How My Dog Is Saving My Life
TRIGGER WARNING - I will be talking about suicide and other mental health issues.
In the early hours of the 10th of May 2017 my dog helped save my life. Here's the story....
Hey beautiful people!
I've been away a while...and if you follow me on twitter you may have learnt that it has been due to some mental health issues. In the beginning of January I got signed off work as my depression was beginning to take over my day-to-day life again. Over the last 4 months my schizophrenia returned with vengeance resulting in me having to leave my full time job for good and unfortunately for the 4th time in my life, I attempted suicide. This is obviously something I don't talk about very much; however the last 4 months have been filled with battles to get doctors and other care professionals to see me and it has proven almost impossible. To this day I still have not been given a care co-ordinator or seen a therapist/psychiatrist. The NHS simply do not have enough funding and resources to help people like me. Although I was so lost in my mental illness that I wished to leave this world, doctors will still not see me any quicker because although I am a danger to myself, I am not a danger to others....
I came home so upset that I'd been sent away after finally being brave enough to admit how I was feeling, but mostly I was heartbroken for all the other people that are going through the same thing and are also stuck on waiting lists while they sit at home trying to fight the overwhelming feeling that the world would be better off without them. I can not let that happen any more. That's where this new rebrand of my blog has come from. If I can help just one person then the fact that I shared this story will be worth it.
There are a lot of different things they suggest to help control mental health. Different types of therapy such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), emotional copping skills, medication and in places like America they have something called Emotional Support Companions.
Personally I am currently on 3 types of medication, Beta Blockers to help control my heart rate so I don't have so many anxiety attacks. The highest dose of Anti-Depressants you can get to help with my overall daily mood and Anti-Psychotics to help me sleep and control my hallucinations. I am on waiting lists for 4 different types of therapy, a care co-ordinator and to meet with a psychiatrist to officially diagnose my schizophrenia because, even though I have had this since around 7 years of age and I have been given medication for it, no one has actually officially assessed me or given me a diagnosis.
Desperate to try and find a way to help myself that wouldn't cost more than my rent (private therapists cost a bomb) I looked more into how Emotional Support Companions are used in America. ESC's are not something that exist here in the UK; however after reading report after report of how much having an animal around has helped people gain more control on their lives I knew I had to try and find a way to create something similar for myself here in the UK.
My partner and I had been longing and saving for a dog of our own for a long time and once we realised thats it could also have some benefits to my health, we got the green light from our landlord and with some financial support from my family I started franticly searching for the perfect little pup. I have always wanted a dachshund. Their little faces just melt my heart. So when we found a litter of Miniature Dachshund pups ready to go home in just two weeks I felt like the luckiest girl in the world! We went over to pick out our little friend and he ended up choosing us! He instantly curled up on me and had a snooze and I knew I couldn't leave without putting down his deposit. The other pups were also cute as anything but this one liked us straight away so we knew he had to be the one.
As I said ESCs don't currently exist here in the UK, I can not take him to work or into any building I like or even have him sit on my lap on an airplane like you can in America. There are some ways around things like this though. If you have some kind of office job you might be able to convince your boss to allow you to have your dog with you so long as no-one is allergic (you can get dogs that you can't be allergic to, like dachshunds!) or has a phobia of them. If you are like me and would like the ability to take your pup into shops I would recommend getting a small dog. Anytime I'm out with Gimli (that's my dogs name, yes..I love Lord Of The Rings) and I have to go indoors, I either carry him while I'm in there or put him in his very own bag which is designed to keep him comfortable.
(Omfg isn't he just the cutest?!)
Another thing that may help (although it might be a little big wrong...but it's for something good so shhh) is I have a dog harness for him that has the words 'Therapy Dog' on it which means when most people see him wearing it they tend not to bother asking me to leave as they assume he has the same rights as other working dogs. Technically in terms of the law he doesn't, however I believe he should and if I have to lie a little so I'm able to leave my house without having a anxiety attack then I will continue to do so. I also see this as being justifiable because he's hypoallergenic. If you think this might be a good idea too I got mine through Amazon for a very good price here.
One of the hardest things for myself is the battle with Agoraphobia "anxiety disorder characterised by symptoms of anxiety in situations where the person perceives the environment to be unsafe with no easy way to get away. These situations can include open spaces, public transit, shopping malls, or simply being outside the home" and therefore convincing myself its safe to go outside. The only way I am able to leave the house without having a complete melt down is if someone comes with me. I will then at least consider the idea where as if I'm alone I can guarantee I will not leave the house for weeks and sometimes months on end. The Pup has made this so much easier I can't even begin to tell you. Because he needs daily walks and exercise I'm forced to have a reason to go outside. I know I'll be ok simply going to the shop down the road because the dog can come with me. I am currently training him to respond to different signs of me becoming anxious (I scratch a lot when I'm scared or stressed) and to even lick my face when I pass out from a bad anxiety attack to help wake me back up. Even just simply feeling his breathing by giving him a cuddle can calm me down enough bring me back to reality.
Having a dog also means you are forced to commit to a healthy daily routine because no matter how you are feeling, he will need to go outside at 7 in the morning. Instead of spending days in bed feeling awful I'm awoken by this beautiful bundle of joy thats loves me no matter what and so eventually after he has licked my face to death I will actually get up in the mornings. If you suffer from mental illness you will know just how impossible it can feel just to simply get out of bed. Eventually I plan to train him to encourage me to do such things as washing and eating also. Which again if you have mental health you will know how impossible tasks like this can become.
On the 10th May 2017 my dog helped save my life.
It had been 3 days since I had slept and my hallucinations where getting worse and worse. I hear a voice in my head I see her as well as other things around me that I know not to be real such as oil dripping from the walls or fireworks dancing around people as I talk to them. The voice has come and gone throughout the years but I fear it will always be with me in some way or another. This particular night I was very sleep deprived and naturally a lot less likely to push aside the negative thoughts this voice whispers to me. I would continuously hear promises of her being quiet if I took at least 50 pain killers. I could barely see at this point, the only thing that did not appear to be covered in oil to me was the drawer I knew kept all our medication.
I sat in my kitchen counting out 100 pain killers (the agreed amount of 50 had been changed because I was taking to long, according to the voice) at this point I think I had had around 5-6 shots of vodka to try and stable myself. I'm not sure why I thought this as I'm not suppose to drink on the medication I am on. At this point I just wanted this hell to be over. I felt trapped by my own mind and didn't see anyway I was going to be rid of it because no one was willing to help me the way I needed. All I thought I had at this point was the voice in my head telling me that it will all be over soon with ever pill I take. There was however still one part of me trying to stop me from giving in. I'd been begging and hoping for the strength to make some sort of loud noise so that my partner might wake up and find me. This had been going on for hours and yet I couldn't bring myself to do it because I was too scared to upset this voice that now had almost full control over my actions. Eventually I convinced myself to stand up abruptly from my chair hoping the sound from the chair scrapping along the kitchen floor would be enough. It wasn't. I could hear my partner still snoring from the kitchen. It did however, without my knowledge, wake up my dog who was sleeping next to him.
The pup then licked my partners face until he woke up and then convinced him to follow him to kitchen to find me. My partner then took away the pills so I would not know where they where and gave me the dog to cuddle to help me calm down enough to tell him what was happening.
If I hadn't had decided to get our beautiful little pup I don't think I'd still be here right now. He is my hero. He knows the second I'm feeling low, sometime before even I do. He gave me my self worth back. That to me, is priceless.
I had not taken enough pills to have any kind of effect on me and so we did not feel going to A&E was necessary as I'm very afraid of hospitals so we feared the waiting around would only make me worse. Any time I went to hospital for suicide or some kind of psychotic episode all that would happen is I'd be put in a empty room for a few hours and then sent home once they decided I was calm enough again. No assessments, no doctors. Just 4 walls and my own thoughts. I knew that was not what I needed at that time. My partner took me to bed, gave me a warm drink and stayed up with me watching Harry Potter as he knows it's my favourite.
We called the crisis line to make sure I was seen by a professional but surprise, surprise because I have not been given a care co-ordinator yet, there was nothing I could do but wait until 9am when their office opened. So we did, and at 9am we found out that every single staff member (including their emergency response team) was in a staff meeting until 11am. I was starting to get angry. When someone finally plucks up the courage to call a mental health team and ask for help to make sure they don't try to kill themselves again, they should not be told they have to wait until they are out of a staff meeting. So I waited, still not sleeping and still trying to ignore the voice screaming at me at this point. I was given an appointment at 2:30 (almost 12 hours since I tried to commit suicide.) only to discover that when I got there it was someone who was just covering for the person I should have seen and that she would "kindly pass on" that my situation has not changed.
I lost it. I could not believe that even though I wanted to die, right there and then, I was still going to be sent home to sit on a waiting list and not get any help just because they didn't see me as a threat to anyone else other than myself. Even more so, I was getting more and more angry thinking about how many poor souls are trapped in this failing system. The ONLY reason I am alive today is because of my partner and my dog, they are the heros in this unfortunate story. It's now 3 days later and I still have not heard from my mental health team and my GP has no control over what they do there so she can't find a way to help me either.
This story isn't here to say fuck the NHS, get a dog instead and all your problems will be solved. That's not going to happen. Mental health can never really be cured I don't think. However, of all the medication, therapy, counseling, courses and coping techniques I have tried over the years, he really is the only thing to have such a positive effect on my mental health so far. He gives me structure through out my day to day life, he loves me no matter how crazy I get and I know if, god forbid I need him to, he'll protect me.
Once I have had Gimli in my life for 6 months (so far he has been with us for 2) I will able to sign up to the charity Pets as Therapy, where he can train to be an official therapy dog and I will be able to take him places where he can help others for a day as well as myself. I know he will be a great help to others as well some day.
I don't fully know how yet, but I know that I need to help people like myself more, and I think Therapy Dogs are the key to that.
So yeah, if you want to keep up to date with me and how Gimli is getting along with his training, please keep coming back to our website and hopefully soon together we will have come up with more of a plan to help more people.
P.S - I do not wish to discourage people from reaching out to the mental health teams. Please, please, PLEASE always do because it's an incredibly brave thing to do and a very important part of helping yourself gain more control of your mental health. There are many helplines out there and your GP will know the closes mental health team to refer you to. Telling someone is a big step. But know that you are not alone. Just because I have had a bad experience so far, does not mean that you will. Thank you x