I have an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). If you follow me on any social media, you've probably seen her, shes's a super cute black and white kitten named Presley. And yes I am very lucky that UT Martin allows ESA's on campus, but to clarify, I am not lucky I qualify. I am diagnosed with anxiety and depression, both affect my sleep, social life, academic performance, and ability to compete on an athletic team. I am on medication that can make me drowsy or hyperactive. I see a therapist once a week and a psychiatrist every couple of months. Sometimes there are days when I cannot find a reason to get out of bed and some days I am so anxious that it takes me hours to fall asleep.
And Presley helps. Not just because she's a cute kitten and cute kittens help everyone. She helps because she gives me a reason (no matter how small and insignificant to you) to get out of bed in the mornings because I have to feed her. She helps because when I can't slow my thoughts and breathing to study, sleep, or even just function the sole presence of another living, breathing creature has a calming effect.
ESA's are more than just cute little animals that run around your apartment or dorm room. They are more than just a cuddle buddy for when you are home sick. My ESA is a lifeline some days. So please think before telling me how lucky I am to get to have a kitten and how much you wish you could bring your pet from home to school. I wish I could bring all my pets from home and I wish you could too. But an Emotional Support Animal is more than a memento from home, she is a companion that provides benefit to an individual with a disability. I hesitate to use the word disability because it makes me personally feel incompetent, but the truth of the matter is I have an illness that prevents me from performing the normal functions of life without aid. Which leads into a different discussion of mental illnesses that I won't get in to here. But the point I am trying to get across is that for someone who has a mental illness, an ESA is more than just a pet.
Think before you tell someone how lucky they are to qualify as having a disability. I am not "lucky." So please don't trivialize my illness by telling me that I am.