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How My Dog Saves Me Every Day in My Life With Mental Illness

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There are so many days I wake up and spend at least an hour talking myself into getting out of bed. There are also days, which could easily stretch into weeks, of not leaving my home at all. I’m not even sure I would get dressed most days. Showering? Ha, maybe but probably not.

To those who have never suffered with chronic pain, mental illness, chronic fatigue or a host of other ailments, those statements might seem disgusting. I would be called lazy. I would be told to pull myself together. This is one main reason I do not often share my stories. The labels, the assumptions, the ignorance and, most of all, the stigma silence me.

Black dog looking up to camera

Luckily for me, I have a hero in my life. A little, four-legged faithful friend who has been with me for almost 12 years. His name is Papi. He was named after David Ortiz, aka Big Papi of the Boston Red Sox.

My dog has been a godsend on more occasions than I would like to admit. When I wake with no desire to get out of bed, he will wait patiently. After a while, he will come up to my face, as if to say, “So, you ready?” If I roll back over, then he will crawl back under the covers until I am ready. Eventually, my love for Papi will make me drag my sorry behind out of bed, get dressed and take him out for a walk. When I first throw back the covers to get up, I am greeted with a fiercely wagging tail and an escort to the bathroom. How could anyone resist that?

During the periods of sleepless nights or when my mania dictates I stay awake for two or more days, he complains very little. He will put his paw on my computer chair, which means several things, one of which is, “Wouldn’t you like to go to bed now?” Because of my love for him, I will usually lie across the bed and rub his belly. On rare occasions, I may even drift off to sleep for an hour or so.

Without saying a word, Papi has been my cheerleader, confidant, shoulder to cry on and sounding board. He gives me unconditional love, no matter how I am feeling each day. One look at his sweet little face has stopped me from ending it all on more than one occasion. He knows when to stay close and when to scram.

During those times when my patience is low or non-existent, he will normally lie on the bed in the other room. He has had no formal “service dog” training. Rather, he learned just by living with me. I am also deaf, and he alerts me when someone is at my door or the phone is ringing. He is amazing.

It has been documented that having a pet can reduce blood pressure. They can be trained to become service dogs for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other ailments. Even without formal training, as my dog has proven, they can be lifesavers. Each and every day, I get out of bed, and I stay alive because of Papi. He is not just my dog. He is my lifesaver and my hero.


If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 
Originally published: July 14, 2016
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