07 Dec Depression, my dog and grief
I’ve been wanting to tell my story for so long but never really had the courage or even known how to do it. Writing it all down is rather scary. In the past few years I’ve noticed it’s become more of the ‘norm’ to discuss mental health. I say that as if I had my first child decades ago, but my eldest is only 8yrs old. By sharing this I hope it helps others and explains how truly dependable a person can be on a dog.
We rescued our beautiful white German shepherd in Dec 2008, my husband (then boyfriend) wanted to have a shared commitment to one another but I was already pregnant. We laugh about it now, but it was terrifying at the time.
Back to our girl Blondie. She was in terrible condition and in hindsight we should never have brought her home but I couldn’t bear to leave her. She was a long haired GSD but you could see every rib, her teeth were brown (very hard to estimate her age) and her back dipped slightly. She almost looked like she was floating when she walked. We took her straight to the vets, I had estimated she was old from her appearance, she was in fact only 2yrs old. Our vet gave us the meds we needed (lots) and gave us advice on how to care for her in the first few weeks. He confirmed she had arthritis, hip dysplasia and kennel cough. He also told us she wouldn’t live to an old age as she had suffered so badly before we found her. We were told she wouldn’t have a healthy life but we did our best for her. The following weeks were horrendous. The kennel cough was the most severe he had seen but she also had parvo virus. This nearly killed her. She couldn’t move she was so poorly. She did everything where she laid…. I mean everything. I slept downstairs with her, alternating her sides so she didn’t develop any pressure sores and I would drip water from syringes into her mouth every 20-35 mins. I cooked chicken breast, rice, peas and carrots. I’d then blend them into a paste and would put a tea spoon in the roof of her mouth when she would tolerate it. This went on for 2 weeks and all the while I was pregnant too! I assumed caring for her was making me exhausted but the pregnancy in the beginning certainly took it out of me.
I told you all of this so you could have an idea on how close our bond was. Her first impressions of humans had been terrible so having someone care for her the way my husband and I did was foreign to her. In her most vulnerable state I made sure she pulled through and this lead us to all have a beautiful life together.
Blondie recovered by the end of February. She was always slim, even after having her spayed (which can help bitches gain weight) she never really filled out and she was never interested in food. We have no idea what happened before we rescued her as she was found as a stray, it took her ages to eat in front of us. I hate the thought that someone may have hurt her in the past.
Blondie and I were our happiest when we went on our walks together. She was the perfect dog in that sense. We could go anywhere, and she was always impeccably behaved. I had many compliments on how gentle natured she was.
As far as pregnancies go I was having a rather ‘normal’ one. I expected I had sciatica, when in fact this was actually SPD (symphysis pubis dysfunction). It is a collection of uncomfortable symptoms caused by a stiffness of your pelvic joints or the joints moving unevenly at either the back or front of your pelvis. The heavier Oliver would become the more discomfort I would suffer. I was adamant that Blondie would have the walks she was used to and on many occasions Darrell would have to come and pick us up as I was in agony.
Looking back this was 100% when my PND/Depression kicked in. I would never have admitted it then though. The moment I realised I couldn’t do something I love, something that should be so easy/natural I became a little distant. I thrive on routine and this was massively disrupted. I wasn’t just frustrated because I couldn’t walk for hours with my dog, I felt like a failure to my pregnancy. I had always dreamt of how my pregnancy would be and being bedbound wasn’t it. Being on crutches and in a wheelchair wasn’t it. The pain was constant and aggravating. I ended up being in hospital for 3 weeks before then giving birth to Oliver 4 weeks early. As birth goes it went well. Nothing disastrous to tell you there thankfully but I just couldn’t wait to get home and get back to our walks. The fortunate thing about SPD is the moment your baby enters the world it leaves your body. The pain instantly left me. It was amazing!
Once at home we got ourselves into a routine. It was going well but I had such miserable thoughts about life. Nothing scary, just low points in the day when I’d wonder about life and what it’s all about. Reflecting on it now I can now tell you it was all to do with control. I was never in control of anything, from the moment I found out I was pregnant. I’ve always been so methodical and having a ‘surprise’ like Oliver really threw me off on what I had planned. I was training to be a nurse but I just couldn’t cope. I made the decision to exit the course which hit me hard. I had never given up on anything before and I struggled with this. My personality slowly left me… The only things I felt I could do well was care for Oliver and Blondie. I hated the thought of meeting people and having to talk. Not about anything important, even the thought of future small talk stressed me out. Over time I just wanted to be on my own.
Blondie and her boy
It was suggested that I had PND but I didn’t agree initially. My idea of it was that the mother didn’t want to care for their child… but I did so it made no sense in the beginning. I know for a fact that if I hadn’t had Blondie I wouldn’t have even left my house. My health visitor would visit me at home for months to weigh Oliver as I couldn’t even consider visiting the doctor’s surgery without feeling anxiety. When Blondie, Oliver and I were on our walks my anxiety levels would drop. Being in our beautiful countryside would help me evaluate again and kind of reset myself.
My husband Darrell was amazing and so understanding of mental health issues. I’ve cared for patients with mental health and prior to my pregnancy had been incredibly empathetic to others who suffer. I was so unjudgmental of others but not to myself. Not sure why we can’t be more kind to ourselves.
Just 3 stupid little letters ruined me for well over a year. SPD & PND.
My body failed physically when carrying Oliver and then my mind failed me emotionally after. With the pregnancy, it came to an end. I could always see an end but I couldn’t with the post-natal depression. Even though the SPD pain was horrific I would do that over and over again compared to the depression.
I had some good days but the dark days were exceptionally painful, Blondie helped me through every time. I bet she had no idea how important she was to me in my recovery but I will be eternally grateful for her. For what she did for our family means everything. She made the world a much nicer place just by being in it.
If I’ve learnt anything it’s ok to ask for help. In any form, from house work or advice to mental health issues. We’re not all Mary Poppins and that’s ok. Since my experience I have become perhaps a little too honest. During my pregnancy and caring for a baby I would have been mortified if you had known my feelings. I was massively ashamed, and this played a huge part on why I suffered for so long. If I had been more honest then it wouldn’t have been so hard to overcome. Sometimes we can’t cope and daily life can become incredibly stressful. It’s known that 1 in 4 people suffer with mental health in the UK and these are only the people who share their troubles. I believe that if more people shared how they felt that statistic would be higher and those people would be receiving the treatment they deserve but for now we can only keep raising awareness.
I made a full recovery and I have my immediate family, friends, my Oliver and Blondie to thank for that. I was very grateful for everyone’s patience.
Blondie made a great family pet. She wasn’t fussed by Oliver as a baby which was the best scenario. A dog that is overly interested in a baby/child can be quite a risk. My children were brought up to not only be kind to dogs (and animals) but also respect them and their space. My children enjoy walking dogs now and I believe that’s down to all the walks I dragged them along when they were young.
When she left us
After the news we received regarding Blondie’s health on day 1 Darrell and I made an agreement. The day her hind legs give up we must let her go and we should get a second dog before that. Not to replace her but to help with the grief when Blondie finally did pass away. It just so happened that my Mum’s work hours were being increased so we agreed it was best for her dog Honey the chihuahua came to live with us permanently. She may have been tiny but she ruled the house. I think this is most chi’s mentality.
On one morning, Blondie couldn’t stand without shaking. Her head was hanging low, overly licking her lips, wasn’t eating or drinking and was walking slower than usual. These symptoms literally happened with no warning. We had stopped doing the super long walks for a couple of years as she was showing signs of slowing down so finding her like this was a shock. We went straight to the vets for some strong pain relief. The vet told me what I already knew which was Blondie was in terrible discomfort. We went home with tramadol and I observed her for the rest of that day and the following day. The medication spaced her out and this was stressful to watch, and she certainly couldn’t walk. I assumed when leaving the vets with the tramadol it would mean Blondie would recover. I thought the medication would help her live the next few years pain free and with a decent quality of life. I was so wrong.
Even though we had agreed in 2008 that we would give in this wasn’t the case on this day. We considered all options. The tests, scans, possible treatments, operations and physiotherapy and our vet was amazing at explaining everything but the best scenario for Blondie (if all treatments went well) wasn’t great. If everything went to plan she would need at least 1 year of physiotherapy/hydrotherapy and would only manage a 10 minute walk on a lead. With all the information given to us Darrell and I spent that evening deciding what to do and came to a decision. It was too risky putting Blondie through operations etc and a 10 minute leaded walk wasn’t a quality of life for her. If she had been smaller breed it would have been an easy decision but her walks were why she lived.
The following day we had Blondie put the sleep. She left this world in my arms while I told her how perfect she was and how much we all loved her. She was only 8 years old. I kept repeating her age out loud in front of the vet and I couldn’t stop saying it. I wasn’t ready for her to leave and it felt so unfair that she was only 8 but my vet said something very kind while I held her. He said “I agree, she is only young but she has had the best 6 years and was very fortunate to have been a part of your family”. Of course, those words didn’t change our situation, but it was rather calming and reassuring to hear. I struggled greatly for months after. I had never made a decision on having a dog put to sleep before, so these emotions were all new to me. I didn’t sink into a depression again but I felt I was going in that direction. I had feelings of regret and I felt we had made that decision too soon. The following weeks were particularly hard without her. I lost my appetite, I struggled to sleep, exhaustion, anxiety, physical pain in my chest as well as crying on and off throughout the day.
I grieved more for her than I have some humans. I still feel now that I gave up on her too soon but that’s a pain I have to deal/cope with now. Although I absolutely love looking back through my photos of her with my family and her memory will forever live on through us. I was going to pick just a few photos but I couldn’t stop adding them. I’m sure you agree she was stunning.
If I can give any advice on being an expectant parent I would say take each day as it comes, be kind to yourself and don’t compare yourself to anyone. Please talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling or at least tell your doctor/health visitor. No one who loves you will think any less of you.
It’s very difficult to care for someone else when you’re not in fact looking after yourself.
To summarise, your dog doesn’t need to be a service dog, he doesn’t need to be certified for you to rely on him. They play a huge part in our lives and when I think back on the past Blondie has always been in my happy times. I love remembering her and how she made me feel.
Walking so many dogs really keeps me levelled. I’m at my happiest when I’m with my own and with my customers dogs. I consider them all as my extended family and I’m so relaxed when I’m with them. This really is the perfect job that keeps me healthy in every sense and I can’t thank my customers enough for trusting me with their pets.
Thank you for reading this. I’ve just had some therapy by writing and although I’m a little nervous about how you’ve received this I think it’s done me the world of good. I also hope it helps someone else in any way and I’ve put a few links below if you would like to have check it out.