I remember when things started going wrong with my health. I went from running a business and leading an active, healthy life to feeling more tired every day, and things just snowballed. I felt sick, my body hurt so much, and one day while driving I realized that I felt drunk. I stopped driving that day and for about two years after. My active lifestyle had suddenly come crashing to a halt and I found myself unable to work and struggling to navigate a medical system that couldn’t tell me what was wrong with me.
In that time I spoke to several people in similar circumstances with service dogs. They explained how much help their dog was. Well, I thought, if I’m having similar struggles, maybe that would be a good solution for me, as well.
But then self doubt crept in. I went for tests and consults and talked to dieticians and therapists and specialists. It was a constant onslaught of information, pokes, opinions and tests that, for the longest time, told me a whole lot of nothing. Doctors sent me to mental health therapists despite me already seeing a psychologist. I was told to just think more positive, to lose weight, and that there was nothing wrong with me. I was “just depressed”, according to the neurologist that read my CT scan my GP had ordered to check for a brain bleed. People I cared about started to question the legitimacy of my complaints, and I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe it was really all in my head. Maybe I really was just lazy. Maybe all I needed to do was lose weight. Am I really that messed up? Why can’t I just shake this off?
Imposter syndrome typically references people who feel inadequate or who have failed despite having well-earned accomplishments. It is also a phenomenon felt frequently by many people, especially those who do not have support, regarding their illness or disability.
In my case, however, I had supportive friends and family who helped me sort it out. They reminded me that I had always kept busy and have never been one to sit around, or sleep in. I had always been a morning person. They knew something wasn’t right when I started sleeping in and making so many impractical mistakes in my work. I had also stopped taking part in many of my interests and hobbies. It just wasn’t like me. I spoke with my psychologist about it, who validated my concerns and agreed that something wasn’t right. He assured me that it was not in my head. He had encounters with other patients who had similar experiences within the medical community and he was able to help me navigate my uncertainties in order to self advocate for my health.
I am lucky to have had that support. So many people don’t.
I had brought up the idea of a service dog with my internist, who thought it was a great idea. And so I started on the journey. While looking for a prospect, however, I had days of doubt. Do I really need a service dog? Maybe I can make do with other tools, instead. I can still walk so I am not really disabled, am I? Bending over shouldn’t make THAT much of a difference. And besides, what if I come to rely on the dog too much and I lose the ability to do the things it does for me? I had learned in my yoga teacher training class that the muscles you don’t use, you lose. So maybe I should keep using those in order to keep them from degenerating. I was essentially gaslighting myself. I didn’t believe that I deserved to have the help, and struggled with the realization that I needed help to begin with. I learned about imposter syndrome and realized I was essentially self-sabotaging myself.
Time passed. We found a great candidate and started training. I struggled with the self-deprecating thoughts less and less as Tzila progressed. Her and I became a stronger team once we established a bond and basic communication. Now if I drop something, she jumps up and gets it for me, she gets a cookie and praise as thanks and we carry on with our day. It’s just a normal event now. I have made progress with my health struggles and my diagnoses, I have found solutions in diet, rest and medications that have all helped. Now and again I wonder if this progress has been enough to no longer require my service dog anymore. Maybe I’ve improved enough to do these things on my own, and we don’t need to take her training any further. Maybe I’m more capable of what I used to be able to do. Or maybe I’m a bit too optimistic, as I have recently proven.
I have progressed to a point that I can maintain quite well, but I am nowhere near the life I used to have. I keep the house clean, keep my family fed, groom the dog and we regularly go for careful walks. She comes with me to get groceries and run errands and helps whenever she’s needed. This routine has been working well, and I find I have more energy to be more productive. Breaking that routine does have consequences and usually causes a full body meltdown, but resting is the usual solution to that.
There are means to help disabled people live what is considered a normal life. Sometimes those tools look like coping mechanisms, or mobility devices, or medications, or animals that can do the things their handlers can’t do. By using these tools, disabled people have an easier time navigating their day and can do more without the same struggle as they’d have without these tools. It’s common for people to stop taking a medication because they don’t feel they need it anymore. They start to regress when they stop the medication, however, because it had been working. This same concept often applies to the tools we use for daily routines.
I say this to people often: don’t fix what’s not broken. I’m bad at taking my own advice, however.
I was given the opportunity to go to a dog show for a couple of days with Caroline. Generally, I should have been able to rest and recover well enough to get through the next day. The shows are not yet open to the public, and it was questionable if Tzila could come with us, so I left her at home with my husband. She still has some work to do to ignore other dogs anyways. The dogs at the show may have been too much of a distraction for her to be able to work, and I would have been training her instead of being able to help. The couple of days away from home and dog gave me a chance to assess where I’m at, and to test my abilities to function on my own.
I can say without a doubt that the tools I use to help me through the day are a huge benefit, and they help me preserve energy for other tasks. One of Tzila’s most frequently used tasks is picking items up for me, because bending over affects my blood pressure enough that I experience presyncope every time. Each of those events takes a lot out of me, and I haven’t experienced just how much in a long time because I have a wonderful helper that negates the need for me to experience it. She wasn’t with me though, so I had a firm reminder of how much she helps.
I couldn’t believe how exhausted I was while away from home. My pain levels were through the roof, my fatigue was worse than usual, I was getting dizzier the longer I was away and all I wanted to do was lay down. This wasn’t normal for me (my “new” normal, I mean, not my old one). There were many factors to consider, and they all had an impact.
In my case, the tools I use to operate normally all make small differences. Nothing has given me the life I had before I got sick, but everything helps me get just a little closer to it. I’ll take every inch I can get. In the 48 hours I was away, I realized just how much all of those tools help me to function, and how useless I become without them. It was a validating experience to prove to me that, yes, I do need those tools and yes, they do help me function and yes, I deserve to improve my quality of life by using the means available to me.
I shouldn’t need to justify those means to anyone, especially to myself, but imposter syndrome is a problem. Moreso for those unaware of it.
People generally don’t fake being sick. They fake being well, because so many other people have convinced them that there’s nothing wrong with them, so they push through without complaint in order to avoid the medical stigma that so many people face.
One day, science will catch up with us and will hopefully have some better solutions for us.
In the meantime, I will use the instruments I need in order to sustain the better quality of life that I deserve. And I will remind others that they, too, deserve quality of life. No one has room to deal with imposter syndrome when it’s a struggle to do the basic tasks most people don’t even think about performing. You deserve better.
My dog helps me in ways that even I couldn’t imagine she ever would. I am so grateful for her.
Krystal is a purveyor of personal poor life choices, a lover of coffee and takes way too many photos of her dog but will never admit it. Laughter is the best coping mechanism which is probably why she laughs at herself when she forgets where she puts the spoon she’s holding in her hand. You’ll find her bio in the “About Us” section.