I would like to mention that the withdrawal effects have stopped and I am back to feeling human. I would say feeling normal, but that sure as hell is never going to happen!
Comfort dogs seem to be gaining their own recognition. Most of us know of service dogs, but they are often associated with military PTSD or blindness. I will be the first to say that dogs offer so much in how they positively impact those suffering. When I was young, we kept dogs outside and fed them scraps left from supper. Now they are often an integral part of a family. I have a small-medium sized dog and she is a terrier/Maltese mix. To say she is spoiled is the understatement of the century!
I have mentioned before that I am a member of various mental illness support groups and I cannot even count how many people survive their disorder because of their pet. We spend so much of our lives being judged and ridiculed and often end up feeling alone. But outside of that pain, there is this furry little creature who loves you no matter how high your anxiety is or how low your depression has you feeling. A pet’s love is unconditional, and unconditional love is something those of us living with mental illness may rarely get to experience.
I can fall on my knees pleading for the pain to stop as the tears just pour, and I always know that my fur baby will be there to lick every tear. Her sodium levels should be sky high with the amount of tears she has licked away over the years! I can lay on my bed and feel so alone that the rest of the planet may as well not exist. Then I feel her cuddle in the crook of my knees. I feel her softness, her warmth. With her, above all, I know that no matter how I feel about the world, I am not alone.
Over the years she has learned my needs. This is what makes comfort dogs so amazing. They can read your emotions and actions and then react as needed. She knows when I hurt. She will even follow me to the bathroom during my bad times. I can be standing and feeling overwhelmed with anxiety and then she stretches up and places her paws against my knees, looking for attention. It’s hard to feel like you’re about to die when all that fur is snuggled up to you, and if you have a cat, nothing is more calming than a familiar “purr”.
I believe in the healing powers of animals so much, one of my wildest dreams is to set up a foundation. The foundation would match rescue animals with those with mental illnesses. Of course, there would have to be documentation that the person is capable of caring for an animal, because I would never want to see an animal at risk. Food and vet bills would be covered, because finances are a big barrier for many people who could benefit from pets. Pets can be just as effective as medication when it comes to treating those with bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety. My theory is “the broken healing the broken”.
Anyone who lives with every day battles and has a pet knows exactly what I am talking about. She knows when I’m working on writing, especially on my book. It can get a bit emotional. When I have set myself and my laptop in writing position, she lays against my leg. I’ve tried writing at my desk like most people do, but she got so upset because she was unable to cuddle me that way. She senses when I need her. She wants to be a part of my process.
Oxytocin is referred to as the “love hormone” because when we hug or cuddle it is produced and makes us feel good. There’s research that proves when an animal stares into your eyes, oxytocin is released in the animal. When I look into her eyes all I see is love. Either that or the “I am pathetic” look when she wants a treat.
Owning a pet should never be taken lightly. They are completely dependent on you and they deserve all the care and attention you would give a child. You can yell and scream at a child (but please don’t) and five minutes later they have all the same amount of love to give. I can go absolutely wacky (note, my book title) and she will still love me just as much. She will never leave me. She will always think I am the most amazing and special person. She will never ever look down at me.
I think I have made it pretty obvious how I feel about pets as treatment for those with mental disorders. I think they can make the difference as to whether a person has the strength to get out of bed. As long as we have them we will never forget how to love. It is easy to lose that ability when we are surrounded by negativity. The world can give up on me, but she won’t! I wasn’t capable of giving my children the love they needed growing up so this is like a second chance for me. I give her all the love my heart can hold. And what I get back you will never find in a pill bottle or a doctor’s office.