Chumi (short for "Chumiko", which means "black conker" in Spanish) is a Collie, with a hint of Whippet hips and legs about her. She's now five months old and just gorgeous. She's slept through the night (I sound like a mother!) from the start, she could already sit and would poop outdoors, she's so friendly with other dogs and people, learning more every day.
I'm not going to just brag about our wonderful pup, here, though. There's a real, useful reason for this blog today. As it's Mental Health Awareness Week, I want to share how having a dog has improved my mental well-being. You may scoff, and people have scoffed, at the idea of how the presence of a dog has helped, but I'm a convert to the idea. It works.
Some of you may be aware that I've struggled with my mental health over the last two to three years. It's a long story, but the up-shot is that I'm definitely on the mend and slowly returning to my old self. Being able to realise that is an important and significant step.
I've tried several things to help me through anxiety, depression and a general emotional confusion: three forms of medication (one made sick, one I was petrified of, and the one I settled with, I'm starting to wean off - yay!), 121 counselling, CBT group classes, more exercise, reading up on mental health blogs, talking openly with friends and family, quitting booze, and trying to re-discover what made me more content and 'me' in the past.
Now, I know what you think I'm going to say. The dog was the key to it all. That's not true. I believe a mixture of all the things above helped me to re-stabilise and begin to function in a way that is normal for me again. However, I have a feeling that having a dog in my life has given more the final push to returning to good mental health.
The answer to solving the conundrum and debilitation of depression is not 'one size fits all', but I sure think a dog should be prescribed on the NHS! *tongue in cheek*
So how has becoming a dog owner assisted me on my recovery?
- The obvious one is I'm getting more exercise. Exercise is a key part to recovery from mental illness. Chumi has a walk first thing from El Husbandio, then a longer walk when I'm back from work. We're out for a minimum of 40 mins at a time, and I often forget the time, enjoying the time out so much. I've been trying to lose a little weigh since November, and it's no coincidence that I'm my lightest (and have been for seven weeks now!) now we have a dog.
- Linked to this, is the additional fresh air I'm getting on these walks. Always a good thing!
- I've also realised, since walking Chumi, that dogs live in the moment; they're masters of Mindfulness, without even knowing it! Our walks together have helped me 'switch off' and she's helped me, in a weird way, to become more mindful and relaxed as a result.
- Dogs lighten the mood. El Husbandio and I haven't had the easiest start to marriage, and Chumi allows us to make light-hearted or grumpy comments about situations to someone who won't challenge your gripes.
- Chumi is a great distraction - for good and for bad! She needs attention, feeding, walking, and all the rest of it, which adds another element of routine and a distraction from things which might worry our little brains too much.
- There's less pressure in the household. Bless him, El Husbandio is a neat freak, who can't relax if the dishes haven't been done. However, playing with the dog has seemingly become more important than household chores. Not in a bad way, we're far from living in squalor, but we're a little more relaxed about when things get done now. Yay!
- I'm feeling the love - Chumi gives us unconditional love. She isn't a captive, she loves being with us and shows us every day by playing, 'dog smiling' and licking kisses all over our hands and faces. Naturally, she's a pack animal, and she loves being part of our small 'pack'. It's not just that we're the ones who feed her - other people give her treats, but it's us she comes home too, even when she escapes the harness! She's not a human substitute, however much I love her, but she's a great companion.
- I'm also sharing the love. As in Gary Demonte Chapman's 'Five Languages Of Love', one of the main ways I like to show love is by giving gifts. I'm always baking for friends and family, often sending fun post to those I love, and grabbing a little gift I come across for El Husbandio when I know he'd love it. Sharing the love with Chumi is easy and so gratifying. She takes about three minutes to suss out a new toy and then plays with it to death. She's happy, grateful, curious, and a pleasure to watch.
- My social circles have widened, almost with immediate effect upon starting to walk Chumi in our local area. I have, I guess, one new friend I now walk with regularly, and new acquaintances I bump into (mostly known by the name of their dog, admittedly!), and it's so nice to be able to have those community links. We're thinking of taking Chumi to fly-ball classes, which again, will widen both her and our social circles.
Take a look at this website for more on how dogs can help with mental therapy. For a more hefty read, try this recent study on pet owners and increased levels of self-esteem. You may be surprised - I was sceptical, never having had a dog before, but I can't believe the difference Chumi has made to my mental health well-being. Just the fact I can reflect and notice the difference shows how far I've come in this short time.
As the author Julie Myerson puts it
"Most of all, when your confidence is at its lowest, when you feel battered – by life, death and (especially) other humans – a dog will shove her nose in your hand and tell you, with conviction and feeling, what a really good person you are."
And in such grim times as these, a little sunshine in a simple way is something we could all benefit from.
If you think you could benefit from a dog's company but can't commit, why not take a look at Borrow My Doggy? You can meet up with local owners who need extra walking for their pooch and get the benefits of having a dog without the long term commitments. Let me know how you get on!
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Born to be a Tourist