doing my best.
That’s all I can do. And my best is good enough.
I am growing.
My struggles do not define me, and do not hold me back. I am growing stronger, I am growing in knowledge and experience, I am growing up.
And that’s it. It has been a positive way to begin and end my days for the past week.
What are some affirmations you use to keep yourself going when the going gets tough?
Let me know if these gentle affirmations inspire you to simplify the words you use to encourage yourself when you’re struggling!
At least a little bit. I grew up admiring others girls in school wishing I looked like them, and feeling warm and safe with my closest girl friends. I grew up looking up girls kissing on the internet and quickly deleting my browser when my parents called me for supper.
As crazy as it sounds, I didn’t know that it was an option to date women, love women, marry women. I was an ally, loudly rooting on the LGBTQ+ community when marriage equality finally became the law of the land. I loved others so fiercely, but honestly, I didn’t know anyone who was actually gay.
I come from a very small rural farm town, and my family was one of the few blue votes in a deep red community. I left for college and I prepared to grow as a person more than I ever imagined I would.
My freshman year, I joined a sorority. I developed connections with diverse, passionate, wonderful women that I will have for the rest of my life. One of my role models in the organization was gay and she led us with grace, and lived her truest life.
My sophomore year, I spent my time mostly seeing men, but it was also my sophomore year that I first set my Tinder to men and women. I would match with women, chat with them, but chicken out with anything more than texting.
One day, junior year, I was hanging out at a close friend’s house and we were both laying on her bed, swiping through our respective Tinder accounts and she noticed on my phone that a woman came up. She asked if I had my account set to men and women, and I said yes – I’m just seeing who is gay around us. She proceeded to change her settings so we could match each other and it would be so fun.
Shortly after, I deleted my account.
I spent my time fantasizing about being with women, to the point that when I was sober I couldn’t be with men anymore. It pushed me to drink more, to party harder, to put myself in unsafe situations, I was pretty numb for a while, binge drinking every weekend, leading guys on until I got bored and moved on to whatever or whoever came next.
I just wanted to have a good time and begun accepting that maybe I wasn’t right to be in a relationship with women, I wasn’t deserving of the love and the life I wanted.
My senior year was when everything really changed.
I made it a personal goal to finally push that barrier and do something with a woman – go on a date, kiss at a party, or anything else that happened. I just didn’t want to be the bisexual woman who hasn’t ever actually done anything with a woman anymore, which in retrospect, didn’t invalidate my sexuality at all.
I started by messaging a girl from my college that I knew of; we had mutual friends and a lot in common. We messaged for a while, hung out once, and there was nothing more. I think we both thought it was something that it wasn’t, and the more I’ve grown, the more I thank my lucky stars that we didn’t settle. But we kissed. She was my first kiss, and honestly I felt as if I pushed past a threshold that would allow me into this community that I desperately wanted to become a part of.
Shortly after things fizzled out with her, I met another girl in one of my classes. She and I also had mutual friends, and sat across from each other in class, and always worked with each other on assignments. I messaged her through our school’s online learning portal and gave her my number which was an incredibly bold thing to do, probably one of the boldest moves I had ever made. I saw her at one of the clubs we went out to regularly, and I thought we had hit it off.
We spent a few nights together where nothing really happened, and eventually she stopped messaging me back, she stopped going to class, she seemed to have cut me off entirely. I used to drink back then, a lot. She did too, we were used to having most of our exchanges through shots and stumbling home late at night. She was the first girl I did like, but things sizzled out once again.
I honestly started regressing back to feeling like maybe, things weren’t going to work out for me right now. I accepted it, and just focused on everything else.
I stopped trying after that. All of a sudden, it was my last semester of my undergraduate education and I was applying for graduate programs, interviewing for assistantships, and savoring the last few crazy weekends with my best friends.
I was set on flying halfway across the country to Arkansas to study Higher Education and Student Affairs and work at one of their programs, but I didn’t get a job. I decided to wait and work in Massachusetts for a year while I figured things out. I wasn’t going to move, I wasn’t trying for a relationship. I was just focusing on me.
Then I met Jenn. Jenn, a gorgeous, tall, sporty, soft butch woman, and a close friend of one of my close friends. Typical. Jenn started going out with my group of friends on the weekends.
She was in a relationship, I kept an eye on her but was careful not to show interest out of respect for their relationship. Things were going downhill between the two of them, and one night she asked us for advice about what to do. We were all in unison, do what makes you happy. Period. Later that week, she was single Jenn.
Jenn was different, so different than any of the men or women I had met before. She was calm, gentle, and so sweet. She had the patience like no other, and became a friend immediately and my girlfriend shortly after.
A bit after Jenn broke up with her ex-partner, she began getting closer and closer to me. We started with a single kiss, to spending the night together, to her practically moving into my dorm room.
We went on our first date to a Celtics game (TOTALLY not my thing, but I sure as hell pretended it was). We spent St. Patrick’s Day together with our friends in Boston, and we held hands all day and danced and kissed all night.
I wasn’t sure if she was the one, but I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else. I felt comfortable, beautiful, and so safe with her.
I knew I had to officially come out to my family, who assumed I was straight and would marry a man one day. They knew about my past boyfriends and wouldn’t assume otherwise.
My older sister and very best friend didn’t bat an eye, I could have sworn that she knew all along she was so nonchalant about it.
I texted my stepmom that I had a girlfriend, just to let them know. My stepmom was out of town at a retreat and responded with something along the lines of: yay!!! I just told all of my coworkers and we love you and are so proud of you, we are all crying”.
It was so cute and heartwarming. I let her tell my dad, because I knew he would be happy for me but not make a big deal about it, which was perfect. She proceeded to make at least 5 LGBTQ+ Facebook posts within the week.
Jenn was in my room with me while I packed to go home for Easter weekend, and my mom came to pick me up. She came up into my apartment to use the bathroom, and gave a quick “hi, nice to meet you, see you later!”. I went home with her and we didn’t talk about Jenn.
On Easter morning, I told my mom that my friend Jenn that she met in my dorm was my girlfriend, and she was casual, said it didn’t matter to her if I dated a boy or a girl as long as they respected me.
I posted on Facebook that I was in a relationship with Jenn, and my cup was just overflowing with love. Aside from one comment “I didn’t know you were like that” from a friend (and another friend immediately jumping in saying “yes she is and we love her!!!”, nobody really bat an eye.
My mom called me a few days later to let me know that my Nana knew I was dating a woman. Somebody saw it on Facebook and got to tell her before I could. Her first response was “Tell her to take it off Facebook – not because I have a problem with it but because future employers might discriminate against her”. I struggled with all of this – being outed, being a shame to her. Today, I realize that she just hated anything being on Facebook. She refused – and always begged my mom not to post pictures of her. She lived her life proudly, but hated pictures and others knowing her business unless it’s being told by her.
Nana now loves Jenn as much as she loves me. Grampy took a minute to realize that my beautiful butch girlfriend was in fact a woman, but a few months ago, Nana texted me and asked if Jenn wants to be hugged by Grampy or if she would prefer a handshake. He now hugs her as tightly as he hugs me.
Graduating was so both exciting and scary for me. I realized I had real abandonment issues, and Jenn didn’t want to leave me either.
So we did the typical thing gay women do, and she basically moved in. She was living with her parents for the summer and would be living in the dorm for her last year of college. So she stayed with me in my dorm room that I had while I worked at the university for the summer until I found a place and an adult job.
By the end of the summer, I had two good jobs and an apartment with roommates. Jenn moved into her dorm room for her senior year, but stayed at my room every night.
I gave her a key and she lived out of a suitcase for the year, going to her dorm here and there but 100% living with me.
A wonderful year passed by us, I learned so much about myself, how to love myself and someone else with my whole being. How to root for her success as she cheers on mine.
I learned what my values were, the standards that I deserved to be treated, and grew into my sexuality as I grew into my independent young adult life.
I became a part of Jenn’s very close knit family- they welcomed me with open arms. I love them like I love my own family. Jenn is my better half, my best friend, my whole world.
And now we have a puppy, which is basically the equivalent of a wedding ring. Ha ha ha!
Aside from my relationship, since coming out and becoming a more authentic version of myself, I have developed some of the truest friendships that I will ever have. I learned who was really there for me and who wasn’t. I figured out who my healthy friendships were with and who I had to cut off for my own wellbeing.
I learned who I was, what some of my greatest strengths are and what I need to continue working on. I let myself grow, past my comfort zone, beyond anything I ever thought I was capable of.
I learned to love myself so much that I started going to therapy and work out some of my issues, manage my mental health, and to always keep moving forward.
Labels have always been hard for me. Before I came out, I felt as if I couldn’t be anything before I was really with a woman. How could I be sure when I’ve only dated men my whole life?
I was though. I knew.
Men made me uncomfortable, I could not be friends with men and after being with Jenn, I would never date another man. I said I was bisexual for a while “just in case”, but I am sure.
I’m a lesbian.
I love my Jenn, I love my community, I boldly, proudly, and fiercely love who I am. It has been quite the journey to get to where I am, but my journey is what made me who I am. The good, the bad, the lessons I’ve learned have brought me to the 24 year old life of my dreams.
As a “femme” straight passing woman, I will have to come out over and over again, but I’m glad to do it. I can finally push back my internalized fear of not being accepted, because all that matters is I accept myself.
This is my 3rd Pride out of the closet, confident in who I am and who I love. This Pride is focused on BIPOC, and that’s how it should be. Pride started as a riot led by Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman that threw the first brick at Stonewall in 1969. That’s the focus right now, that’s what this Pride (as should every pride) be about.
We will continue to lift black and brown queer voices to truly be proud. No Pride for some until there’s Pride for all. I needed to grow in confidence and figure out who I am.
My coming out story is finished but I won’t stop learning who I am and what power I have to make the world better for the LGBTQ+ community, but particularly the black, brown, and indigenous voices, the transgender voices, the most marginalized group of our community.
Now more than ever, it’s time to use my privilege, influence, and power to elevate those voices.
I’ve been on so many diets. Like, SO many. I’ve tried keto, Atkins, tracking every bite through My Fitness Pal, Weight Watchers. I saw more success with weight watchers, but I gained it all back. Is that success? I don’t even know.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a “non-diet dietician” who goes by Claire Chewning on TikTok. She posted a video about how no food is bad and resources to ditch diets for good.
I’ve been told my whole life that I need to lose weight. By family members, friends, strangers, clients, celebrities- even my doctor at my last physical. “Lose the weight now or it’ll haunt you for the rest of your life” a family member said.
Another family member commented after having the flu for 2 weeks as a child, “you were sick as a dog but you never looked better.”
I would love to lose weight. I would love to feel confident in a bathing suit, be able to buy cute strappy bras that don’t dig into my shoulders, not feel like I have to contour my chubby cheeks and collar bone before going out.
I would love to be skinny. But I’m not. I have always been heavier due to my metabolism, genetics, and pure hatred of running.
I have been struggling with my mental health since I was 12. I dealt with bullying, living in an unstable environment, and overcoming a quite traumatic event that I’m not getting into today.
Food has always been my comfort. I looked forward to the nights my mom was too exhausted to cook and we would get McDonalds from the drive through. I looked forward to helping bring in the groceries so I could snag a few snacks for me- boxes of pancake mix or bottles of maple syrup.
I waited until late at night, for everyone to fall asleep to binge on whatever I had. I ate until I was sick, though I rarely got sick. I spent nights sitting next to the toilet, too afraid to make myself purge.
This went on for years, and it’s a habit I still fall back into from time to time, grabbing fast food on my way home from work to eat chaotically and then throwing away the evidence. Eating what I thought was good or healthy during the day, but when my adoring girlfriend fell asleep, eating everything in the cabinet.
Claire phrases intuitive eating as “If diet culture didn’t exist, intuitive eating would simply be called eating”. Intuitive eating is about neutralizing food, eating what I want because no food is off limit, and honoring my body’s natural cues.
I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to work with Claire 1:1, unlearning diet culture and learning what it is like to eat in a controlled and “normal” way.
This is what I am doing. Committing to myself, my body, my life, my journey. No more diets, just eating.
I’m ready to change my life. The first couple weeks have been emotionally taxing, I have still binged, I have gone all day without eating.
I’m re-learning what I need to to be happy. This is a huge part of my journey, stay tuned!
That’s the latest description of this confusing time we’re in. We are literally in the middle of a global pandemic that has ravaged through each continent, took a hit at hospitals and emergency rooms, and created a lot of business for funeral homes.
“Unprecedented times” we call it. There is no guide on how to get through a global pandemic in 2020.
The serenity prayer comes into play in my field of work often, as I work with folks trying to maintain their sobriety.
“God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.
Let’s break that down, it’s more relevant today than ever.
Accepting what I cannot change. This has always been hard for me. I’m passionate about making change, fighting for social justice, and honestly, I feel better being in control.
I have the courage to change a whole lot, working with one of the toughest, most complex, and vulnerable populations.
I help folks whether or not they’re ready to be helped.
I advise alcoholics who have an important appointment for social security or housing to take a nip before going into their meeting, because otherwise they would go into withdrawal.
I provide a safe place for addicts to spend their day in between shooting up, because we can’t monitor for their safety on the street.
The harm reduction model keeps addicts alive so when they are ready to accept the help, they’ll be alive to do it. (Thank god for narcan!)
We can’t change someone who doesn’t want to be changed.
Likewise, we can’t end a global pandemic that has only just begun. There won’t be a vaccine for quite a bit of time, in the grief process of all we have missed out on or lost I am in the acceptance phase.
I won’t, however, accept things as they are. I won’t stay inside and binge Netflix (not everyday, anyway). I won’t mope about not being able to go to the movies, celebrate Pride, go to summer concerts, and vacation in Florida.
Here’s what I’ll do instead, I encourage you to try some of these too.
1) Spend time with your loved ones, however you can.
Check on each other, and do it intentionally. In this digital age, it is so easy to stay connected with your loved ones via FaceTime, FB Messenger Video, or my newest favorite, Zoom!
Add some structure in your life, and schedule these visits or hangouts in advance. It will give you something to look forward to. Living close to my family, we have also had visits in person, in lawn chairs 6 feet apart.
There’s just something about seeing your loved ones in person after not seeing them for a while that really makes you appreciate what you’ve got.
2) Move your body!
Exercise in a way that makes you feel good, get the blood flowing and bring on those endorphins. Personally, I enjoy going on hikes with my pup, riding the stationary bike at my apartment complex gym, and doing yoga.
I believe in the importance of embracing exercise as means to feel good, not to lose weight or be skinny. I exercise because I feel better after I move my body. I exercise because I feel more powerful as I get stronger. I cannot stress this enough – we are in crisis mode.
Go easy on yourselves, do what makes you feel good in every aspect of your life.
3) Get outside.
Go to the beach, go for a hike, read a book on your porch, lay in the sun, go to the pool.
I have never spent a beautiful summer day (with proper hydration and lots of sunscreen!) and regretted it after. Embrace nature, vitamin D, and all the beautiful world has to offer.
Do this safely: wear a mask when you cannot safely remain 6 feet apart, don’t go with people you don’t live with. Carry out what you bring in.
The pandemic has cleared the air in many smoggy, polluted spots. By taking a pause on life as we knew it, our planet is thanking us!
4) Learn something new.
As I scrolled through social media at the beginning of the pandemic, it seemed like everyone had become a professional baker and mastered the sourdough loaf recipe overnight.
Whether it’s baking, writing, drawing, yoga, knitting, or learning the inside scoop behind the BLM movement, how to be an ally (which I’m hopeful for many of you, you’re working on this!)
5) Allow yourselves time to rest.
Between worrying about coronavirus and the toll it is taking on our friends and families across the world, and fighting for the lives of BIPOC, it’s easy to get burnt out.
Rest, embrace self-care, meditate, drink water, and continue carrying on. Go easy on yourself!
As I’ve said, this global pandemic is not over. States and countries can continue to open, but for as long as there is not a vaccine and there are still positive cases, we will be dealing with this new normal for a while.
Embracing what is going on, even when it’s hard will allow you to sit in the acceptance phase and keep moving forward.
I’m 24 years old, working as a Case Manager at a homeless shelter in Massachusetts. One question I get asked over and over again is how did I end up doing one of the most exhausting yet rewarding professions.
Did I go to school for social work? Nope. Did I personally overcome addiction or homelessness? Not I. Are you a saint? That’s a negative.
Growing up, my stepmother was the director of a small family shelter in western Massachusetts. I grew up helping cook meals for the women and children that lived there.
When my mom needed to go in on a Saturday to handle a situation with a client, she brought me to tag along and play with the kids there. In my eyes, my mom was the saint!
I grew up and started going on service trips with my church youth group to Washington DC. We volunteered at homeless shelters, food pantries, and soup kitchens.
I learned how to treat one of the most vulnerable populations with dignity, respect, and love. I went for years, and had a wonderful experience.
I went to college, clueless as ever about what I was going to do with my life.
It didn’t even cross my mind that I could pursue a passion that was engrained in me at 10 years old.
I became the philanthropy chair of my sorority and planned events to raise money for different non-profit organizations.
Still, I was focused on pursuing a future in biology, psychology, and higher education. I was lost, but decided to focus on higher education.
I went to Arkansas after getting accepted to a higher education masters program, and interviewed for several graduate assistantship jobs that would keep me afloat. I didn’t get any of them. I decided to take a year and evaluate exactly what I wanted to do next.
I interviewed for a few bachelor’s level higher education jobs, but still didn’t get them. As the summer drew to an end, I was running out of options. I started applying for any and all jobs.
I came across a job at a small non-profit homeless shelter, applied, and scored an interview. I still wasn’t convinced that this was what I wanted, but quite frankly, I needed a job. I walked into the shelter, and my now work best friend invited me to sit down and the supervisor would be out soon for our interview.
I stood, while the case managers ran back and forth, the phone rang non-stop, and the residents repeatedly tried to engage with me and figure out who I was and what I was there for.
I walked into my future supervisor’s office, and instantly I knew that I wanted to work for her.
Halfway through the interview, I asked if we could stop for a minute. My work experience was hardly applicable, but my experiences at my mom’s family shelter and my years of volunteer work did qualify me for the work.
As I left the interview, my future supervisor told me that she wished she had a case management job for me to interview for.
I had a job offer within a few days, and my journey began.
I started as entry level direct care, and worked another part-time job at a local hospital’s adult impatient psychiatric unit.
As I helped others work through their trauma, mental illness, substance use, and homelessness, my mental illnesses manifested. I found myself taking things home, having flashbacks of past trauma, crying constantly, and contemplated self-harm.
The biggest question arose: how could I take care of others if I couldn’t take care of myself?
The unlikely answer was very well. But in doing so, it took a toll on my friendships and relationships. And I couldn’t do it forever.
I gave 110% to my clients and left myself on empty. I was promoted to case manager, and got some of the most difficult clients I had ever worked with.
I called a local therapy office, and did an intake. Making that first appointment was like taking a breath of fresh air. I felt, for the first time in a year that everything would be alright.
And it was.
I started working through my past, present, and future.
I learned how to apply the self-care techniques that I taught my clients every day.
I learned to love myself like I love others.
I learned that I need medication to function like many do without.
I learned to be happy.
Welcome to my journey of happy: becoming happy, embracing what and who makes me happy, and reclaiming happiness when life throws a wrench in the way.