Very few people know just how much I’ve struggled with depression and low self-esteem. Some have seen my success and just assumed I was happy. Others have seen the positivity in my outward interactions with others and again have just assumed I was happy.
Sadly, many Americans achieve in an effort to escape their unhappiness and low self-esteem, hoping that just one more win will make it better. Not all, but many. In addition, many people struggling with depression make a serious effort to be positive, because they don’t want to burden others. Both have been the case with me.
Like so many in our broken co-dependent society, I’ve spent a good part of my life wondering what the point of it all was. On those days, my animals pulled me through.
In my early twenties, I struggled with divorce, single motherhood, and an alcoholic ex. Some days, I literally could not lift myself out of the bed. The weight of my depression and the absence of my child overwhelmed me. I had no reason to fight it when the house was empty and quiet. I could hide in sleep beneath my covers, and no one cared.
On the days my daughter was with me, I focused on being the best mother I could be. Her needs left little time to let the darkness creep in. Of course, eventually my obsession with being a good mother became a burden to my daughter, forcing me to get the help I needed in Al-anon–a story for another day! In any case, putting myself back together included finding ways to keep gratitude in my life and to fight my way back to gratitude when the darkness crept in.
One of the ways I found to cope indulged one of my greatest loves: dogs. Animals help us find joy, live longer, and have a better quality of life. For me, my dogs intervene when I start getting sucked into a black hole.
For starters, dogs need food. Must get out of bed. Dogs need walks. Must put on clothes and leave the house. Dogs need interaction. Must leave my own head. For anyone who’s struggled with depression, those three things accomplish a lot on a bad day!
Dogs provide unconditional love. Really truly unconditional. They love the way people are supposed to. They live in the moment. If you have a strong relationship with your dog, you get his/her undivided attention. When you feel like a fraud and completely unlovable, your dog still thinks you hung the moon and can imagine nothing greater than playing with you. When you need to cry for no reason and every reason, your dog won’t judge; s/he’ll just lick away your tears and be there for you. When you need a friend but are too afraid to talk to someone, your dog will listen and love you anyway.
Thankfully, behavioral health research supports my anecdotal evidence. Dogs are good for you! (Sometimes horses, cats, and another animals too. 😛 ) Bear and I are testing in August for registration as a therapy team with Pet Partners. I sincerely hope that we can get this done, so Bear and I can share with others the incredible, healing bond we’ve built. Please keep us in your prayers, and go get some kisses from your favorite animal!