My PSDit Joey

Monday, April 25, 2016

Hospitalization: Part 1

A major part of my mental health journey occurred between June and December of 2013. During this time, I was hospitalized 5 times, spending nearly 3 months total in the hospital. Since my psychiatric disorder was so sudden and severe, I had to have multiple tests done, medication adjustments, and diagnostic evaluations. For a long time, I kept that part of my story private. Only my close friends, close family, and therapists knew. I thought if people found out, they would make judgments, avoid speaking to me, or change their minds about the kind of person I am.

I joined a writing group in the fall of 2015 called the TMI Project where we wrote about the stories in our lives that we were afraid to tell. It was the first time I was opening up to people about the subject. The night before the public reading of our pieces, I got really nervous. I said to my mom, "People might think I'm a loser." She replied, "Allie, people will think you're a hero." From that moment, I knew that my story could help others.

So many are afraid to seek help because they are ashamed, scared, or afraid of what people might think of them. I have been in many hospital settings, and I can promise that it is not what most would think of when they picture a mental hospital. I was once writing a piece about my experience and Google image searched "mental hospital," and the images that came up were terrifying; they looked like they were from a nightmare. I thought back to the months I was inpatient and couldn't think of a single time that I witnessed anything like I saw in these pictures. When people think of a mental hospital, most of the aspects they would describe are either from a horror movie or the methods practiced 100 years ago or across the world. It's now 2016, and we need to update our ideas and opinions about mental hospitals.

I've been a patient in several hospital environments. I have been in an outpatient program, spent a week at a small private mental hospital, stayed at a local hospital in the psychiatric unit, and even at the best mental hospital in the country on the most secured and monitored floor. These experiences changed the way I thought about mental illness. These people are there because they need help, just like someone would be in a hospital for help with a physical illness. As a person who went through it, I feel like I can tell the truth, dispel the myths, and open peoples' mind about mental hospitals. It could end up helping those afraid to seek help and those looking for acceptance and support during a difficult time.

I will be writing about different parts of my experience in separate posts. The subject is vast, and there are many topics and events that I'd like to share and provide insight about. Please stay tuned!

Mental illness doesn't discriminate. Neither should you.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Feeling the fire again

Before mental illness, I had no problem speaking up for myself or for a loved one if I felt we were being mistreated. For the past couple years, I had lost that confidence. Last Friday, I surprised myself when I felt some of that fire coming back.

My service dog Joey and I had just left therapy and were meeting my cousin Ellen for lunch at a fast food restaurant that we go to often. Fast food restaurants tend to be a triggering place for me. Joey had been there before, more than 5 times, and he knew exactly what to do; when we picked out our table, he quietly tucked under the table at my feet.

As I was taking out my wallet, the manager of the restaurant approached us. I wasn't alarmed or suspicious because people come up to compliment Joey whenever we are out. To my surprise, he asked if he could see Joey's service dog certification. I was taken off guard but explained that service dogs don't have a certification. Service dogs are trained to do tasks catered to their handlers, so there isn't a certain test they have to pass because they all have unique jobs. There are actually many website that charge a fee to "register" your dog as a service dog, but the paper isn't an actual legal document.

The manager was persistent and said everyone with a service dog shows him a registration card. I repeated myself that service dogs don't require paperwork. He disagreed and told me that at his training, he learned the handlers MUST show a certification. I tried to stay calm as two couples eating their lunches looked at us. Instead of just correcting him again, I told him that under The Americans with Disabilities Act, he could only legally ask me 2 questions:  (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

He didn't bother to actually ask me these questions. He could see that my cousin and I were extremely frustrated, and he said, "I'll let it slide this time." I was shocked. Let what slide? I wasn't doing anything wrong; HE was wrong. At that point, Ellen calmly asked if she could speak with him outside. I honestly don't know what she told that manager, but he came back in avoiding contact with me and the other customers. Thank you for the back-up Ellen! He did later apologize and said he was only doing what he was taught.

I stayed calm in the restaurant and enjoyed my salad with my cousin. As soon as I got in the car, I called my mom, and several friends, to explain what happened. My mom later called the restaurant's corporate office to report the situation and make sure they knew the law, so it wouldn't happen to anyone else. The office quickly responded and apologized, and said the manager wasn't trained through them. They are aware of the law and promised to make sure every manager knows exactly what to do when a service dog comes into the restaurant. I've chosen not to disclose which restaurant it was because of their thoughtful response.

Rather than become angry either in the restaurant or on social media, I want to make this an opportunity for education. People, especially those in leadership positions, need to know the laws about service dogs. I was fortunate that I was in a good mental state that day and had someone there to support me. Had it happened several months ago, or even now on a difficult day, I wouldn't have known what to do, and it could've triggered a horrible and long-lasting feeling for me. I think of those who are in that position and wouldn't be able to stand up for themselves. Having an "invisible illness" and a service dog can draw a lot of stares, questions, and skeptics. We need to make the world a more understanding and compassionate place.

-Allie (and Joey)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Lick Stigma!

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines stigma as, “a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.” For those living with mental illness, stigma is a part of everyday life.  The myths and stereotypes associated with mental health issues are harmful and create barriers in virtually every aspect of society. Stigma generates problems for one’s social life, education, professional life, medical treatment, and finances. This discrimination is based on false beliefs society has about those with psychiatric disorders. When people become more educated about mental illness, stigma will diminish.

Throughout my battle with mental illness, I’ve received some alarming comments and questions, sadly some even from medical professionals:

“You don’t look like someone with mental illness.”

“Are you just hormonal?”

 “Is it boyfriend problems?”

“Just stop worrying so much.”

“Do you have an addiction problem?”

“I’d never go to therapy. People would think I’m crazy.”

“You were in a mental hospital? Were people tied to beds?”

“Why do you have a service dog if you don’t have a real disability?”

“You’ll get over it eventually.”

Stigma is not just an excuse people with mental illness use when they don’t get what they want or feel something isn’t fair. It’s a real issue. I shouldn’t have to feel ashamed when people ask why I couldn’t just finish college. I shouldn’t have to be embarrassed to tell people that I’m not able to work right now. I shouldn’t have to worry that I will never get married. I shouldn’t be afraid that I might get denied a job, medical attention, housing, or fair treatment under the law because of what other people think about the state of my mental health. There needs to be a change.

Why Lick Stigma?

Two things I’m passionate about are the quest to end mental health stigma and my psychiatric service dog, Joey. I wanted to combine these two passions and create a way to educate about service dogs AND end stigma. To lick means to “beat” or to “defeat,” and of course, what word is better for a dog than lick? So Lick Stigma represents my mission to spread awareness and defeat mental health stigma.

I will use it as a slogan for some Joey-related products, as a hashtag on social media pages, and on his new Twitter account @LickStigma. A way you can support the cause is by using the hashtag #LickStigma on social media!

Joey and I thank you for joining us on this journey. We can change how the world thinks about mental health issues and create better lives for everyone touched by mental illness. Lick Stigma!
Please check out my newest video if you haven't already: Allie's Story

Monday, April 11, 2016


"Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another." -Alfred Adler

One of the most valuable traits a person can have is empathy. Being able to share and understand in another's feelings can have powerful effects. When you can feel what he or she feels, it leads to a having a better grasp on what that person is going through. This makes it easier to help, support, or encourage a person going through a hard time or a person who is sharing their happiness.

If you have ever watched a movie with me, you'd know that 99% of the time, I cry at the end. Whether they are tears of sorrow after Titanic or tears of joy at the end of Babe, movies always make me emotional. My ability to empathize has made me who I am. I'm a person my friends go to with problems or conflicts. I don't just listen to what they are saying; I give advice because I can feel their pain or anger. In college, I had a job as a writing tutor. My empathy helped me because I was able to feed off of their feelings of either joy or frustration. I would never change this quality about myself.

Although my empathy has helped me, it has also made life more difficult. Sometimes I feel things so deeply that it fuels my anxiety. I have a hard time watching the news because even an event that happened across the world can feel like it happened to me. Sad stories touch me to a point that I can't think about my own life. I feel fear when I hear that others are in danger. When I see someone being embarrassed, I feel embarrassed, and that memory will stay with me for years. These issues are exhausting when I can't go online, listen to the radio, or read an article without being exposed to negativity. Sometimes "ignorance is bliss" is better for my mental health.


Monday, April 4, 2016

Stepping out of my comfort zone

"A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there." -Unknown

I found this quote yesterday and immediately loved it. Right now, my life is about pushing myself and working hard to achieve my dreams. Since my mental health has been in a good state recently, I feel that I'm able to venture outside my comfort zone.

On the other hand, when my mental health isn't as stable, it is best for me to stay inside my comfort zone and put my health over my work. I instead need to avoid stressful or triggering situations. I feel that people with mental health issues need to have days when they can recover and recharge. It's important to be able to identify these days because taking a break when they need it will help them in the long-run: mentally, emotionally, and physically.

I reflected on March, when my mental health was generally stable and in a good state. I worked hard and really pushed myself beyond my comfort zone, and it resulted in being offered some amazing opportunities, which I am proud to finally announce. In May, I will be travelling to Buffalo with the TMI Project to read a piece about my mental health journey in front of a couple hundred people and assist in a writing workshop. I also recently found out that a different piece I wrote about my story will be a part of a major publication. I feel so honored to be a contributor to both of these inspiring projects.

When my college degree was put on hold when I developed my psychiatric disorder, my heart was broken. I thought that I would never be able to accomplish what I wanted in life. I'm finally realizing that my worth does not depend on a degree. My dreams are bigger now than they ever were. Never let someone tell you that you can't reach your goals. Never stop believing in yourself. Never give up. You are powerful!