My Take

A Belated Mental Health Month

Hi everyone, and welcome to my late Mental Health Month post of 2023. You know what’s a wee bit ironic? Being a mental health advocate but having to work so hard on your own to the point that you you forget about upcoming events like this.

Trigger Warning

Want to know the ultimate irony? Trying to commit suicide during Mental Health Month. (Or whatever it was, because I’m still confused!) I hope the irony would have be preserved on my tombstone for a bit of dark humour. Am I making light of the attempt? Yep. Should I? Probably not. But there are special circumstances and I can’t process everything right now. It’s not even the right time OR place. Is this me rationalizing? I don’t know. Is my head asking annoying questions even while I write this blog? Of course it is. I’ll just stop and rewind a bit; it feels like I always have to do that.


Basically I left the second crisis centre and realized that I’d fallen behind: Mental Health Month is well underway and I have no initiatives. If it makes any sense, I feel late to the only party where I belong! I was really wrapped up with moving on from my recent crisis AND the new problems that had cropped up.

Up until recently, my head has been relatively decent with me. This was much appreciated though largely due to the fact that I was in perpetual motion. This habit of running from my head is one of the main things I was trying to AVOID… but the cards of busy-ness had already been dealt.

I’m not sure if I ever mentioned that my mom, Mia and I had a vacation coming up in May: It’s my Mom’s birthday gift to herself that she planned since last year. That’s why this blog is coming to you from Athens, Greece and I can’t believe we’re here. I feel so lucky and to be honest, I didn’t think I would make it. (For more reasons that I originally imagined!)

I went through multiple phases with this trip, kind of like adjusting to the crisis centres but 100% rockier. First, it was too incredible to believe. Then I was stressed with school and money so I wanted to attain certain deadlines before I allowed myself to focus on pleasure. Then I noticed a decline in my mental health which resulted in the two crisis centres. At that point we were all doubting whether I’d be up for this trip. I made up my mind to go when I got out of the second centre and I continued the little bit of planning and preparation I’d begun. Most of this pertained to Mia because my mom planned this trip like a boss. (She would be an incredible travel agent/planner.) I had said that I would take care of Mia’s side of things and that with her being a service/assistance animal, it shouldn’t be too difficult.

Haha. Hahaha. Hahahahahaha. What to say and what not to say? That’s the delicate question.

Important Facts About Assistance Animals

To start off, I’ll be talking about assistance animals. Yes, again.

Assistance animals fall into a confusing area of law unless they’re branded by a world-renowned training organization like Mira, Guide Dogs International, etc. This means that if you can’t afford to wait ages for a pre-trained dog or pay large sums of money for one, life can be tough!

This is why it’s a good thing that professional trainer-beneficiary hybrids exist, but it won’t help anyone if these accreditations aren’t recognized. Training that is 100% beneficiary based is no longer accepted and you can’t just have an online certification. This makes sense because it’s too easy to pay and have zero training and accountability. If you’ve done a hybrid however and your dog has actually seen a specialized trainer and passed their exam, I believe this should be accepted but…welcome to the gray zone. It’s quite sad because these programs aren’t giving out random certification and it’s not super easy OR affordable. You don’t pay tens of thousands but you don’t pay $100-$200 for a card either. It takes money and about the same amount of time as a 100% trainer-based program. (Sometimes longer.)

This is my list of arguments as to why trainer-handler hybrids should exist and be recognized:

  • The demand for assistance animals exceeds the current capacity to supply enough fully-trained animals.
  • In consequence of the above, certain people are disadvantaged when it comes to managing their handicap.
  • Proper trainer-handler hybrids do have quality control. Anything lacking in this area should be improved rather than used as a reason to dismiss the premise.
  • Speaking specifically of psychiatric assistance dogs, there is a great benefit to having a pre-existing partnership between handler and animal. Making use of such a strong bond (when possible) might be even better than assigning unknown dogs.
  • The best way for a handler to understand their assistance animal, personal condition and their partnership is to be implicated in the entire process.

(Please bear in mind that some of these points don’t apply in every situation. For example some conditions can make it impossible for the handler to be involved in training. This is another reason why most of what pertains to assistance animals is of a case-by-case nature.)


Travelling with pets can be difficult and getting an assistance animal on a plane is no exception. Our trip requires 4 flights: Home to Athens, Athens to Mykonos, Santorini to Athens and Athens to home.

Our first and last flight were very stressful to plan. They were the unfortunate basis for a video you might have seen on one of my social medias. I have removed the video and I apologize for its sensitive and irresponsible content. The stress and other emotions culminated in another break with reality. I was far from rational and I highly discourage my actions.

Without going into further detail than this, it was a challenge to have Mia’s accreditation recognized so as to have her with me on the flight as my service dog. I’m grateful that the final result was happy, amicable and low-stress.

As for our internal flights within Greece, Mia is still not accepted as my service dog. She’s travelling as a pet in cabin. Translation: Mia has to remain in a carrier at all times (which prevents her from performing her service tasks), and there’s a charge. The charge is relatively small but it’s the first reason that really gets me. The only explanation we’ve been given is that psychological service dogs are not accepted to fly the way guide dogs are. Thank goodness the flight is only about half an hour!

Historic Sites and Hotels

Besides air travel, there are also hotels, restaurants and ancient sites/museums to contend with.

Thankfully, every hotel had accepted us in advance and we’ve had no difficulty to date. Now you would think it would be most difficult to bring Mia to the historic landmarks that we’ve been visiting. We’re talking about UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Wonders of the World and other extremely protected areas that aren’t exactly pet friendly – You can understand why!

We haven’t had a problem though and most places were immediately accommodating. We even entered the Panathenaic Stadium for free because Service dog = a person with a disability and they have a very kind policy of no entrance fee in these circumstances.

The most ‘difficult’ place to bring Mia in – and it wasn’t very hard – was at the Acropolis Museum. They didn’t want her card or training documents, they wanted my medical prescription for her. No one else has paid attention to this aspect so I had to find a copy of it on my phone. Once I did and security confirmed the English meaning of her French document (we live in Quebec), everything was fine. This method makes so much sense to me: Cut to the chase by simply validating the necessity of her presence…what a novel idea! I’m very impressed and wish that more people went by this. To me, it’s the ultimate confirmation. Her status is proved by the same kind of document that prescribes essential medication. Why would we NOT take this seriously and use it as the benchmark for entrance?

Back Home

I haven’t had the time to write again until now. We’re back home and I’m actually sitting outside the hospital waiting for my first appointment with a new social worker. I’m quite anxious because this stage is always uncomfortable and intimidating. It’s necessary though, and I’ll do what it takes. Mia is with me of course.

So to wrap up what I was saying about Mia, the rest of the trip went super well: Mia had no trouble entering the most protected sites including the island of Delos and the excavation of Akrotiri in Santorini. The only trouble was our flight from Santorini to Athens, where we had to buy Mia a new carrier because her backpack didn’t conform to the airlines’ standards. (She is accepted as a pet in cabin instead of a Service dog, which still angers me.) At least we were fine for the 9 hour flight back home which is really important because I had a period of anxiety that manifested itself intensely physically. I felt really sick.

I’m super grateful though because our trip went incredibly well and so much better than I thought, considering everything that happened leading up to it. This was like a once in a lifetime experience and my love of history and Greek mythology made it a dream come true!

A Closing Remark

It pains me to write circles around what I truly want to say, but I don’t have a choice. My message for Mental Health Month was far more elaborate, but here’s the ‘redacted’ version.

As you might’ve gathered between the difficulties bringing Mia on the plane, my impulsive self-harm/suicide attempt and the video I had to remove, a lot happened that I can’t fully speak of. It’s mainly this dilemma and frustration that caused the attempt in the first place, but all’s well that ends well, right?

I think it’s safe for me to say however that travelling with ones’ assistance/service animal, (regardless of the nature) should not be so gruelling and difficult. I’m thankful for the help available to overcome such difficulties, such as the Ombudsman of Transportation. We’re fortunate to have an effective recourse when it comes to the protection of our inalienable rights. It’s also helpful to have a friend who is in a similar situation and happens to be a lawyer. I’m lucky for the support I had, as well as the mutually satisfactory conclusion.

Since the theme of Mental Health Week 2023 was anxiety, I’d like to share what I’m anxious about. I’m not talking about my small anxieties; this time I’m talking about my big-picture concerns. I’m afraid that even though we’re living in a time of change and opportunity, meaningful progress in mental health will be relegated to speech. We do need to speak, write and share. That’s what I’m doing right now and what I try to do with all my posts. Still, I’m not naive enough to believe that this means our problems are over. I don’t think any blog, much less mine, can change the world. I don’t think the best writing in the world can fix what needs to be repaired. The reason we achieved results with Mia is because we didn’t lie down and accept the ‘party line’. It was a win for us, but it’s also a win for everyone with an assistance animal. It’s a win for everyone with mental illness, because our rights were acknowledged. And since 100% of us have mental health, it was a win for everyone. It’s one case, but it’s a case to build upon. I now realize that even though I can’t recount everything step by step, our success can still be used as an encouraging example.

The nitty gritty isn’t important. The ‘who’ and ‘where’ are irrelevant. The ‘what’ and ‘why’, are what truly matter. I would not have been able to fly with Mia, my assistance animal. The odds were against us: I’m not physically disabled and Mia is a 6.7lb Yorkie. She was also trained jointly by myself and the organization we’re part of, rather than placed with me. Thankfully, my precious baby was nonetheless recognized as the indispensable miracle she is. Mia’s tasks and training render her an assistance/service dog rather than an emotional support animal.

Though I’m often a pessimist, I’d like you to know that I’m smiling right now as I reassure you that the unlikely is possible…and undeniably worth fighting for.

I feel very uncertain about my life, but I do know one thing that’s now been confirmed. I would do anything for Mia. Messing with her is messing with me. Haha.

Take care everyone!

Precious Mia

2 thoughts on “A Belated Mental Health Month”

  1. Great article! It’s so important to shed light on the challenges faced when traveling with an assistance animal. I’m glad the author was able to navigate through the difficulties and have a successful trip. This article is an inspiring reminder that the unlikely is possible and worth fighting for.

    1. Hello Stephen, Karina here from I Will Not BE My Mental Illness. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment; you pinpointed exactly what I had hoped to share!

What's YOUR take?