My PTSD Story - By Liam
I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at the ripe old age of nine. And having never heard of PTSD before, I did the obvious thing: I tried to figure out what exactly was wrong with me. I looked in my local library, I looked in bookstores, I even looked online— and you can find anything online. And I found nothing. Well, that isn't strictly true, I found plenty of resources about PTSD . . . In soldiers. Written in language that was most definitely not nine-year-old friendly. Even looking through all of that, I found precisely one book directed towards kids that was even remotely related to PTSD, and it was about "when daddy comes home from the war and he isn't the same." Not exactly helpful.
The truth is, people just don't talk about PTSD— or any mental health issues— in kids, as if ignoring the problem will make it go away. However, I think we can all agree that this strategy is completely useless. Not only does it not work (just because you don't talk about something doesn't mean it doesn't exist), it makes it even harder for those of us who do have these issues, as it means we can't find the information we need to best deal with this illness. We need to normalize talking about mental health and dealing with mental disabilities should they arise in people of all ages, which brings me to my next point: Service dogs. I received my service dog Einstein a month or two after I was released from the in-patient program where I received my official diagnosis.
We went through seven candidates before we found him, and against pretty much every statistic, he passed everything. However, as I came to learn, finding and training him wasn't the hard part: Having him was. Don't get me wrong, he is literally the reason I'm still alive today, and the process of locating and training him was certainly stressful, but being in middle school with a (roughly) 100-pound dog is its own brand of difficult. You see, to quote Men in Black of all things, "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals." There are some people in this world who are incredibly intelligent— whatever the reason, regardless of their age, they are simply far beyond the average. However, people as a group are, for the most part, less well-informed— the fact that a significant number of Americans believe that COVID is either a hoax or will magically disappear on its own can attest to that.
Additionally, I think we can all agree that adolescents and teenagers are not usually the most accepting of groups— if you say you look back fondly on your years in middle school, you're lying. And having a service dog makes this ten times worse. You won't necessarily get picked on more— if you have a larger dog, it may well have the opposite effect— but at best, you become "the kid with the dog." Suddenly, everyone pays attention to you, and most of them won't even have a clue what your name is. You're just "the kid with the dog." And unfortunately, this is equally true outside of a classroom— there was a several-year period where I couldn't leave the house without Einstein, and I couldn't take him anywhere without getting stopped, either by a store employee demanding that pets weren't allowed or by someone yelling "Look, a dog!"
It isn't anyone's fault, and being ignorant isn't a crime, but sometimes I just want to buy a gallon of milk without it taking almost an hour. Additionally, when you have a fluffier dog like Einstein, you run into another issue: Once people get over the shock of "OMG a dog" or "you can't have a dog in here," they are going to try and pet the dog. And I'm not just talking about my classmates— this happened with several of my teachers as well, not to mention random people when I'm out and about. It doesn't matter that his vest clearly states that he is working and people should ignore him (if you didn't know, you shouldn't pet a working dog because it can distract them so they aren't focused on their task, which can be a major problem if I have an issue right then).
It doesn't matter if I tell people multiple times that they can't pet him. A significant portion of the time, it doesn't even matter that it's common sense (which should really be renamed “un -common sense,” given how few people actually seem to have it) to ask before you try to pet a dog you don't know— and yet a lot of people have done that too. Something I find especially interesting about this is that children are usually way better with this than adults— there have been several occasions where a fully grown adult has argued with me for a good five minutes about how my telling them not to touch Einstein must mean he's dangerous, whereas every single child who's asked has accepted a simple "no," and then went on to explain to their parents that Einstein's a working dog. So what’s my point? I’m certain I had one when I began, but it must have wandered off at some point between then and now.
Thus, I’ll say this: Kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for, and they can understand a lot more than we think. It is imperative that we educate our youth on mental health and mental disabilities— I’m not saying put them through a psychology degree, just get people talking about these types of disabilities so that when a child is diagnosed with something like this, or they have a sibling or a friend who has it, they can understand it. So that they don’t need to worry about “what’s wrong with me” and about not having anyone who is able or willing to explain it to them. Especially with the pandemic, this is all the more necessary. With how widespread COVID has become, and how little we seem to be able to slow it down, far too many children either have lost someone or know someone who has, which can be an incredibly traumatic experience— especially when you’re younger and no one’s willing to explain to you what happened and why.
Additionally, there are children trapped in abusive, neglectful, or otherwise unsafe home environments who were teetering on the proverbial knife’s edge psychologically but now are without the escape from that environment school provided for them, or the friends and counselors that provided them with an emotional outlet. A mental health crisis is coming, and we are woefully unprepared.