This weekend, Luna and I were featured in a New York Times article about flying with Emotional Support Animals. And I must confess that I was really nervous for the article to come out.
Why? Because ESAs in flight are a pretty controversial topic and I knew that there was a possibility that I’d draw some negative attention my way.
(And I did. Which reminds me, if you sent one of those delightful anonymous emails to let me know that I’m a twat, here’s a love song for you.)
In other words, I knew people might lash out at me. But I gave the interview anyway. Because I think it’s really important for a few people to stand up and be vulnerable. To try and create understanding and compassion. And to let others know that if they’re struggling, they aren’t alone.
This is why I talk so openly about having a therapist.
It’s why I share my deeply personal struggles and triumphs.
And it’s why I’ve started talking about Luna’s status as an ESA.
I didn’t do the interview to try and convince the skeptics that they should give up their crusade against dogs on planes (because trying to change the minds of skeptics about anything sounds less than fun).
I did it for the people who needed to hear someone say “Hey, I have and need an Emotional Support Animal. And it’s okay. Need help? You aren’t alone. You are valuable and worthwhile and you’re going to be okay. And whatever you need in order to be okay, be it medication, an empathic therapist, or a snuggly puppy, that’s okay too.”
Despite the controversy around the topic and despite the comment section (which you should just skip altogether), I hope that’s what you got out of my few lines in the story.
It’s okay not to be okay.
It’s okay to need help – in the form of a therapist, a dog, medication, whatever.
Have struggles? You can still have an amazing life.
And if someone is scoffing at you, belittling you, or brushing you off because you struggle with PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc., don’t forget: it’s not about you. It’s about them.
After all, empathy is tough for people.
In fact, I think it’s one of the difficult things about life…understanding that the experience is different for different people. Some of us struggle with depression; some don’t. Sometimes life is beautiful. Sometimes it is tragic. And if you’ve never had something happen to you, it’s really hard to imagine it.
And, yet, empathy is also incredibly important. Not only does it create connection between people, but it also increases our creativity, encourages curiosity, and, frankly, makes us more even-keel.
So, if that person isn’t empathizing with you? They’re actually missing out. On a lot.
Which is why, however hard it may be, try to remember that that negativity isn’t about you, to have a little empathy for the person who is taking their frustrations out on you, and to simply let it go.
Because admitting that you need help is strong. And so is extending grace to your enemies.
Finally, a couple clarifications from the article:
1) The ESA letter must state that you are under the care of the mental health professional who is issuing the letter. “Under the care of” implies that you have an ongoing relationship with said mental health professional and the airlines may choose to contact this person to confirm the validity of your letter. It is my understanding (and, granted, this is only based on personal experience and research) that the one-hour therapy session that results in a letter (which was mentioned in the article) wouldn’t fall within this rule.
2) ESAs are not, at this time, allowed in restaurants, grocery stores, etc. in the states. The only two special concessions made for them are for flights and housing. You can find more info here.
3) I also did the interview to let those who don’t need an ESA know that we aren’t all trying to scam you. We’re real people with real needs. And we care about your comfort too. Have an allergy, a fear of dogs, or some other concern? Ask politely and I bet the person would be happy to switch to another seat.