Friends, the gift of animals, learning new things, volunteering, exercise, finding spirituality, building your self-esteem, support groups, therapy, medication — just some of the ways to lessen your depression.***
Animals are incredible. They seem to know what we need before we do. And they help phenomenally with depression.
Before I ever had children, I had a dog. Her name was Tulsa. Forget that she used to sleep in the middle of the street. I thought she was brilliant. And she was my friend. She never cared how pretty I looked. She wasn’t interested in whether I wore make up. She didn’t care whether boys liked me or not. She was my buddy. She and I crossed the entire country together one summer in a Volkswagon Bug. It took us five days. We were cramped. At one point, the temperature neared one hundred degrees. She never complained. When I squirted her with a hose, she danced and twirled like I had just done something miraculous. When I bought her a hamburger at McDonald’s, she licked my face. When I shared my french fries, she put her head on my lap. When we slept in a cheap motel, she spread out and smiled like our digs were luxurious. When we camped out, me with a Buck knife in my hand just in case, she slept next to me.
She always stayed with me when I was sick. She always nuzzled me when I cried. Once I went on a date and selfishly left her alone for fifteen hours. When I got home she had not peed. She wouldn’t do that to me. When I was far from my family on Christmas, she made it a holiday. I cooked her a steak and she kissed my face. I wasn’t alone because I had her.
Years later, I had a border collie named Towley. Even though I left her alone during the day while I worked, she never held it against me. One year at Christmas, she came with me to my job at a nursing home, decked out in reindeer antlers and pulling a wagon full of Hershey Kisses. As annoying and as undignified as that must have been for her, she wagged her tail the whole time and made a lot of very lonely people very happy.
The two dogs I have now, a beautiful golden named Sierra and a spunky puggle named Bailey, participate a lot in my private practice. I see lots of people with pretty horrific Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and the dogs make many of them feel better. Recently I worked with a lovely nine-year- old girl who had been trapped in the bathroom for four hours because a container of Comet had been left out. Crying and embarrassed, she told me the story. She had gone to the bathroom in her home. As she was about to leave the bathroom, she saw an open container of Comet on the floor. She became panic stricken that somehow she had been contaminated by the Comet due to her proximity to it. She further reasoned that if she left the bathroom, she would contamination her entire family. Finishing the story, she cried harder. Low and behold, Sierra, my golden, jumped on the couch and licked her tears. The girl smiled, then laughed. She relaxed.
One mental health professional, working with sexually abused children, has her perfectly-trained German Shepherd accompany the abused children to court. With the dog at their sides, the children no longer feel as frightened.
One of the women I see at the hospital had polio as a child. Now, in her fifties, she finds it very difficult to walk. She does so with a brace. She is not married, her nuclear family is only peripherally involved, the winter is very difficult for her and she struggles greatly with money. But she has a little dog who brings her phenomenal joy. In all kinds of weather, including snow, this woman walks her dog many times a day. Several times she has fallen, but she doesn’t let this deter her. When the choice is between food and a vet visit, she takes her dog to the vet. When you call her number and get her machine, you hear a recording. “Hi, you’ve reached Ella and Tobi (her dog.)” Could she save money if she didn’t have her dog? Would she experience less of an impact from the cold if she didn’t have her dog? Of course, but she wouldn’t consider it. “Tobi gives me a reason to be alive,” she says. “She makes me smile.”
Pets are wonderful. If you don’t have a pet and can’t get one, consider volunteering at an animal shelter or a rescue league. What you give to the animals will be given back to you a hundredfold.