I’ve suffered from depression for over twenty years. I’ve been on every medication, tried every treatment. It took a long time to find the right combination for me, but I’m happy to say I’ve remained major-depressive-episode free for almost five years now. That’s a big deal.
But I still get down from time to time. Lately, I’ve been in bit of a funk and realized I’ve been slacking on my self care. While medication and therapy were the two biggest factors in treating my depression, my pets have played a big part in my overall health. Specifically, my dog helps me manage my depression. Here’s why.
My dog requires me to be responsible.
Responsibility is good. Having something to take care of every day motivates me to get out of bed. On mornings where I dread getting out of bed, I’m forced to get up to feed her. She has to eat. If I didn’t have to feed my dog, I’d probably never get out of from under the covers when I’m down. But, having an 8 lb fur-ball licking my face when I’m hiding from the world gives me courage to get up and at least try.
She gets me out of my head.
When I’m depressed, I ruminate. I focus on one bad thing or something I’m anxious about and go over it in a million different ways. When you have something or someone else to take care of, you can’t just think about yourself. I have to think about being the person my dog thinks I am. Having a dog helps me to get outside of my head and think about something else – her.
Dogs require a routine. Routine is good for depression.
Dogs thrive when they have a regular routine. So do I. Keeping a regular routine is the most effective way I manage my depression. I get up at the same time everyday (even weekends), eat meals regularly, walk daily, and go to bed at the same time every night. This consistency helps keep me on track. I notice that when I start slipping by skimping on food or oversleeping, my internal wiring goes haywire. I feel crankier, more sensitive, and don’t manage stress nearly as well. While I’m teased for my strict routines, I know it keeps my depression at bay. Imogene’s regular routine consists of getting up, eating breakfast and dinner, and going for walks at the same time every single day.
My dog forces me to go on walks. Exercise is good for depression.
Exercise is an excellent way to help manage depression. Owning a dog means having the responsibility of taking her on walks. While Imogene is a small dog, our routine is three short walks every day (morning, afternoon, and night). This responsibility helps keep me on track because if I don’t get her out she’ll have an accident. It gets me up and out early in the morning. I’ve really come to enjoy these early morning walks and I love the fresh air, sunshine, and peace.
Getting sunshine is also important because I am prone to low vitamin D. People with depression are more likely to be deficient in D vitamin. While I take a D3 supplement, I also try to get a small amount of sun exposure daily. With my dog, of course.
My dog helps me socialize.
Dog walks are a great way to interact with people. When you’re depressed, being around people is difficult – even stressful. I often feel exhausted trying to keep up a good face when I’m around others. It’s much easier to isolate – which is my first symptom when I’m slipping backwards.
However, being around other people can be good for treating depression. I do much better when I have regular human interaction. It helps distract me from myself. It gets me out of the house. Since I have to walk Imogene, I’m guaranteed to run into at least one person during our walks. Imogene is so cute that 99.9% of the time everyone we encounter wants to pet her and stops to chat.
This allows me to have human interaction without the added pressure of keeping up my social skills. The questions are always about Imogene (what kind of dog is she? how long have you had her?). This doesn’t require much thinking on my part. These kinds of questions are easy to answer and I enjoying sharing that information. I enjoy telling people I adopted Imogene from the City of Elderly Love. It gives me an opportunity to encourage them to consider adopting a pet. This always makes me feel a little better. While it won’t carry me through the day, every little bit helps.
My dog helps me make friends more easily.
I’m normally very outgoing. But when I’m depressed I have a hard time being in a social setting. Attending a social gathering when I’m depressed is physically painful for me. Noises are louder, lights are brighter, and I’m on sensory overload. I also have a hard time coming up with conversation. All I can think about is how to escape. I just want to go home and crawl into bed.
When I can bring Imogene though, I feel more able to cope. While I’m still dreading the event, she provides me with a little courage. If I am standing alone with no one to talk to, I can just pet or focus on her her. She gives me an excuse to go outside and regroup since I can say she needs a potty break. Besides, she adores people and she’s a great ice breaker.
My dog is always happy to see me.
Pretty self-explanatory. Now matter how down I feel, when I come home Imogene acts like she just won the doggie jackpot. Heck, she’s even happy when I leave the room and come back. Seeing her happy reminds me that I matter. When I’m depressed, I want to just disappear. Seeing Imogene dance like a maniac reminds me that there’s a little dog out there who depends on me. She waits on the couch every day for me to come home. I matter to her.
I don’t have to pretend and can just be myself.
I’m a pro at acting like nothing is wrong. In fact, most people don’t know when I’m having problems until I’m severely depressed. I often put pressure on myself to “keep it together” and not “bring people down.” But keeping up a front like this takes every ounce of strength I’ve got. It’s also impossible to keep it up 24/7 and the more depressed I become the less I’m able to do it. When I’m around Imogene, I don’t have to pretend. It’s a huge weight off of my shoulders. I can just be me . . . .
Because my dog gives me unconditional love.
And the reason I’m able to just be myself is because my dog gives me unconditional love. She doesn’t love me any less or want to avoid me when I’m depressed. I don’t have to worry about “bringing her down.” I don’t think she even really notices, to be honest. No matter what mood I’m in, she’s just her goofy little self. So, even if I slip up on my dog parenting responsibilities or don’t bathe for the entire weekend, she loves me just the same.
Helps me feel less lonely.
Living alone when you are prone to depression can be challenging. Since I will isolate myself, I have to be careful about how much time I spend alone. When you’re used to being around people, being in an empty apartment or house can be lonely. But having a dog means you aren’t alone. I’m reminded of this every time I hear her dog tag jingle, toenails clicking on the hardwood floors, and when she barks at the door when someone on the television show knocks. Just having her physical presence in the house with me makes me feel less lonely.
My silly dog makes me laugh when I need it the most.
Imogene is an incredibly silly dog. So is Dash – and he’s the funniest little guy when we play fetch. Laughter really can be great medicine. It may not be the best medicine for depression, but it certainly helps. Watching Imogene paw at me and wiggle around, trying to get me to rub her belly always makes me laugh. Listening to her silly bark brings a smile to my face. Watching her chase the cat around the living room is always a sight to see.
My struggles with depression are the most difficult experiences I’ve had in my lifetime. I’ve learned to talk with my doctor when I’m starting to slip and keep a social support system in place to help. But the one constant in my life that always helps me feel better is my dog.
Do you suffer from depression? How does having a dog and/or cat help you cope?