You know that saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? What if you read that book and it becomes one of your favorites, but then the cover changes? Do you judge the book by its new cover or do you remember you like the content and continue reading it anyway? I feel like in a way, this is what has happened to my life. I went from being a regular “book” and then my cover changed (insert Bella).
So lately I have been struggling and what am I struggling with you may ask? Judgment from others. When I first got Bella I was naive. I figured that although it would take a while, people would eventually accept her. Maybe it is the way I was raised but it has never crossed my mind to judge someone solely on appearances or on a medical issue. But this is something I now deal with everyday.
I think it’s really important to start by saying that no matter what you see or what you think about my relationship with Bella you need to know that the treatment of a service dog has helped me more in the past year then 5 years on medication alone did. I am not saying go off your meds and get a service dog; I am saying that sometimes medication alone cannot help a mental illness. When you think about it, how could it? Yes, Mental Illnesses are a chemical imbalance in the brain and medication helps monitor that but our surroundings also contribute to how we suffer, cope, or survive. I really believe that interaction with people or animals can make or break how you handle a MI.
When I am having a panic attack I tend to get weird looks or people walk further away because being to close might make it catchy, and then I get worse. I feel isolated and alone. When I have someone there telling me it is okay, it will be over soon, and take deep breaths, I feel better. I feel less alone and more like I can do this. But when I have Bella, it is a game changer. Not only does she remind me it is okay, she counteracts the problem. The physical contact with her alone lowers my heart rate; it makes breathing easier because I can match my breathing to hers. She also distracts me. I stop focusing on panic and start focusing on her. I focus on the sensory of her cold nose on my face, or her fur under my hand or her weight on my body. She does the same thing for general anxiety, or when I have depressive moments. So while to the outside on looker it doesn’t look like she does anything, she is more help then I could ever truly explain.
When I first wrote this blog (I’ve written this post multiple times to get it right) I focused on the negative. I was so wrapped up in the people who have chosen to leave my life because of my MI or Bella that I started focusing on the negative impact Bella has created in my life. Like how she seems to “make” people walk out of my life because they don’t understand and she makes them uncomfortable. With the final draft, I have decided to focus mostly on the positives.
First I want to talk about my doctors and therapist. With it being one year since my hospitalization, during the month of August I had to check in with each one of my doctors for evaluations. Their response and comments had the biggest impact on me and they all said pretty much the same thing. The change in me is such a 180 that it goes above the average medication only recovery process.
While talking to my therapist (we will call her T), she reminded me that when she met me last year I literally curled in a ball on the couch and cried for the entire hour of our first session. I am pretty sure she didn’t learn anything about me other than I am an ugly crier. Naturally she made me come back a few short days later. That second time I was able to talk a little, but was still curled up, closed off and a sniveling mess. About a month or so into our therapy (and many visits in that time) I found out about the possibility to get a service dog. Eventually I got Bella and she started attending every session. Since then I engage in conversation with T. We talk about a lot of things and when a topic gets overwhelming Bella is there and she takes me back from the edge. I think T is truly in aw of what this dog does for me. She has even started helping others with the possibility of finding a service dog, if they qualify. My other doctors are the same; one even said she couldn’t believe that I am the same person she met a year ago.
It’s interesting to think that my process can help others. It’s one of the reasons I chose to start this blog, but to think the actual action of having Bella can change lives is a little hard to understand. I never really thought that changing a form of medical care could change how other people view you, I just always figured that people would just accept that this is the care that works for me, but that is not always the case. The thing is, I wouldn’t change it for the world because while in some cases Bella can close doors, she is also opening them for me (and she actually can literally open doors too, ha but in this case I mean metaphorical doors). Bella has changed my medical care, but she has influenced others to change their care too. Recently I found out that my partnership with Bella has encouraged someone else in my situation to get a service dog. After finally being approved (the process is complicated and not just anyone can get a service dog) this person has already made strides in their recovery. It’s so amazing to know we had an impact in that.
Another way she has open doors is that people are more comfortable talking with me about MI and their struggles. I’ve had people tell me their MI stories when they have never told others of their struggles. As a team, Bella and I have encouraged others to go get help, whether it is through therapy, medication, or even reaching out to family and friends. At the end of the day, it makes me so happy and feels so good to make such a positive impact that it helps me look past the negative and remember that it is all worth it in the end.
One last point I want to make is that while I have made strides, I still need Bella. She is like carrying around an epi pen, an inhaler, insulin or any other medication, I don’t know when I will need her, but when I do it is vital that I have her. I can go minutes, hours or days with out her needing to alert me, but then there is that moment that she taps me on the foot (to tell me about an on coming attack or dizzy spell) or the moment she licks me on the face to say “snap out of this depression people need you, I need you”. In those moments no matter what has happened leading up to that I am so grateful to have her and that she has her training (it wouldn’t be the same having a typical pet or house dog). My life has changed for the better and I hope people can use my experience as an example and know that what other people think shouldn’t always matter because some times we need to put ourselves first so we can be the best us we can be.