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Haven: My Strength to Go On

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Being Diagnosed with Chronic Illness

At age fourteen, while out for what would be the last run of my life, I felt something very wrong. Everything changed with one simple step. After visiting several specialists, I was diagnosed with what doctors called snapping hip syndrome. There is a tendon that runs down each side of the body, connecting several joints (hips, knees, ankles) and plays a large role in simple activities. Every step that I took caused the tendon to snap over the head of my femur bone and snap back.

Months of physical therapy, failed surgeries, and ten years later, it spread to my other side and both snap on the inside and outside of the hip, along with chronic bursitis and tendonitis (both knees/ hips). Standing, walking, sitting, no matter what, it is all engulfed in pain. It is constant. It is relentless.  The last thing my doctor said to me was, “you are just going to have to learn to deal with it.” That was it. My life, my future plans, it all came crashing down.

What Chronic Pain Is Like

Chronic pain is chaos of body and mind. It is having no control. It is saying “I’m fine” but never meaning it. Countless people believe you are lying, all they see is a person that does not fit the mold of “sick.” Someone who has no choice but to be stronger than they feel, to lie rather than complain and be a burden to the world. It is missing out, feeling alone, and losing dreams. At twenty, my attitude was positive. I had been angry and depressed when my condition first became chronic, but realized that since I could not change my illness, I could only not allow it to consume me. I had to find my silver lining, the strength to go on, and live one day at a time. But when it started to get worse again I knew I needed help.

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Help is a Four-Legged Word

I had become a dog trainer while getting my bachelors degree. I wanted to train service dogs for others(and am still working towards this), far before I thought of training one for myself. My thoughts were on veterans coming home after giving their all for their country, and losing a part of themselves in the process. Service dogs were doing wonders for them, giving them their lives back, and allowing them to heal. I wanted to give back to these amazing men and women.

Haven Gave Me Strength

I decided to put myself to test as a trainer and hopefully improve my quality of life. Haven the Australian Shepherd came into my life in 2013. I knew the moment she came home that she was going to change my life. From day one, she never left my side. She was always aiming to please, and the happiest dog I had ever met.

I taught her to pick things up and give them to me, or place them in something like a laundry basket or trash can. I taught her to brace whenever I stopped walking, to give me support when I needed it. She lays on top of me for supportive pressure and comfort. She brings me my shoes and helps me get them off at the end of the day. I taught her to never leave me, and to lay across my feet in public. She opens and closes doors and drawers for me. I taught her to help me up when I fall or black out.

Haven taught me that life goes on. She taught me that no matter how much you lose or who hurts you, there is always a silver lining. I learned from her that there is always love to be found and life to enjoy. She taught me to let go, but never give up. I now live one day at a time, to stay the course no matter how rough the waters get because of her. She taught me there would always be someone to kiss away the tears on the worst days. She taught me patience and joy.

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Always A Safe Haven

Haven has never, ever let me down in the five years we have been partners. Bringing Haven into my life was like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche. Things began to change for the better, and though my pain has gotten worse, everything else in my life just began to go right. It felt like a beautiful twist of fate that I had needed for so long. I owe her my life.

Chronic pain with a service dog is never being told you’re not good enough. It is having a partner, with an unbreakable bond, no matter what and being able to do things you were not sure were possible before. I am able to experience unconditional love. Haven pushes me to ensure I am happy and healthy. It is about new experiences and being an advocate for yourself. It is courage and it is hope.

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One Day At A Time

To everyone struggling with a chronic illness, invisible or not, take heart. No matter how hard it gets, there is good in every day of this life, and it is worth fighting for. There are people that love you, they are worth fighting for. Let go of the negative thoughts, people, and things in your life. Hold on to what makes you happy, and the people who refuse to give up on you. Consider the service dog path, it will change your life. My own life would be so different without Haven. Most of all, remember to have patience, and be an advocate for yourself. We cannot control what others think or how they act, we can only control how we react. Keep moving forward, have faith in yourself, and never, ever give up. 

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By Sharon Bellingeri

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