Friday, February 2, 2018

Welcome to the Good Place

**If you want to watch the show The Good Place, do not read this blog post as there are spoilers throughout the post.**

We have been watching The Good Place on Netflix and have realized that you really don’t need to die to experience the phenomenon in this show, it is all around us.  Everyone has heard the saying that college is the best 4 years of your life.  Let’s just say that we don’t agree with this statement. The person that came up with college is the best four years of your life was not trying to get through an accelerated medical program while managing multiple disabilities.
When you tour a college and look at a school they talk about the opportunities found on campus. There are many degrees, beautiful buildings, and organizations for students to engage in and become well rounded leaders. Similarly, the brochure is diverse and always shows students studying on a sunny lawn. I have never once seen a student studying on the lawn at this school (I have seen people sleeping, and watching Netflix, but never studying). Similarly, the website talks about all the wonderful accommodations that are available for students with disabilities. The reality is that there is one person in the disability office, there is no wheelchair accessible single room, and even if there was a wheelchair accessible single that student would not be able to get to any of the classrooms. That is NOWHERE on the school’s website. They show images of students smiling in while having a discussion with a professor who is smiling next to them.  It’s not all smiles when you are called in to a professor’s office to talk about your grades, or what was wrong with your paper.  More often than not, when a student is called to talk to a professor they are terrified. Also, the dining hall food looks amazing online, and during the tours you think it is amazing.  In reality, we are eating the same 3 mediocre meals, and let me tell you it gets old really fast.
The campus is beautiful, there is no denying that. This is why we call our school the fake good place. In a picture when everybody is on the lawn or walking to class they all look happy, but that is not the case. When you start talking to people in the pictures you find out their story. You are likely to hear things like ….
“I am exhausted, I only got four hours of sleep last night”
“I am behind on my homework because I have a full time job to help pay for school”
“I am close to failing my class”
“I don’t have time to go to a study group because I commute two hours a day because    I can’t afford to live on campus”
“The professor doesn’t understand that I am trying”
“I am too ashamed to ask for help, the professor thinks this material is easy, and my classmates understand it”
“I am never going to be able to get a job”
“How am I going to pay back my student loans?”
The list goes on and on
Now, if you have seen the show The Good Place, you know that there is something few know about the neighborhood.  While is looks sunny, and happy, it is actually something else entirely.  It is The Bad Place in disguise, where everything beautiful causes the residents pain and suffering.  While you may now be thinking we are overly dramatic for comparing our college campus to essentially hell, we would like to show some similarities.  

1.     Students are told that everyone is supported in their learning, however, students are constantly academically put against each other for things like graduation cords, honors society, and even a spot to remain in the program.
2.     Students are told that being different is okay, but are failed immediately if they are not good at taking multiple choice tests, or cannot do an essay exam.
3.     Students are told that it is okay to have a disability, but if a student is in a wheelchair they can not get anywhere on campus.  Forget going to certain floors of the building, or visiting friends in the dorms, but technically they are welcome so this is all forgivable in the eyes of the school.
4.     Students are told that their dorm room is going to be amazing, but in reality it is a small room with a broken heater, a leaky sink, and stained curtains.  Forget being able to use the bathroom when you want, because the people you share with are always in there.
5.     Students are told that it is important to find a balance and space out their studying, yet teachers do things like put three midterms all on the same day. Forget balance, when you have to save your GPA. That is when students chug coffee, stay up all night, and in some cases even abuse drugs like adderall. This is because we are told our grades are the most important thing in the world.
6.     Students are ranked by GPA and rewarded when they are at the top, but the reality is that the students on the top have anxiety disorders and go to great lengths to be the best because they think if they get a C the sky will fall. This encourages dangerous habits, and in reality leads in to why college students have such a high rate of mental illness. While teachers say anxiety is bad, their actions are rewarding the students willing to abuse their bodies to succeed in school.
7.     Students are told it is okay to make mistakes, but when they do make mistakes they get punished. For example, many college students drink before they are 21. On some college campuses there is a get home safe rule where students are given amnesty for being drunk as long as they get home safe. This is to encourage students to talk to authority if they friend needs medical attention and to try and prevent assault. At this campus if a student is drunk before they are 21 they have to face the conduct board get written up, and can face further punishment. This leads students to try to hide their friends when they are drunk, even if their friend needs immediate medical attention. This is dangerous because students can die from alcohol poisoning because they were to afraid to get in trouble with the school

            While college looks all happy, in reality there is something darker underlying.  We immediately started drawing comparisons between the “fake” Good Place, and our campus.  This is because as students we are oftentimes not told the whole truth, both when applying and after we get in. I (Nemo) was so excited to go to college, but the stress and competition has made me much sicker than I could have ever imagined.  At first, we both believed that we were in this happy, and exciting place, however overtime we discovered that it was all a facade.  What we thought was something great, and amazing, was actually the opposite.  Now, you may not be in college, but the idea is universal.  There might be something, or somewhere that you think is much more evil than it looks, but no one else sees it.  Know that you are not alone.  Also, if we are still talking about the show, if we have to be in the fake good place, can we please get a Good Janet here, because that would definitely be a appreciated.

Monday, January 29, 2018

College Survival Tip #5: Service Dog in a Dorm

Having a service dog live in the dorm is something that has NEVER happened on our college campus before.  As one professor stated, Nemo is the “trailblazer,” but being the trailblazer can come at a cost. One cost is that almost everybody in the dorm is afraid to ask about the dog because they think it is a hostage situation and that I am hiding him from the RAs. If that were true I would be doing a TERRIBLE job. My door has a picture of the dog as well as a beware of my friendly dog sign. Similarly, the first thing I did when moving into the dorm was introduce the dog to both RA’s. He got his own name tag (Thanks RAs). Similarly, I take him to every class so every teacher (I have) also knows that he is on campus.

Items you need to successfully keep a dog in your dorm room.

  1. A crate - Sometimes you just have to. For example, if I have to go to fieldwork, I need a place to leave him. Also, it gives him a place to call his own. Now, he doesn’t sleep in there, but it still is a place that he enjoys hanging out in from time to time.  
  2. Make sure that people know there is a dog in the room - In this case, there is a sign, picture, and name tag stating that there is a dog in the room.  Also, he was introduced during the hall meeting, so people knew that he was allowed to be there.  If people know that there is a dog in the room, people know that a bark is normal. Also, they tend to be a little bit quieter than they are in other areas of the hall, because they know that a large dog (with an even bigger bark) lives there.  
  3. A toy to fill with peanut butter or another treat that your dog loves - This is very important for when you have a lot of homework or want to leave your dog in the crate in the room alone.
  4. Have a room that gives your dog space to move, or have his own space - Your service dog needs space.  If your room is too small, they will not have room to move, and be a dog.  Not saying that they need room to sprint, but enough so they are not cooped up when they are home.
  5. Dog bones - Your service dog needs a treat too at the end of the day.  This can keep him/her busy when you are doing homework, or even provide them some entertainment.  Just make sure that they know the limits of
  6. Dog food and bowls - This one is pretty straight forward, dogs are alive and therefore eating and drinking is a must if you want your new dorm friend to stay alive. 
    7. Interactive  Toys - These are important for when you have a lot of homework and don't have time to spend with the dog. This can be any toy that your dog can entertain themselves with for a substantial amount of time. It is different for each dog. For secret agent puppy he has prefilled bones which he will chew on for hours. I personally get the filled Redbarn bones as he can not break the bone and will spend hours on end trying to get the filling out. Similarly they come pre-filled which makes my life much easier. 
    8Dog bed - While secret agent puppy is needy (and by needy, I mean he wants love 24/7) and thinks he is to good for a dog bed it is important that he has a place to be alone. This is a place where he can chew on his bone as they are not allowed in my bed. By no means does he sleep here because again he is very needy but for a normal dog this would be a great place for them to sleep.
    9.Service Dog Gear - Everybody loves to see a dog on campus, however, when he is working he needs to be focused on me. A vest or his mobility harness is very important because it shows that he is working and therefore is not here for being a pet.  
    10. Friends - While this is not in your room, it is very important to have supportive friends who you trust to watch your dog. Sometimes you need to leave your dog even if it is just for 2 minutes. When I have to leave my dog to do something like run out of the classroom I always leave him with Tremors.

While I love my dog very much and it is really nice to have him living on campus it does take a lot of work. Just like with anything else you get out what you put in, and being prepared will make having a dog in your dorm much easier. There is not always a lot of room in a dorm so it is important to have toys that can be used in a small space but still require a lot of mental energy.

For all of you out there being a trailblazer, with or without a service dog

-Nemo, Tremors and Secret Agent Puppy

Friday, January 19, 2018

Four Paws In The Dorm

              I am officially back at school and so is secret agent puppy. He has taken to college life like a pro, although he was raised on a college campus so he really is a pro. Aside from everybody loving him because he is cute, fun loving, and a dog, he does a lot everyday to earn his spot. While people think  am taking my dog because I felt like getting a pet, the truth is, he is the reason I got to come back from medical leave and can go to class.  He has always proven how valuable he is and this week has been no different, in fact he has even stepped it up a notch. I think he knows without my mom I will try to break the rules (he is having none of it).
             When I drop something he picks them up because I can't. He braces when my heart rate spikes and I could pass out. He lays across me when my joints hurt to provide warmth and pressure. He tells me when I forget my pills which is good unless I am working on major denial. He opens doors with the handicap button when every joint hurts. He closes doors and drawers when I can't get out of bed. He braces when I forget that I can't shouldn't get on the floor because I can't get up. Aside from doing all of this he is also my best friend and just makes college a whole lot better.
        The first time that he really saved me this week when when I was in an 8AM class. He was in a perfect down stay as he should be until he got up and went to my side. He put his head on my lap and was staring in to my eyes. When I tried to put him back in to a down stay he wouldn't go. Instead he tried to nudge me and when I wasn't listening he started nudging tremors who was sitting next to me. Not even five minutes later the room went fuzzy, I started spasming and I felt like I was going to pass out. My HR was sky high. With his warning I knew 1. DON'T GET UP, and 2. TAKE YOUR MEDS. That whole class he sat between our two chairs nudging the chair legs and staring up. With the water I was able to bring my HR down, but now I know the second he gets up to nudge me that it is time to take meds and drink water.
           The second time he saved me this week he wasn't even on duty. It was 11:30 at night and I was taking him outside to go to the bathroom. Going down the stairs was fine but coming up was not as great. I got approximately four steps up when he stopped dead in his tracks. When I stopped because I couldn't move without him I realized I could feel my heart in my throat and it was racing. I sat down and eventually when I got up he went one stair at a time with no direction providing support even as people passed. We had to stop four times walking up one flight of stairs. When I got up my heart rate was 120, it is usually in the 40's or 50's. When we got back to the room he closed the door picked my shoes up and wouldn't leave me to do anything until I was in bed. This is why he is allowed to live in the dorm, he may be cute and cuddly but he is my lifeline, and now that my mom isn't here he is also my babysitter making sure I don't break the rules. Unfortunately he is not afraid to tattle.
               Most people think puppy works all day but that could not be farther from the truth. He is a typical college student in a dorm, he works hard and he plays hard. The only difference is that he also gets to sleep hard. I spend hours doing homework while he is sleeping and chewing on a stuffed doughnut, I would be totally fine to switch places as long as it was a real doughnut. My theory is if he can be a college student I can turn a toy doughnut into a real one. He helped decorate the room (thats why his picture is everywhere). He went to the dorm meeting and greeted everybody living on the second floor, one of which even gave him the stuffed doughnut he chews on all day. He sleeps in a dorm bed (not his bed). I got a single but I don't get a bed, he took it. He wakes up for 8AM classes, and then sleeps through them like the rest of us. He enjoys class break time aka he gets up and greets EVERYBODY. He goes to the dining hall where waits for someone to drop food and hope I don't say leave it. He is even the new TA for lab. Most importantly, he sleeps all day on the weekends. He is a true sleep deprived college student and it is only week one.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Being a Chronically Ill College Student

Now, if you have been on our blog before, you know that we are college students, and often talk about college life. Today, we decided to do that once again. Specifically, addressing somethings people often do not think of when in college.

When you are chronically ill, some things just become a part of your everyday life.  Now, I’m not talking about pills, appointments, or restrictions.  I’m talking about the attitudes, and behavior changes.  I can’t tell you how many times Nemo and I have texted, or told each other how determined we are to get something done.  We have had multiple pep talks about graduating, and getting our degrees.  Going in depth about how we are going to let NOTHING stand in our way.  How our future is ours to make, and that we won’t let the doubters, or the administration get in our way.  To summarize the texts, it’s a lot of we can do this, and responses of hell yeah we can.
     Pretty much the whole world is doubting us.  We are two chronically ill twenty-something year old girls in an accelerated masters program.  That would make someone doubt the capabilities of a “normal” person.  For us, it becomes (at least) 10x harder.  They don’t think we will show up to class, because of our conditions.  What they don’t understand is that we show up all the time unless it is ER worthy, or sometimes the professors figure out we are trying to hide that the symptoms are actually ER worthy, and send us home.  No one thinks that we can actually complete our assignments on time, not realizing that we have completed many major assignments from a hospital bed.  All they see are our limitations.  They don’t stop to think of the positives we may have gained.  To them, there are no positives, only negatives.  We can think outside of the box, and we have unique points of view.  We know how to think like a patient, because we often are one.  Medical lingo is a second language to us, and we are not afraid to use it.  They don’t realize that we may be very on top of our work, or that we might be able to teach the whole class the topic since we studied so hard (or because we have lived it).  
     We are both extremely stubborn, and you can bet that this has made us become even more stubborn.  With everyone wanting to see us fail, we can’t help but want to prove them wrong.  While they see our limitations, we are determined to make them see what we can do.  

Just remember to show them you are more than capable, and that you can succeed


-Nemo, Tremors, and Secret Agent Puppy

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Service Dog and Medical Leave


               Even though I have spent a year on medical leave, I have been incredibly lucky. This year would have been much harder had I faced it alone, but I didn’t have to. A year ago I first met secret agent puppy. The most nerve-wracking time was flying across country to meet him for the first time. I was so anxious, worried that he wouldn’t like me, worried that his trainers wouldn’t like me. I wanted this to work so badly, because I desperately needed him more than anybody knew.
            I have been fighting with my conditions for the past twenty-three years and it gets tiring. There are days where it would be so easy to give up, and feeling alone while everybody else is living their life just makes the situation worse. Prior to considering a service dog I got sick enough to have to leave nursing school, move back home, drop classes in OT school, and was facing leaving school all together which eventually resulted in my year long medical leave. After many hospital stays and specialized clinics I was told that because of my combination of conditions there was nothing that could be done to improve my life. I was always going to be stuck living at home and would have to leave the house with my mom so that she could help with mobility should something dislocate.
            Even though we had to fly across the country to meet a dog, which may or may not become my service dog it was completely worth it because we had nowhere else to turn and I wanted to give up after loosing all my independence. Little did I know my life was going to majorly change after landing in Illinois for the first time.  We had no idea where we were and all of a sudden a college student that we had never met comes walking towards us with a perfectly behaved yellow lab. It was one of the best moments of my life because it offered that hope that had been taken away from me.
            Well needless to say this yellow lab is now secret agent puppy. I went from being pretty homebound to getting back out in the world. This year alone we have gone to Disneyland, Universal, Hollywood, Seattle, Texas, the California Redwoods, Alcatraz, Chicago, and all over the city. Now instead of staying in my house for a week at a time, I go out every day for most of the day. In January we are also going to be moving in to a dorm making secret agent puppy the first dog to ever live in the dorm and I can’t wait. Without the dog this year would have gone so differently. I definitely would not have had the courage to try and get specialized help for my conditions, nor would I have had the confidence to go out in the world when I am having a bad day which is isolating given my conditions are getting worse not better.

            Even my friends have noticed a difference. I spend a lot more time with them and am a lot happier because with secret agent puppy I know that he will help me when I need it so that I don’t have to constantly ask my friends. While they were always happy to help it is not fun to always feel like a burden, it was usually easier to just stay home. If I were told a year ago that by the end of the year I would be more active than I ever have in the past I would have walked away, but it just goes to show that there is always hope out there.