I have not tended my Blog for a while because I’ve been waiting for a decidedly dark cloud to lift from my mind. It is taking its time – so much so that I have decided to wait no longer. This time of year has always stirred up a malevolent host of demons in my world. The darkening evenings actually seem to suck the life out of me, and I feel myself sinking into hopelessness. Real sink or swim stuff. Yet here I am, still alive enough to write.
When all is well I throw myself into daily life – making plans, embarking on courses, committing to dates and appointments, acting on ideas. Then depression strikes and within days all my excitement has died. I can feel the demon’s claw seizing my spirit and attempting to strangle it. Suddenly I cannot go out, I want to shut myself away from my friends, I lose the motivation to do the simplest tasks, and slowly things begin to fall apart.
So where does Trudy fit into this? My black and white choice is to find somebody to look after her while I wallow in misery, or to stumble onwards and continue caring for her myself. Unable to part with her, I’ve chosen to keep things as they are. The upshot is that I have to continue with a daily routine for Trudy’s sake. That means getting up at the usual time to feed her and take her outside for her “busy busy”. More often than not I meet a neighbour and we spend a few minutes engaging in chit-chat. Having a bouncy Labrador makes it impossible to hide away from the outside world. Thanks to Trudy, the skeleton of my normal routine has remained intact.
I have learned to lower my expectations during times of low mood. My current goal is to survive this rather bleak period and to continue to look after Trudy – not because I have to, but because I want to. The love I have for Trudy makes me glow inside, and even when my mood is dark and I can’t feel the warmth from that glow I know it’s still there. When Trudy bounds over after I’ve popped out for a few minutes, I can feel the glow stirring, and it gives me hope. Trudy is a gift, and the bond we have is a gift. Being on the receiving end of the unconditional love which just spills out of Labradors is very precious.
One of the great things about dogs is that they are so tangible. Trudy’s warm, soft fur has an instant feel-good effect – and that’s before I get to the silky ears, and the wagging tail. Research has proved that stroking animals can increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. In addition it can boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, and decrease pain. This is why there is an increasing number of Therapy dogs being assigned to hospices and retirement homes. In fact when I have visited such places myself in my capacity as a Speaker, I have witnessed the positive effects that Trudy has had on some of the patients. Trudy is synonymous with Life. Just being around her makes life livable.
Perhaps her ability to inject humour into my bleakest moments is the thing that strikes me most. If Trudy wants to play hide and seek with items from my laundry basket, she won’t take no for an answer no matter how depressed I feel! And the fast-beating thump of her tail has such an upbeat rhythm that my mouth smiles without me even thinking about it. Then there are the numerous feats of Labrador mischief that prove to me how priceless Trudy is, and before long I realise that I’m actually glad to be alive. Sometimes I surprise myself by my own spontaneous laughter – thanks to Trudy. Trudy ignites hope inside me, and hope is what stops people from drowning.
So despite the waves of gloom which permeate my days at the moment, I have the means to stay grounded, focussed and connected with other people. When I’m in the park with Trudy, fellow walkers see the hurtling Labrador before they see me. Even when they notice me and we strike up a conversation they are unaware of my inner struggle. This in itself is a true bonus. Antidepressants can set right the chemical imbalances in your brain, but having a dog like Trudy is a reason for living and thriving. Merely wanting to look after a dog takes your thoughts away from your own troubles. Actually having a dog reduces those troubles to the bare minimum. Trudy’s role as a Guide dog at this time is secondary to her therapeutic role. The very fact that she gives me so much makes me determined to do what I can for her. This has prevented me from caving in on myself.
Trudy provides me with so much more than freedom and mobility. I know she understands me as I do her, and it feels like we’re joined together by something magical. She is not just part of my life, she has become part of me.
Hetty is Britain’s first dual Guide dog and Seizure Alert dog http://www.guidedogs.org.uk/news/uks-first-dual-guide-dog-and-seizure-dog-graduates-with-new-owner/
Children with autism and OCD benefit from assistance dogs http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/11/giving/11DOGS.html?_r=2&partner=TOPIXNEWS&ei=5099
Therapy dogs in Psychiatric services http://drdeborahserani.blogspot.com/2010/10/therapy-service-dogs.html