October 1-7 is National Walk Your Dog Week, founded by pet lifestyle expert and animal behaviorist, Colleen Paige.
As I write this post, I’m unsure which puppy pictured above will join our home tonight. We don’t care which furry, little creature we shall be graced with -we’ve spent time with them and they are both amazing, wriggling fluffs of joy.
Our family is totally freaking out about our new addition…in the BEST way possible!
And now more than ever, I believe in “furry mood stabilizers”. Please allow me to explain:
In my late twenties, a decade before I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar I disorder, I suffered the demise of a relationship that sent me reeling into my first full-blown clinical depression. A Paltrow/Martin-like conscious uncoupling it was not! My boyfriend betrayed me with a born-again Christian. (I didn’t think either of them acted in a very Christian-like manner, to tell you the truth.) To be fair, he literally wasn’t in his right mind when that all went down. This man, who I had been faithful to for almost five years, turned out to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Life is stranger than fiction.
Thank God I had my two dogs, Tara and Shera, to see me through during those dark months of despair. My depression hit me so hard that I quit my full-time special event production job and applied for temporary disability to make ends meet.
I saw my first psychiatrist, Dr. C., at age twenty-six. He was the close friend of someone I knew and trusted. Although he reviewed my family history, in which I briefly mentioned my father’s bipolar disorder, he didn’t think I had any tendency for the same mood disorder. Dr. C. diagnosed me with clinical depression and prescribed Paxil, my very first psychiatric medication. I took Paxil for about five months and I slowly but surely pulled out of that nightmare depression.
Aside from Paxil and therapy, what helped me most were my dogs. While I let just about everything in my life go to the wayside–job, cleaning my studio, cooking, etc.–I couldn’t coop up my dogs every day. I lived close to a beautiful field in Santa Cruz, California called Lighthouse Field. This once dog-friendly state park bordered the Pacific Ocean and it overlooked the famous surfing point, Steamer Lane. The Mark Abbot Memorial lighthouse, built in memory of a young man who drowned while body surfing, loomed over the surfers.
Lighthouse Field became my second home. Every afternoon, Tara, Shera, and I explored the numerous park trails. I had plenty of time and the walking habit helped to structure my day and give me exercise. I let Tara and Shera run off-leash to their heart’s content. They absolutely loved that field and, along with my dogs’ happiness, I appreciated the park’s natural beauty.
The field became a profound place of healing. As my dogs were the reason I made the commitment to walk, I give Tara and Shera just as much credit as Dr. C, Paxil, and therapy for helping me recover. Being outdoors in the fresh ocean air contributed to the lifting of my depression, while exposure to the natural sunlight helped me as well.
Ever since Tara died in my arms, and I held Shera as she was put to sleep, I’ve had a void in my life. I didn’t fully realize this emptiness until a few days ago, believe it or not. Over the years since their deaths it was difficult for me to look closely at anything pet-related. When I was around other people’s pets, I felt the loss of my dogs, even though I enjoyed petting their animals and being present with them as best as I could.
As soon as I realized last weekend that we were opening our home to a pet once again, my heart soared. What makes this time extraordinarily special is that it’s not just me who wants a dog so much–my two girls have been begging us for a dog for three years. They are beyond excited. I know that when I see them shower our puppy with love and learn how to care for a pet, it will be an incredible experience.
One of my best memories growing up was spending time with our two Irish Setters, Tanya and Amber. My father loved his dogs, and he passed that love for pets down to me. I know that when he experienced his bouts of bipolar depression, his dogs gave him comfort. My Dad died in 2009, and I like to think that wherever he is now, he’s happy to see me bringing a dog not only into my life again, but into his granddaughters’ lives as well.
The Mental Health Warrior Kelly, who has become my friend through the blogosphere, often writes about the wonder of her dog Molly and how she has helped Kelly with her mood challenges.
Here’s the link to Kelly’s popular, classic post 31 Powerful Life Lessons I Learned From My Dog:
I’ll end with writing that if you have you have a pet, please give yourself a LOT of credit. It’s hard enough to take care of ourselves, isn’t it? But when you add a dependent creature into your world, your life becomes more challenging. I believe that anyone with a mood disorder who has a pet–be it a fish, a rabbit, a chicken, a cat, a dog or gecko–is helped by that pet very much, in all kinds of ways.
I believe that having and caring for a pet is more therapeutic than most of us realize. Pet stewardship is not all honky dory; I didn’t miss cleaning up dog poop during my pet-less years, and I didn’t miss the other pet “liquid emissions “and stressful trips to the vet. But this time around I know it will be worth it to have these inconveniences if it means having more love in our home. I know my Dad would want that for us.
Dyane Leshin-Harwood, a freelance writer for 17 years, was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder 6 weeks after her baby was born. Dyane founded the Santa Cruz Chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) & ran numerous support groups. She’s a member of the International Bipolar Foundation’s Consumer Advisory Council and an IBPF blogger. Dyane was selected as a 2014 IBPF “Story of Hope and Recovery” and she writes for Stigmama.com. She’s completing her book “Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder” with a foreword by Stigmama.com founder/postpartum expert Dr. Walker Karraa. Dyane blogs at www.proudlybipolar.wordpress.com