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How My Dog Helps Combat My Bipolar Disorder

My mental illness first surfaced around six years ago, when I was experiencing severe anxiety and panic attacks. Combining a strong genetic predisposition for mental illness, several stressful life events, changed circumstances and an existential crisis saw me change internally into a different person. I sunk into a heavy depression for months until the mania arrived and my moods began to oscillate out of control. I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. I had never felt so low in my life and I spent days in bed simply for fear of self-harm if I was to get up and about.

The turning point for me at that time was when I got my white dog – my best mate, Maverick. This white little ray of sunshine has done more for me over the years than any therapy, medication or health care system could do. Mav is the white dog who combats my black dog of depression and rainbow dog of mania, and keeps my anxiety at bay.

My white dog helps me fight my anxiety. Anxiety feels like a straitjacket, a weight vest and a time bomb all rolled into one. It makes me feel like I am sinking and suffocating because I can’t control the unrelenting thoughts and panic. Therapy has helped me realize my anxiety is usually fueled by interpersonal relationships, my need to please everyone, my need to be liked and being terrified of letting others down. I also place unrealistic expectations of perfection on myself and I am not good at reaching out to ask for help for fear of seeming to be failing. My anxiety gets particularly claustrophobic in social situations and I feel its claws slither out and trap me, especially when there are lots of people, noise and conversations to be had with people I don’t know. This becomes a problem when these feelings don’t pass, as they usually would for many others, and they take up so much energy that it manifests physically as an anxiety attack.

My white dog helps me fight my depression. Depression feels like living in a black hole, a space of darkness — in a world of no color, hope or help. It feels like you are removed from everyone around you, like you don’t deserve to be alive, and that even if there was some good in you, it’s buried too deeply under the weight of the world for you to find it. You no longer enjoy or have interest in your usual activities, relationships and life, and everything continues to feel dull and gray for an extended period of time.

My white dog helps me control my mania. Sometimes, especially after I’ve been stuck in a low place, I crave the mania and the freedom, the happiness and the power it gives me. I feel so alive, so vibrant, like my body can barely contain my exuberant spirit and rainbows of ideas or I could just physically burst with happiness. I feel like surely I must be glowing or glittering through my day because the very light beaming out of my soul and existence is so bright. My heart races, I need very little sleep, and I tend to make riskier decisions than my usually cautious self ever would. My thoughts come so thick and fast that my brain leaves my tongue for dead – I stumble over my words and I get them all mixed up as they fly out of my mouth too slow for my liking. I am social, I make plans with everyone I know and I pack everything in because life is wonderful and I am wonderful and I can do anything and everything is possible.

After many years of living with mental illness, I know would not be here today without my white dog. He keeps my black and rainbow dogs in their kennels to the best of his abilities and keeps his paws on my heart.

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