Have you ever had just one of those days? You wake up on the wrong side of the bed, things just don’t go your way, and well, you don’t know why. Perhaps it is because you are sick. Perhaps it is because you had a long week at work. Or, perhaps, you just don’t feel right. So you talk to someone that you think cares. You talk to someone that you think maybe knows how you feel. But they can’t talk back. Your dog becomes your therapist, and is constantly on call.
For me, as I have been battling depression for most of my life, dogs have been my lifeline, and it seemed that each one of them had no trouble being my therapist. But did they? Did I not realize the toll that my depression and anxiety was taking on them?
If not for my rescue dog, Peanut Butter Brickle, I may have never thought of this. Brickle to me is what you may call…my heart. He eats, sleeps and breathes…me. I look at him and wonder sometimes how I deserve to have this dog in my life. And the answer is that I don’t.
For every moment that I spend worrying, he worries too. For every moment that I am sad, he is sadder. For each and every moment that I am depressed, he seems to feel it a hundred times more. And I hate that. At first, I wondered why he got so many stomach aches, or why he seemed so tired. I was so busy worrying about my self, that I did not take into account that he was trying to take my pain away. And in his attempt to do so, he was willing to feel everything that I was. And it was making him sick. I was making him sick.
For my other rescue dog Digby, I know that he cares for me. But he has the ability to disconnect from my sadness, leave me alone, and take a nap.
For Brickle, he can’t seem to do this. And as one of my bad days hit me again, and I looked at him, I wondered.
Was I putting too much pressure on my dog? Was I the problem here? How selfish was I being? How could I deal with my depression in an effective way that would not harm my dog? Because I was harming him.
If you have ever went thru something in your life, or you deal with chronic mental health issues, your emotions may seem uncontrollable. For me, I do sometimes feel like this. I start obsessing on never having human children, on financial mistakes, on life mistakes. I start worrying about all of the wonderful shelter animals we have met on the road. And it overwhelms me. But I know one thing above all else. I love my Brickle. And I AM putting too much pressure on him. So yesterday? Well, I decided that enough was enough. Tomorrow? I may not be as strong. But all I can control is today. And I will not allow my emotions to reflect on my face. If I have to step outside to cry, I will. If I have take a drive, I will. We all say we would do anything for our dogs. But would we really?
Some of us who have battled with anxiety or depression may not realize how serious it is. Some of us have been dealing with it our whole lives. Sometimes, on some of my bad days, I realize I am frustrated. Even with my dogs. I may pull their leashes a little tighter. Or I may have a shorter temper when they act up. And they do act up. But on my happy days, I deal with them differently. And there is no excuse to put this type of pressure on my dogs. I can control my emotions. They can’t.
I believe that being a dog parent come with an extreme amount of responsibility, sometimes even more than having human children. Why? Because unlike human children, dogs cannot speak up for themselves. They do not have free will most of the time. And they rely solely on us. We have invited them into our world, and it is up to us to treat them like the individuals that they are. And for me, being a dog parent comes with growth, and ways to improve.
As different as Brickle and Digby are, so are all of the other dogs I have had in my life. They have each taught me something, and have made me a better person along the way.
For Brickle, he has taught me that perhaps one of the best ways I can deal with my depression is to not think solely of myself, but to realize that I am affecting others.
And by doing this, even if I have to put on my best face on my worst day, I will do it. Because my dog is my life, and he deserves the best one I can give him.
-Rachael Johnson, Girl Person of 2 Traveling Dogs