The Sweetest Doggy…
Depression haunts me, hunts me, waits for the slightest hesitation I have in life. I am constantly trying to fight it, to try and not get caught and dragged down by it. It lies in wait for me to stumble and fall into its cold, dark grasp. I have tried so many things to help me manage it, help me get through it, to stop it, avoid it. I constantly feel that rabbit hole looming, waiting for me to fall into it, into a land of alternate reality of deep darkness.
So many things I have tried, and so many pills I have taken to help me. They didn’t work, and for one very important reason. What I didn’t know back then was that I had a condition called “Asperger Syndrome” – a form of autism that makes life more difficult, but without the learning difficulties that comes with it. In fact, most are hyper-intelligent… but that comes with a price. It means that you know there’s something wrong but there is nothing you can really do about it. The brain processes things differently. It causes extreme social issues, emotional issues, anxiety, confusion, and when left properly unsupported, people with it develop a multitude of problems because they were never taught how to probably deal with the issues their condition brought them. One of mine, the most serious, was Depression.
I’m now struggling again: I’m in constant pain, unable to do much of anything, and unable to work. I can feel that depression now waiting in the wings again, whispering to me, trying to convince me it’s not worth existing… That my existence is useless. By now I am usually a mess. Often I am in an almost catatonic state, unable to communicate at all. I already feel the other effects… they come and go. There are good days and bad days.
But then there are the unimaginably heartbreaking days where I feel like I really would be just better off dead. I don’t really want to actively do it… I just sometimes wish I could just stop living. Just switch it all off and have it all go away. Leave. Forever. Because most days, I feel enough is just enough.
But… Something now keeps me from completely falling down that rabbit hole again – pulling me back from the edge.
That something is an utterly bonkers four-legged angel, here to keep my head from completely falling apart again. He is a gorgeous chestnut-coloured rescued Staffie named Soul.
Having Soul has taught me a lot in life during the time we’ve had him. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to love with an open heart – because that is what he does. He relies on me for everything, and I know I cannot let him down. I am agoraphobic, yet every day I have to overcome that to walk him. I used to walk him at least 2 hours a day (weather permitting – he refuses to leave the house if it’s pouring it down outside… sensible dog!). Despite the pain I was in, I would grit my teeth and still take him out for his walks. Now, I can no longer take him out alone, and am housebound. But my friend and I go out with him in the chair and I still have to fight the same demons to go out. But I go, and because of him I can be calmer and happier for being out. I have to concentrate on him and what he is doing, so my mind is taken away from what concerns me. Classic CBT, right there in Mother Nature, in my dog.
I can not longer shut down and become completely depressed – he just won’t let me. If I’m extremely upset, crying, or in pain, he will come and lick my face and wag his tail until I’m better. He’ll sit next to me when I feel badly. He doesn’t expect anything from me; he just quietly gives me silent reassurance and calm energy, and it just works. When I’m completely overwrought and in a meltdown, he’s the only one who comes at me with calm but slightly excited energy, and proceeds to lick at my face, giant eyes on mine, until he breaks the hold the meltdown has on me. When I’m in pain, or hurt myself he does the same. He is always there fore me, and in kind I make sure I am there for him.
Soul has taught me that I don’t have to be useful or have a job or be able to do everything or be perfect to be loved. He loves me regardless. He loves me because I love him. He exists for the sake of existing, has battled his own hard times and faced his own fears. He’s done both with courage and grace, and I have helped him overcome them by being there for him in the way that he needs. I became his Pack Leader. He became my friend.
I had to learn to love him. I don’t bond with anyone or anything easily. I was also cold and numb and lost in depression when he came into my life. My bestest friend and soulmate, whom I live with, brought him home one day – rescued him from a man who kept him tied up outside a pub whilst he drank inside for hours, after being locked up in the house all day. He was only about a year old and was frozen, tied so tightly to a post he couldn’t even lie down, shivering, miserable and unloved. He wasn’t even fed properly. So she brought him home. I’d lived with cats my whole life – I had no idea what to do with this huge bag of energy. He didn’t know how to even walk on a lead or behave properly.
I stayed up with him all night, every night for over 2 weeks as he settled in. I wasn’t working, but my friend was. He was crying through the night, lost and homesick in a strange place with strange people. I lay next to him in the living room, wrapping him in my old horse blankie, watching the Discovery Channel, ID, and National Geographic on TV, so it wasn’t quiet and he didn’t start and bark at every noise that went past (and it was a very noisy area at night).
I watched the Cesar Millan shows to learn about dogs. I cannot express how much I learned from him, watching his techniques, how no words were better than lots. His teaching reminded me a lot of how my mother raised me, and I did the same to Soul. He transformed every day and very quickly into an amazing dog. As well as this, we learned about real dog food and only fed him Lily’s Kitchen from the Pet Vet at Highgate. We even got him a backpack for him so he could carry his own food there any back (and he really enjoyed that!). Now he helps me around the house in so many ways, from helping me bring in the shopping from the online grocery shop, to getting up and moving around the house, getting out of bed, and even calming me down and making me feel so much better when I’m upset or depressed. All that hard work has absolutely paid off dividends now.
Over our first seven months with him, he slowly became my other bestest friend. It took time – I don’t trust of care or bond easily. But he was patient, gave me care and love, and was calm with me even when no one else would. Even when he got savagely attacked several times by other dogs in the park, he never stopped being a beautiful and loving creature. For me, he has been the best anti-depressant, simply because he is so life-affirming, so loving, and only cares about what really matters in life – not the stupid things that don’t. He gets me out of the house. Before I was housebound, I lost a stone or two and 2 dress sizes just by walking him – we used to go for miles and loved it.
As my health has deteriorated, he has been there with me, learning to help me more and in different ways, challenging me, loving me, helping me. I trained him to walk me (read: drag me) around when I could still walk a little, then when I could no longer do that, I taught him to walk with my chair. He enjoyed pulling so much we got him a good harness and he now helps take me for walks in my chair. It’s a rather big, heavy thing for my friend to push alone, but with the dog pulling so strongly on the front we all go along like we’re husky sledging through town – it’s pretty amazing how strong he now is and what this dog can – and is willing to do. He also goes roller skating with my friend when I can’t go out (she skates, he runs like a jet-proelled greyhound!)
When you have someone as beautiful as this in your life, depending on you to do the best for him that you possibly can, how can you stay down and desolate and hopeless for very long? Right now, he’s helping to save me from the darkest demons waiting in the wings to come and get me. Nothing – and certainly no pill – has ever done such a good job of that before.
Dogs need a good leader, someone who is going to be the boss and tell them what to do. For someone who turns to very bad habits to exert control over life, it is a perfect way to funnel that need for control for something useful. Beating depression away with a stick is when you exert some control; most do very bad, abusive things. When you have a dog, you have a fantastic chance of taking control of an animal who desperately needs it. When you have another condition that also requires exact control, rituals, patterns. you have someone right there next to you who likes them too.
Dogs are lifesavers. They need you. You need them. Get that synchronicity right, and you can be lead away from the terrible rabbit hole you keep falling down.
For me, it’s a dog’s love that has really started to heal my heart and open it up to hope and strength. My lost soul was rescued by the must beautiful Soul, and I am so very grateful for him every single day.