Pass me while seated in a restaurant or an aisle seat on a plane and chances are you'll see me as most do at first glance: a tomboy, late teens to early twenties, average build, and a little on the shorter side at a bit over 5'5''. A mix of Scandinavian and western European, pale complexion with brown freckles, bluish-gray eyes and slightly curly brown hair. In other words, a normal individual just out of their teen years. Take another look though, and you might notice a carved wooden cane propped up next to me. You might even give me more than a passing glance as I use that cane to help myself get up out of my seat and walk with it close to my side, curious as to what a 20-year-old dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and jeans ripped at the knees could possibly need a walking aid for. You might even see me brush up against a wall or stumble off a curb as I begin to cross into a parking lot. Stop to have a conversation with me however, and you'll find out that there is a lot more to me than the small things you may notice on the outside.
My name is Marit. I am a freelance artist from California, currently living in North Carolina. I suffer from a congenital skull base malformation and dysautonomia, as well as cervical spine straightening, chronic fatigue, nerve damage and hip joint instability. While some days are better than others, I constantly live with the challenges presented to me due to symptoms such as constant body and neck pain, extreme fatigue, balance impairment, syncope, disorientation, dizziness, temporary vision loss and weakness upon standing or standing stationary for more than a few minutes, difficulty walking on patterned, uneven or slanted ground, loss of peripheral vision, sensory problems, visual disturbances, weakness, hand tremors and slight loss of dexterity, muscle spasms, slight numbness on the right side of my body, attention deficit, short term memory loss, mild verbal and written dyslexia, delayed mental reflexes, random nerve pain, chest tightness, numb spots and burning sensations, spontaneous vertigo, nystagmus, depth perception loss, sensitivity to light, hearing loss, nausea, digestive problems, restless legs, breath holding, sleep disturbances, hip and leg pain, and occasional crippling back and abdominal pain episodes...in short, I have a lot of chronic pain, can't stand stationary for very long, have trouble navigating through my surroundings, and bump into things a lot. Over the past three years or so, these symptoms have begun to worsen, and while my exact prognosis is unknown, are expected to continue worsening over the course of my life.
It took some fifteen years for me to finally be diagnosed with a skull base malformation and dysautonomia. While I have yet to find a medication that can raise my blood pressure enough to help the orthostatic intolerance stemming from the dysautonomia, upon traveling to New York in mid-2009 in order to pursue treatment of my skull base malformation I was informed that, despite having been told that corrective surgery was possible when diagnosed in 2005, there is no surgical intervention that can be performed for my case. Needless to say, I went home confused, depressed, and without a clue as to what to do next.
A few months later, a family friend suggested I look into service dogs. I'd known about guide dogs, hearing dogs, and emotional support dogs, but the term "service dog" was entirely new to me. After clicking through a few search results and getting a general idea of what a service dog was, I figured it wouldn't hurt to research the idea further. I soon posted a thread on an online service dog discussion board, and was excited to learn how a few of it's members with similar health problems benefited from their service dogs, as well as how one may be able to help me. I came up with a list of tasks that would benefit me, and before long, began looking into organizations in my area. This turned out to be a bit of a challenge due to the fact that I'd benefit from both guide dog tasks and service dog tasks, and no organizations I came across could train both. However, after further searching through the Delta Society's website, I eventually came across Pro-Train, a center in Vista, CA that trains dogs for multiple disabilities. Since I was staying at my parents' residence in California for the holidays at the time, I scheduled and attended an interview at the facility. After about 2 hours of discussion, we worked out a list of tasks I'd need the dog to perform, and the cost of training one for my case.
Since I think I've made this entry long way too long already, I'll write about what a trained service dog could do to help me in my next entry. So...I guess it could be said that in creating this blog, I am beginning my efforts to work toward a service dog. I realize it's going to be a huge endeavor, but I know it will be worth it to gain a companion who could help better my life. Plus, y'know, I'm sure my boyfriend is tired of being my service human by now...