I have struggled with my mental health for years now and between all the therapies and other various forms of treatment that I have tried, getting a dog has been the thing that has helped me the most with my symptoms. When all else fails and it feels like everything is falling to pieces, Mabel is always there to hold me together.
Here are the 5 biggest ways that Mabel and the puppies I watch help me with my mental health.
I know it is cliché, but a dog’s love is unconditional, and for someone who struggles with believing in herself or thinking that she is capable or worthy of X, Y, and Z that unconditional love given by a dog is a lifeline. So much of my day is trying to ignore or counter the negative thoughts running through my head about myself, but one look from Mabel and my perspective changes, even just the littlest bit at that moment. The way she looks at me and lights up when I talk to her warms me from the inside. I can be having the crummiest day and then Mabel gives me that look and a smile creeps up on my face.
Mabel has learned to come and comfort me when I cry or interrupt my anxious ticks when I’m at home or in public. She gives me her love so freely and helps me to open myself up to positive feelings. I feel needed and wanted by her, loved beyond measure, and she helps me not feel so alone.
MAKES ME LAUGH
Mabel is one of the dorkiest doodles I know and can, without fail, make me laugh. Her favorite thing to do is to chase shadows outside. I know this because she will stand outside for hours, tail wagging the whole time, chasing any bird, bug, or leaf shadow that comes by. When you throw a ball for her and it bounces, she will dart the opposite direction of the ball to chase its shadow! This pup is full of antics that help me get little giggles in throughout the day.
When I have puppies that I’m taking care of, they are always so playful and goofy as they are trying to figure out their new world and keep up with their growing bodies. They pounce, hop, tumble, and wiggle in their own little puppy dance that I can’t help but giggle over. And I can’t forget about the puppy kisses! The little ones kiss and tickle my feet, face, and anywhere else they can reach like it’s their job!
GETS ME OUTSIDE
A classic way that our dogs can help us cope with mental illness is to get us outside. They help us move and get some fresh air when all we want to do is hide away inside or sleep. Sometimes all I can manage is to go for a simple walk around the neighborhood with Mabel. That simple act of getting out of my hole, moving for ten minutes, and focusing on Mabel and her needs/feelings can help break up negative thought loops.
Mabel gets such joy from going to the beach that it is contagious. The beach has become my biggest healing place for that main reason: seeing Mabel so happy, which in turn makes me feel so happy. If I’m struggling at work or trapped in my darkness, I try to do whatever I can to take Mabel to the beach. I watch her run, feel the water on my feet, and let her excitement break through my walls.
GAVE ME A HOBBY
One thing I wasn’t expecting Mabel and the pups to do for me was to give me a hobby and something positive to focus on in that way. Taking pictures of Mabel and the puppies have become something that I find joy in. It’s fun to come up with photo ideas between fun themed pictures for holidays, cute poses for the babies, and trying to get the perfect shot in a beautiful scenery.
I love the challenge of working with new puppies who don’t know how to sit still or look at the camera. I feel pride when I find out I got an amazing shot. I find joy sharing my pictures and seeing which ones people like. I get motivated when I want to go out and take new pictures. All of these positive feelings (joy, purpose, motivation, pride) can be so hard for me to feel when I’m in the thick of my mental illness.
It’s also very hard to keep a straight face when you stumble upon the funniest outtakes while editing pictures:
BUFFER WITH PEOPLE
One of my mental health struggles is social anxiety. I have let this anxiety stop me from interacting with people more times than I can remember. I will spend weeks without seeing friends or going to small events. I’ve missed baby showers for family members, stopped going to church, and have full-blown battles with myself just to try to get myself to work some mornings. Mabel has become my buffer in social situations. Everyone’s attention gets drawn to her and it helps relieve some of the pressure I normally feel when the attention is on me.
I am able to use Mabel and the puppies as conversation starters or re-direct people back to the dogs if I start getting uncomfortable. Also, I’m able to take little breaks by saying I need to take Mabel out to go to the bathroom or even by just bending down and getting a snuggle or hug from Mabel. Petting her hair is very calming for me so I’ll often be petting her while I’m talking to people. It’s always a crowd pleaser when Mabel and I show off her tricks which, is something I do as an icebreaker, or on good days when I’m feeling more confident and comfortable in a social situation.
Although Mabel doesn’t take my mental illness struggles away, she gives me the moments of relief I need to keep going. Mabel has become my best coping skill, and I couldn’t be more thankful to have her in my life.
Does your dog help you with your mental health struggles? Share your story in the comments.