So I Got an Emotional Support Dog

My husband and I talked about the options for treating my depression and social anxiety. Honestly, at this point, I’m so terrified of antidepressants after losing several years worth of memory that I’m… shall we say very unlikely to go back on them. In addition, because I’ve always had depression, it is hard for me to answer the “Is this dose working for you?” questions. The best I can manage is usually ‘Well, I want to die a bit less than normal, and I feel a bit more convinced that putting effort into a given task will produce results…’ so I say “Yes.” Of course, I may still feel like -horrible thoughts about myself that I will not retype because I don’t want to strengthen them any further-, but I’m still breathing, so of course I feel awful and am drowning in despair. That’s just what life is.

Right, so, moving on.

Counseling does and doesn’t help. Right now, I don’t believe that it will be helpful, because progress in nearly every area of my life consists of the following:

  1. Accept that this situation is terrifying, that it has gone badly in the past, and that these feelings do affect the way you approach the current situation.
  2. Choose to risk everything and believe that just once it is possible for things to go well (or at least better).
  3. Pay attention to how you feel while facing the situation and make adjustments as necessary.
  4. Sit still and process the outcome. If things went well, make a point to think through that and try to remember the situation. 
  5. Repeat ad nauseum, until the stimulus is no longer threatening.
  6. Identify new fear-inducing stimulus and return to step one.

At this point, it’s just confidence and practice that I need. Courage to take the first step and willingness to struggle and fail as needed in order to improve.

So, why a dog? Well, there are some direct benefits to this treatment method:

  • Daily exercise: Improves my health and fitness, added endorphins, exposure to sunlight.
  • Daily low intensity socialization: Dog people are likely to talk to me about my dog while we walk. This is better than talking to only one person per day.
  • Stress relief: She is calm, so I become calm. Also, I have continuity throughout my day, which takes the edge off of transitions and unexpected tasks (like incoming phone calls- which I currently don’t answer because they scare me).
  • Laughter: Smiling and laughter both affect the brain a bit, and this should help to decrease the severity of my depressive responses. I hope.
  • Companionship: I can’t really explain why sitting alone for long periods of time is bad for me, why I have been escaping reality into a world where I have friends, or why having a furry friend with me through the highs and lows could help me feel better. I think I have spent enough time in profound isolation that I’m still unable to feel any emotions regarding my loneliness. Except on rare days when I cry without warning. I probably feel it then, but I can’t be sure.

Dora has been sticking close to me since we brought her home, and I am terrified of her. Not rationally, of course- if I think about it, I receive feedback like this: “She is gentle. She listens well. She loves company. She is so laid back!” But on an emotional level, I’m afraid that she won’t be the right dog or that I will screw this up some how or that she will hate me or that the universe won’t let me have this good thing or that my life will somehow revert back to deep dark pain because I need to hurt all the time or I can’t be allowed to keep living. And I’m crying now. Emotionally numb, in this moment, like a lid on top of a boiling pot, bouncing a bit as the steam escapes but still containing the activity within.

One day, I want to feel things again. To have a stimulus occur and then to know that I am sad or happy or whatever. Not to experience the stimulus, and then stop and analyze the situation to determine what my emotional reaction is likely to be, and then to discover a day later that there was a feeling inside that feeling, and then to find another one, and another one. Like a matryoshka doll of pain, fear, and repressed memories.

I want to just see something beautiful and laugh and smile and feel a warm glow in my heart. I want to be hurt by someone and to know it then, right as their words or actions dissipate into the air. It’s hard to live in this disjointed way- only enjoying or mourning long after the event has passed.

Anyway, hopefully Dora will help me to go outside into public space more often, without feeling like an eyesore. Hopefully, we will meet many new people without me feeling like I’m wasting their time. Hopefully, I will find a way to connect to this world, instead of watching helplessly as it moves along without me.


2 thoughts on “So I Got an Emotional Support Dog

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