In the fall of 2008 I was recovering from a suicide attempt. Everything was dark. Darker than it had ever been. My parents suggested I get a dog. I’d had a collie, Freedom, in the past for 11 years before she had to be put down, but it had been a few years since then. I wondered if I could take care of a puppy when I could barely take care of myself. I was back living with my parents after 10 years on my on. I had no money. I was away from most of my friends. Could I be a good pet parent?
I researched breeds and decided on a Bernese Mountain Dog. I found a breeder in the state and they had a girl in the litter and she was born on October 8th, the day I was released from the psych ward. I saw this as a sign.
And the thing about Hope is she gave me a reason to live. She needed me. She needed me to put food in her bowl, to let her outside and back in again, to reach the tap to fill her water bowl. To her, I was the most important person in the world – and that helped to lift my depression.
Exercise is helpful to people with mood disorders and taking Hope for a walk became a customary habit. It wasn’t “exercise” it was “walking Hope.” Eventually, as Hope noticed every squirrel in the neighborhood, I began to see the flowers and the butterflies. Beauty again entered my realm of consciousness.
When I moved in with my boyfriend I gained a new dog, Sammy. Now I had double the responsibility. It is a wonderful thing. When I awake depressed and sour-faced, I open the closed bedroom door first thing in the morning and wagging tails jostle around my mood and make me smile. Hope is funny and quirky. Sammy is a sweet pea. And they help me stay well.
I recommend getting a pet if you have a mental illness. You will be surprised how their needs will supersede your own. The companionship they give you helps you feel not so alone. They don’t care if you are depressed or manic; they just love you unconditionally. Whether it be a dog, a cat, a bird, or a gerbil, they will help you find a purpose to get up in the morning…and isn’t that sometimes the hardest thing, just to get up, just to face the day.