Our pets bring such joy, love and energy to our lives. They can help us heal from loneliness, isolation and, in some cases, even depression. In our newest book about dogs, Jessica Snell tells us about the instrumental role her dog played in helping her to recover from a serious anxiety disorder in her story titled "Right." She shares:
"Hi, I'm Jessica, and I have an anxiety disorder." I did all the right things for it. At least, I did all the right things eventually, when it all came crashing down and the panic attacks took over my life. It got so bad that it was all I could do to make it to the end of the day, when I'd hand the care of my kids over to my husband so I could go curl up in a ball on my bed, sure that going outside would kill me.
I did all the right things: I saw my doctor. I got medication. And I saw a therapist.
It's complicated, of course. My therapist and I talked about my marriage, my hang-ups and, of course, my childhood.
But then came the question from my therapist: "Why don't you get a dog?"
A dog. A calm, loyal, protective animal that would be there when I was scared. That would stay present and warm and near when the adrenalin coursed unwelcome through my veins. When the waves of fear made my heart pound and my stomach clench and sweat drip down my face. A dog.
"I can't get a dog," I said. "I live in an apartment."
My therapist looked amused. "Do you think people in apartments never have dogs? What do you think they do in New York?"
She was right. I couldn't pretend she wasn't.
And I loved dogs. I always had. I'd grown up with them. There was Sofie, the shy rescue puppy we named after her love of curling up secure on the sofa. There was Charlie, the big, bounding Dalmatian-German shepherd mix who could stand on his hind legs and put his front paws on my shoulders. There was Sarah, the sight hound who looked sleepy but could bound up and catch an opossum on the back fence faster than I could blink.
But I'd grown up in a house, and so for some reason I had it in my head that people who lived in apartments -- like the one I lived in now -- couldn't have dogs.
Nevertheless, I came home and, with a hint of hope in my voice, mentioned the idea to my husband: "What if we get a dog?"
He wasn't hard to convince. He'd grown up with dogs, too. So, we brought home Callie, a fluffy, medium-size black mutt. Gorgeous. Her fur was so long I could sink my fingers into it and so soft that it rivaled the fur of a cat. Callie was so affectionate that she'd wiggle herself under my hand for just one more scratch every time I stopped petting her.
And she made me feel safer.
"What do you think people in New York do?" my therapist had asked.
And now, as a person who had a dog -- and who lived in an apartment -- I had my answer: They take their dogs for walks.
They take their dogs for walks outside. Away from the safety of their homes.
It was the exact opposite of everything my anxiety disorder screamed at me to do. My anxiety disorder said: "Stay inside, stay safe, and hide yourself away."
But the fluffy black mutt who looked at me with adoring eyes said, "I love you, and I trust you're going to walk me to some fresh green grass where I can pee."
It sounds silly, but it was simple, really. Callie became both my reason for going outside and also my protection when I did.
With Callie on a leash, I began to fight my fears. I started going on walks again. Just around the block at first, but that counted. I was outside with my dog at my side; I was reclaiming my place in the world. My neighborhood streets became mine again.
Mine ... and Callie's.
My therapist was right.