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How My Dog Saves Me From My Mental Illness Every Day

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I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about three years ago. Up until that point, I’d been told I had major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). I could never figure out why the meds I was on weren’t working — why I could be on top of the world one moment, and hitting bottom the next. henry dog

I remember being a child and not understanding why I was scared of a cloudy day. Or why I was constantly worrying my parents would die. I recall being 13 and not necessarily being suicidal, but wishing I had simply never existed.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

I’m 25 now. I wish I could say I don’t have these same fears and thoughts, but the truth is, I do. I still wish I had never existed some days. And I still worry incessantly about everything. I still worry about my parents, I still get anxiety on cloudy days. I still wish I was someone else most days. Not that I’m unhappy with who I am, I just wish I could be someone without bipolar disorder. To know what it feels like, as cliche as it sounds, to not carry a dark cloud above my head.

Enter Henry, my absolutely wonderful mutt. My sister-in-law adopted him roughly five years ago from a rescue association. He weighs about 12 pounds and might be the cutest thing to ever walk the earth. Not only is he adorable, he’s also got quite the personality. My husband and I had a whirlwind romance. We met in June, went on our first date in August and were married by May. The first time I came to his house, I met Henry. I am always excited to meet a dog, but Henry was different. He took to me immediately. Soon enough, whenever I’d come over, Henry would run downstairs and greet me with a kiss and lots of tail wagging. Until this point, my husband’s family had been taking care of him. To make a long story short, he wasn’t getting the care or love he deserved. I decided I was gonna be the one to change this. Every dog deserves to be loved and adored, so I started focusing my energy on him whenever I came over. I started with taking him outside and giving him a treat. Then came the walks and car rides. From there, it didn’t take long for him to look to me as his caregiver. He’s been in my life for nearly a year now, and I’ve never felt as important as I do now. When he looks at me, I know I matter to him. So let me tell you how a dog saves me, every day.

Some days I don’t want to get out of bed. It’s not that I want to just lay around and mope. I just desperately wish I hadn’t woken up because now that I’m awake, all I can do is worry. My depression creeps in and the tone for the day is set. Until I see Henry. He started sleeping with us just a couple months ago, and it’s been the best thing for my mental health. To wake up and see him get excited about the fact that we simply woke up, puts things into perspective for me. You see, he doesn’t open his eyes and think, “What if I get in trouble at work today?” or “Why does the world have to be so ugly?” He just gets up. He goes about his day with the same attitude every single day. Eat, go potty, play, cuddle, etc. To see this day after day, helps immensely.

Routine has always been important to me. I do the same thing every morning. I have my coffee outside and ruminate about the day ahead. It’s always hard to add something new to the routine, but adding Henry has become the best part of my day. He gives me something to focus on. henry dog and owner

When you’re constantly wrapped up in your thoughts, thinking about your depression or your anxiety, it’s easy to forget about the world around you. Having a pet of any kind can help reign you back in and focus your thoughts on the present. Henry gives me a reason to get out of bed. He gives me a reason to keep going on the days I wish I didn’t have to. He needs me, and not just to feed him and take him outside, he needs my love. To have an animal look you in the eye, and know they feel absolutely nothing but love for you, is so important to someone like me, someone who doesn’t know their purpose. Suddenly, my sole purpose is to love this animal unconditionally. That’s all he wants from me. He doesn’t give me deadlines or ultimatums. He just wants my love and attention.

Having a dog of my own, that only looks to me for direction and care, has been the most rewarding experience of my life. I know it sounds like the most simple thing in the world to have a dog, but it’s not. It’s so much more than “just having a dog.” It’s getting up in the morning and being excited to see them. It’s coming home from work and knowing you were missed all day. It’s looking in their eyes and being consumed with the love you have for them. I have always loved animals, but I have a newfound appreciation for them after Henry. If he is my only reason for getting up some days, I don’t feel bad that I only have one reason. I am grateful that I have reason at all. I wish I could tell him what he means to me, that he is my light in this often dark world, but I don’t think words would do, and sometimes I’m so glad they can’t speak. Communicating with looks and affection speaks volumes.

henry dog and owner

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

Photos via contributor.

Originally published: August 16, 2017
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