I first began experiencing anxiety and depression in my late teens following a string of bad relationships, some emotionally abusive and one physically violent, and then a major emotional trauma at 18.
While at first it would come and go, anxiety and depression eventually became a constant presence in my life. It was like a cough that eventually starts to get better, only to come back worse than before. Only unlike a cough, where usually I am still able to function, anxiety and depression hits like a ton of bricks and even the idea of getting out of bed seems to be a goal that gets to be less and less attainable.
As time passed, more and more of my days started to be spent paralyzed by endless thoughts of regrets of the past and worries for the future and that was when I knew I needed to seek professional advice.
I tried everything; anti-depressants, talking therapies, exercise and generally any advice given by doctors. The exercise was great while I was doing it, but as soon as I was home it started to creep back up again. The talking therapies weren’t for me, I had already talked about it to death and it wasn’t working. Anti-depressants were the only thing that helped me out although it was still always in the back of my mind and I knew I couldn’t stay on medication for the rest of my life.
I started to believe that I'd have to live the rest of my life with this dark cloud constantly hanging over me, rearing its ugly head just when things are starting to look up. Then at 22 I got a slipped in my back and ended up with around 3 months off work, various medications and physio sessions until I could finally get back to work and start to feel better. When I did, I decided to stop the anti-depressants and everything was going well. Until a couple of years later in 2016 at 24 when it went again, struggling to walk and unable to get to work I was stuck in the house for days on end again waiting for injections to make me better. While I was at home I found myself wishing I had something to take my mind off things and I had always wanted a dog, however, my partner wasn’t keen. He eventually gave in and just before I was due to go back to work we brought little Jack home, a 3 year old Patterdale Terrier.
I knew he would bring joy to my life but I didn't realise at the time how much he would truly change it for the better. He settled straight in away and he was the best behaved little dog I could have ever wished for.
He gave me a reason to get straight out of bed in the morning, I couldn’t lie there feeling sorry for myself and spending forever convincing myself to get out of bed in the morning. He depended on me and he needed me to get straight up and take him out. So there I was, after months of struggling to find it in me to get up in the mornings, getting straight up as soon as my alarm went off and getting straight out of the house to walk him.
When I have my down days or when I’m feeling anxious about something, it’s like he knows. He’s always there, snuggling up to me and licking my tears away. He knows that it’s not play time and it’s time for cuddles, like he’s repaying me for looking after him by looking after me when I really need him. He’s always there even when I don’t realise I need him. He makes
me smile every single day and always gives me a reason to leave the house when all I want to do is hide away, I can’t and it’s all thanks to him.
It has been almost 2 and a half years since we got Jack and 7 months ago we decided to bite the bullet and get another. So we now have Gypsy who is also a Patterdale Terrier and turned 3 this year. She’s Jack’s best friend and has given him the love he needs while we are out at work.
Gypsy has the exact same reactions to my feelings that Jack has, two little support dogs that probably have no idea the positive impact they have had on my life and how grateful I am to have them. have never spent another day unable to get out of bed. I’m not saying I don’t have bad days because I do and I’m always anxious about something which I always will be, but what I have learnt is to finally manage these feelings and emotions and how to pull myself round rather than spiralling for days.
The reason these dogs, or any pet for that matter, are so key is that they all trigger the release of the chemical serotonin, the feel-good chemical, in our brains. Increased levels of serotonin every day mean that symptoms of anxiety and depression can dramatically decrease.
The kind of love that greets you at the door every day after a long day of work and just turns everything around.
A dog motivates you to get out the door for fresh air and exercise, even when it's the last thing you feel like doing. A dog brings you so much laughter and joy with their unique personalities and hilarious quirks (search "funny dog videos" and you'll know exactly what I am talking about). And lastly, a dog brings you unconditional love, the kind of love that never stops. With these three things in your life, anxiety and depression can be part of your past as it has become a part of mine.
If you are considering getting a dog to help improve your mental health, here are some things to consider:
1. Do I have time for a dog? A dog requires a minimum of 2 hours a day of your time and attention. A puppy requires even more, around 4 hours a day. Please also consider rescuing a dog in need of a home, thousands of dogs are in need of homes in rescue shelters all over the country.
2. What breed do I want? If you want a dog that will motivate you to exercise, pick a dog breed that requires the level of exercise you want to partake in. Dog breeds range from low to very high exercise requirements. Also, dog breeds are known for different personalities, pick one that suits you. Terriers are not for everyone, I love the bones of mine but they are crazy, energetic and sometimes very naughty. I got lucky with mine being so calm and well behaved!
3. Do I have the money? While dogs do not need to be expensive, it's important to make sure that you have enough money to support their needs. This includes all of their
accessories, training tools, food, treats, and vet bills.
Getting a dog was the missing piece in my puzzle in helping me learn to manage my anxiety and depression and could be the piece that changes your life. But no matter what your missing piece may be, whether you know what it is or not, never lose hope that things will get better.
"Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise." - Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
FOLLOW CHLOE ON TWITTER: