My Emotional Support Strategy Isn't as Cute as a Puppy

My Emotional Support Strategy Isn't as Cute as a Puppy

By Don Hall

I have what some consider an unhealthy reliance on public nudity.

I’ve only been arrested twice, both for public nudity, but as I’ve grown older and learned to adapt to the mores of society, I tend to make my desire for an untethered existence of my privates private. In recent years, however, my anxiety (which, while undiagnosed, fits all of the Web MD criteria for General Anxiety Disorder) and deep, almost crippling insecurity is only abetted when I am publicly nude.

One could call my completely naked and unfurled parts an emotional support strategy and, according to my friend who is currently getting his online therapist license, is a legitimate healing measure. He even wrote me a note that I carry in my fanny pack in case I’m confronted in crowded areas as I self-medicate with the open air on my body.

I am now at war with the Chicago Transit Authority, Target and United Airlines for denying me my right to utilize my emotional support strategy and generally discriminating against myself and those countless people who have the same ailment but have been silenced by a marginalizing oppression due to archaic views of the human body.

In the first case, I was simply trying to get on the Blue Line train and go downtown. As I got on the very crowded transport, a wave of anxiety and panic came over me. It might have been the cramped quarters while moving underground or it might have been the intense Axe Body Spray on the guy crammed up against me — no matter. Immediately I stripped down to my birthday suit and was instantly harassed for it. "Oh fuck that!" one privileged woman barked. "Get that thing away from me, you freak!" screamed the Axe Man. Yet I was calmer than when clothed and shouldn't my comfort count for something?

Someone hit the emergency stop and a CTA attendant came back and, despite my showing him my "doctor's" note, all he could do was avert his eyes and order me off the train.

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In the second, I was feeling overwhelmed by life in general, and got all buff but then realized I needed some lotion for my sack and walked (because I sure wasn't welcome on the train) to Target. The security guard wouldn't even let me in. "There's children in here, man! Cover it up!" he yelled. He made such a stink everyone started staring at me. I have some body issues as well, so the unwanted attention was both abusive and harassing. And I still needed some moisturizer for my boys.

Finally, I had planned a trip to New York to visit some friends for the weekend. The TSA guys just stared but let me through — wasn't wearing shoes or a belt and my fanny pack was empty except for a Power Bar, my keys, my passport and my note. I thought "Finally!" But the check-in woman at the United counter started yelling the minute I walked up to her. Apparently the sight of my johnson set off her PTSD about her sexual harassment from nine years ago (she kept muttering about a totally inappropriate joke made at her expense) and all hell broke loose. I was arrested and held in a cell for over 45 minutes until my wife (whom they called to come get me on the condition that she bring some clothing) arrived with a pair of jeans and a t-shirt with Smokey the Bear raising his fist and RESIST stenciled across it.

I was destroyed. I thought I had no recourse. Who could I turn to? I was despondent. Until I read this:

This year, living in a four-bedroom apartment at the Arc, a historic apartment building affiliated with the college (that doesn't allow pets), Barrett requested permission for a second support animal, a dog. She began the request process in the fall with Columbia's Services for Students With Disabilities office. Barrett says she knows of at least two other emotional support animals in the building. 

Barrett says her letter from her therapist indicated that the two animals would be serving different purposes: while the cat would counter her depression, the dog would help with panic attacks. "The doctor's note is supposed to be like gospel," she adds. "But they ignored it and launched their own investigation, and concluded that I'm not disabled enough to get both of them." Barrett says she finally went to dean of students John Pelrine. Although two of her three apartmentmates submitted letters in support of the second animal, she says Pelrine ultimately told her it was "a space issue," and denied her request; she could keep the dog or the cat, but not both.

Lindsey Barrett was my hero! She wouldn't be daunted.

In February, Barrett moved to an apartment in Bronzeville, where she's able to keep both Leonitis and Theodore, her 16-week-old puppy, a shepherd-Doberman mix. She says that while Leonitis has been a help in getting her out of bed on days when depression wants to keep her down, Theodore's already fending off her panic attacks. "He can sense my anxiety, and whenever he does, he comes up to me and will not leave me alone until I sit down with him. And I have that grounding moment where I have to calm down. And as soon as I'm done, he's off, being his puppy self," she says. "He's already worth his weight in gold to me." 

Chronicle editor in chief Zoë Eitel, in an editor's note about the story reported by Olivia Deloin, wrote that "Columbia needs to re-evaluate how it's adapting [to changing times]," and has a responsibility to support the mental health of its students.

Yes, they do. And so does the CTA, Target and United Airlines.

I emailed Barrett to see if she needed a roommate. I sent her a few snaps of me at my most relaxed. She hasn't responded. Maybe she needs to re-evaluate the changing times, too.

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