Living with mental illness is pretty lonely for most of us. My dog is my best friend.
|It's a rare dog that doesn't love their owner. They might be higher maintenance than a cat, but I am definitely a dog person. I also feel that the extra work helps a lot with managing my illness. For example, walking the dog: every doctor in the world says that exercise is good for you, even just thirty minutes of walking around. The accompanying endorphin rush definitely helps with depression, and the exercise is a great way to burn off excess manic energy.
My dog is an especially sweet beagle (with a bit of basset hound, I think, on account of her short legs) who came from the Humane Society. I don't know who owned her before me, but she was very timid and easily frightened when I first adopted her. I suspect neglect because she needs lots of love. And to be honest, I can empathize with that: a creature who is a bit shy and sad because she's been ignored and forgotten by the people who were supposed to love her.
If I didn't have my dog, I don't know how much worse off I would be right now. She is more attuned to my moods than any human could be, snuggling up when I get depressed and bristling at the neighbors when I am irritable and manic (the latter is kind of awkward, actually). There's also the fact that I am very prone to withdrawing from people when depression storms in, and my dog is the only witness to my sobbing breakdowns.
Among the many symptoms of withdrawing from people (and I will talk more about this tendency in my next piece), is that I avoid physical contact most of the time. As I've grown into an adult, I have found myself avoiding even incidental contact that results from bumping into someone, much less deliberate contact like hugging another person. Most days, my dog is the only source of contact I have, the only living being I touch and snuggle on a regular basis.
One of my favorite things about her is that my dog answers to a laundry list of cutesy nicknames (Boomba, Snuggy Bear, Sweet Baby Dog, etc) and comes wiggling over when I sing "What the world needs now/is pups, sweet pups." Mind you, I have to sing it well, which means there can't be anyone else around to hear.
All of these things help me in a myriad of small ways that make a huge difference in my life, but perhaps the most important one is this: caring for another creature, loving them, and being loved in turn, helps to get me out of my head. A little bit of love goes a long way, and when we find ourselves so alone with our illness, without friends and even in some cases, family, a pet can be a saving grace.