I'm so excited to introduce you to Brook who is a service dog trainer and fibromyalgia warrior. I came across her story one day when I was scrolling through Instagram where I stumbled on @TheServiceFloof account. After reading just a couple of posts, I was hooked on her adventures with her dogs Nira & Pierce and her willingness to vulnerable during flare-ups.
Her story is one I know you will enjoy, so let's dive into the interview now shall we?
Thank you for chatting with us today. Before we get started, can you introduce yourself, Nira and Pierce and what your relationship is like with each of these service floofs?
"Hi everyone! My name is Brook and I have a service dog and a service dog in training. Nira is my service dog. Pierce is my SDiT. Nira is my heart and soul dog. She and I are inseparable. Pierce is getting there but that’s what the training is for!"
Pierce is new to service dog training, while Nira has been a fully trained service dog for a while now. Can you explain what the transition is like for a dog to go from 'in training' to a 'fully certified service dog'?
"So the difference between “in training” and fully trained is kind of up to the handler! At minimum to be a service dog the dog must provide one or more tasks to mitigate the handler’s disability, have basic manners, and be housebroken.(according to the federal law regarding service dogs “ADA”) However, most handlers hold their dogs to much higher standards. For example, Nira is not allowed to sniff things, take treats from strangers, or interact with other people. An important thing to note here is that there is no legal certification for service dogs! All the licenses you see online are fake."
When were you first diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and can you share what the journey looked like for you from the first time you experienced symptoms to finally learning what was wrong?
"I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia at 20 years old. It was a long and arduous process. I’d been experiencing pain for years and visited specialists that determined it was “growing pains”. As this pain persisted (along with all the other symptoms) I grew hopeless and stopped trying to help myself. Then, as my mental health declined, I saw a therapist who saved my life. She convinced me to seek treatment again and that led me through several tests, incorrect diagnoses, and eventually one doctor who actually helped me. She helped me understand that there is a childhood form of fibromyalgia and that it can be triggered by PTSD or extreme trauma. I was raised in an abusive household so finally all the pieces fit together."
Managing chronic pain looks different for everyone and can look different from day-to-day. What helps you manage not only the pain, but also the brain fog and other related symptoms that fibro has?
"I manage my chronic pain with medication as well as a healthy diet, exercise, and managing my mental illnesses. Because my mind physically manifests my psychological stress and pain, managing my mental health is critical to reducing my physical pain. I experience other symptoms such as fatigue, muscle spasms, sleep disturbance, and brain fog. With all symptoms I have good and bad days. It’s important for me to recognize that it’s okay to have those days and allow my body to rest."
How do Nira and Pierce help you manage your day-to-day life?
"Nira has many tasks that allow me to navigate every day life. She calms me down during anxiety attacks, watches my back when I turn around which allows me to be less hyper vigilant. She alerts me to severe migraine episodes. She performs nightmare interruption and retrieves and reminds me to take medication as well. Pierce is in the process of learning to do all of these things! This is not a comprehensive list but rather a general idea of what Nira can do."
What advice would you share with those who are considering seeking the help of a service animal?
"If I could give any advice it would be to read the Americans with Disabilities act and then budget. Can you afford the care and upkeep of a dog? Working dogs require regular vet care and lots of training. A fully trained dog from a program can cost upwards of $20,000 normally. Can you afford that? Service dogs should be predictable and genetically healthy so you’ll want a dog bred for the tendencies you’re looking for. Can you handle owner training? Are you capable of keeping the dog if it isn’t able to be a service dog? Can you afford to hire a trainer? Once you have answered all these questions then you should reach out to a handler you know or google search and read more about tasks and training. This is always my first step."
For those who don't believe in invisible illness or mental health issues, what do you wish you could say to them?
"If you question that these invisible illnesses exist, maybe ask yourself why you feel the need to prove their existence. People can see I use a cane and a service dog. People who paid attention could see winces of pain, hyper vigilance, stuttering, dropping things, skin picking and scratching. People who look beyond the bare minimum of superficial could see my intense lack of self confidence and my self doubt. However, we are told not to pry into personal lives or bother people. “That’s not your business” or “they’re probably fine” or “someone’s more qualified or knows them better who can deal with that”. No illness is invisible. You just have to care enough to look. If you don’t believe invisible illness exists, you are just not paying attention."
All photos were provided by Brook. Follow her journey over at @TheServiceFloof. We'd love to hear if you utilize a service dog or an emotional support animal as part of your care. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!