Pet Ownership & Mental Health

Posted On November 10, 2019

Normally, this blog is about our pets, giving recipes, some toy reviews or whatever else it is that’s caught my fancy. However, today is world Mental Health Day, so I’m going to be as open as I can about the mental health issues I’ve experienced and how Indie (my dog) has really helped me move through, forward and onwards from that.

It’s a well known accepted philosophy that pets (be that a dog, a fish, a horse or a cat) help with mental health issues. In fact, a survey done with Cats Protection in 2011 stated that more than 3 out of 4 people felt their cat made dealing with everyday life easier. So whilst I’m talking about a dog here, cats and everything else can help too.

So, if you are reading this in order to find a way to bring an animal into your life, please do make sure you pick the right pet for you. And if you do, please be responsible! This is not a solution to be undertaken lightly, but it can be something that helps. Please also make sure that you seek professional help (via a doctor, mind.org.uk, the samaritans or the various other methods!), as an animal may assist but they’re not going to fix everything. Make sure you and a professional find the best route for you to manage.

That’s really important.

DEPRESSION.

Not everyone knows this about me, even to this day. I’m quite private about it because of a fear of being judged, but I can say, regardless of whether you did or didn’t know, you helped in your own way. I’m sorry if I haven’t spoken to you about it personally, but sometimes these things are tough, I hope you understand.

Anyway, let’s begin two years ago (roughly), I began to add up that what I was feeling wasn’t what everyone felt. That the fact I got up, worked, came home, slept, and spent my weekends actively avoiding people wasn’t normal in an effort to feel just about ready enough for my week to start again.

I figured that I had lost my old self who used to be happy, who didn’t feel the need to eat the whole time for some small amount of comfort found in a Chinese, and/or a bag of chocolate buttons. That perhaps my irritability with a random stranger wasn’t just ‘London Living’ getting the better of me. Or that my crying in front of my manager at work (which was an increasing trend) was probably something I shouldn’t ignore. I excused it all, time after time, for so very long. Avoidance and denial were working for a long time, and this was just a new ‘phase’ of my life. They did, however, deepen the situation.

It took a lot to realise the severity of the situation I was in. Luckily, I had an awesome GP at the time who actually listened. He didn’t just send me away with a prescription which I was averse to. A lot of it is honestly a blur now, but I did seek out counselling. Initially I got lumped into a group thing through the NHS which really didn’t help – and was told on completing it I would have a four month wait to see a therapist one on one through the NHS. It actually made me more angry at the world, and I do think it’s totally insufficient by way of “support”.

Luckily, I had health insurance at work that allowed me to find my counsellor. She was excellent and our sessions actually helped a great deal. Together we highlighted what my issues largely were, allowed me to vent and to handle a lot of it once I could recognise that I wasn’t crazy – that the situation was.

This helped and brought me back ‘on track’, or right side up. It made life easier, it gave me so many tools to regulate myself and bring me in check. I’m not sure I was fully over it at the time, though I was definitely making great progress.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be totally without that side of me, but understanding it helps a lot, as you keep it in mind when you notice yourself putting off the washing up, or over eating. I genuinely thought I was back to normal for the most part – looking back? I’m not sure I was… but one thing has brought me so far out of that shell, it’s almost unbelievable.

INDIE & I.

Just over 11 months ago now, I decided to get a puppy. And that adorable little ball of fluff was to be named Indie.

Now, this was what my Mum would call a ‘stupid decision’. Honestly, looking back she was probably right if it were just a calculation to be made.

The thing that I hadn’t predicted, was the effect he would have on me. I wasn’t really aware of  the relationship between dogs and their positive effects on sufferers of depression when I got him, and it certainly wasn’t the reason I got my dog. I just knew the happiest times I could recall in my life had animals in them.

Safe to say, I cannot believe how Indie has improved me as a person, and pulled me away from that boiling point.

When you look at what Depression is, it’s basically a despondency, a withdrawal from the world. That’s certainly what I felt. It felt like the world was far away and that there was little to no hope for anything positive to happen.

Pets (particularly dogs, in my opinion) don’t allow you to get that despondent. They force you to engage with them, at the very least. So, even on a bad day your world has expanded from you, the single, solitary and lonely, to you and your pet – which is not quite so single, solitary or lonely. That was the biggest change.

Indie encouraged me to be responsible and he kept me motivated. That striving to go on, every day? That really picked me up. It has and still does really lift my emotions.

The exercise it brings is also fantastic! Out in the sunshine (well, sometimes!!), elevating your heart rate and all the other benefits of physical exercise. I would thoroughly advise for anyone considering getting a pet to help with depression that they invest in a dog who needs substantial amounts of exercise – if they can commit to it. The routine of going out twice a day, to the park, to the woods, to the local play date, to a puppy class or anything like that, really counters the lethargy that depression brings with it.

Initially, I went to Westley Heights because I had gone their as a child and remembered it being lovely. It took a lot of guts, but little puppy Indie was as terrified as I was. I was quickly distracted though when he started investigating, and preoccupying myself with him was how I got past that. It took time to get comfortable there, what came next was that I found myself exploring. And holy cow, but when you think of it? That is the exact antithesis of despondency, you’re not only exploring your environment, but you’re actively engaged with it.

Next comes the social aspect of dog ownership. Attending training classes, play dates, dog parks and whatnot forces you to socialise. You may not want to, but you have to socialise your puppy, and you can’t really stand there silently whilst your dog goes and play with Mrs Jenkins’ Terrier, can you? I hate to think how awkward I must have been so awkward at first, but I’ve made some incredibly friends now, and they’re all full of advice and support, which is brilliant!

The worthlessness also quickly dissolved, because I learnt that Indie loved me more than anything in the world, so how could I be worth nothing? He made me smile time after time, by being goofy, or doing something daft that melted my heart, and all of a sudden you could see a glimmer of something in the world that wasn’t as dark.

So, in a rather huge sweep, my dog had forced me to socialise, get exercise, given me routine and responsibility, taught me to love the world I’m in and engage with it, and to stop comfort eating. Now, I’m happier, healthier, my sense of humour is back (and still questionable in nature!) and I’m taking steps to improve myself and the world around me – such as by writing this, starting up my own business and trying to find a way to make me happy every day.

I am still in awe of the effect he has had on my mental health, and I know I’m really not alone in this!

OTHER STORIES.

So, that’s my story – and how Indie has helped my mental health, but there’s more than just me! Read these!

Anonymous,

“Living with someone who suffers with depression and OCD I have seen the amazing impact animals have had on their life and how it has literally saved them from falling too deep and drowning. Even during low moments, the minute they are around ours or friends dogs or rabbits their mood is instantly lifted and although it will never get rid of the demons completely, in that moment they are put to bed for a while, giving the mind a much needed respite from the illness”

( more to come! )

MENTAL HEALTH & PETS.

Animals help us re-centre ourselves, they have a great calming effect and are proven to lower heart rates and stress and similar.

Horses and dogs are both well known to assist with Autism. PTSD patients are often recommended that a pet can help. Even addiction can be assisted by an animal – I mean, have you read a street cat named Bob, or seen the movie? Gosh! There are endless scenarios where animals help people beyond their original purpose.

SO!

Over all, I’m hoping that this little piece highlights just how beneficial our pets can be in the fight to manage mental well-being. That they can give purpose and structure, responsibility and endless love that can really help someone who’s feeling a little rocky.

WANT TO READ MORE?

Give this a read!

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/animal-emotions/201802/companion-animals-help-people-mental-health-problems 

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