When I got my dog, Rowlf, twelve years ago, it was a very different time in my life. Well, all of our lives, of course. I’d just been diagnosed with two chronic illnesses, Crohn’s Disease and Bipolar II Disorder, and spent more time at home with my dog than at college classes or out with friends.
At that point, I’d created such a strong bond with my goofy looking, little Shih Tzu that our connection was easy to see, especially by the way he acted when I wasn’t feeling like myself.
I’d be in hospitals for a week or two straight and my mom would send me pictures of my dog sitting patiently by the back door every night, waiting for me to come home.
Fast forward to this year, which has been nothing short of a nightmare. But throughout the anxiety and with everything going on in the world, Rowlf has stayed by me, helping me get through it. I don’t know where I’d be without him.
The Anxiety Of Self-Isolation Started To Build Up
I have one disease that requires medication to suppress my immune system, making it far too unsafe for me to be working since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
My isolation has been much stricter than most other people in my age group, as well as those with no pre-existing conditions. Since March, I’ve only been able to leave my house for absolutely necessary doctor appointments and for my monthly infusion therapies to treat my Crohn’s Disease.
As you can imagine, that all added a lot of stress to my life.
Having anxiety on a good day poses several challenges, and even the simplest of tasks can seem daunting if not impossible.
While isolating at home, I began to feel guilty about not learning a new skill and ashamed for not being able to work, let alone keep up with my own household chores. I couldn’t sleep at night and I started becoming too afraid to leave my house.
I can have all of my groceries and pet supplies delivered right to my front door, so why go out? And I could still call my friends, so I wasn’t really “alone.” Right?
Well, after a few weeks, my anxiety came to a boiling point. Would I ever be able to go back to work again? How would I pay my student loans? When would I not be afraid to touch another human being and give my parents the biggest hugs I’ve ever given to them?
I knew life as we know it would never be the same, but I was so crippled by my anxiety that I started to further isolate myself from those who cared about me. All but my faithful pup, Rowlf.
Rowlf Helped Me Get Out Of Bed And Stick To A Routine
Rowlf never left my side. And when I would usually be annoyed by the fact that I couldn’t do any chores at home without him being right under my feet, he was now a welcomed helper.
Anxiety and depression oftentimes go hand in hand, and once this started, it was really time for Rowlf to do what he does best–be my best friend.
I’d be lying in bed, sweaty, shaking, nauseous, and not wanting to face the day.
When I would just sit there and sob, he would run right up to me, bury his head under my chin, and press his body into mine until I calmed down a bit. Then he would lick my cheeks.
It’s incredible how just holding and petting an animal can immediately comfort you and ease your mind.
When my dog Rowlf looks up at me with his dark brown eyes, I know he depends on me. Rowlf literally needs me to live. He’s the reason I pull myself out of bed every day. He helps me stay on a routine, starting with taking him outside, feeding him breakfast, and then, of course, a cuddle session.
I’ve frequently felt too anxious to eat, but I’ve tried to make a rule where every time Rowlf gets a meal or treat, I have to try to force myself to eat something as well, no matter how small.
We Calm & Comfort Each Other Through Everything
Unfortunately, Rowlf and I are so in tune with each other, that he, too, has seemed a bit out of sorts. That, in turn, makes me feel like I have a sense of purpose and a reason to be strong. With our roles reversed, my job is to cheer him up.
He may be old, but he still gets bursts of energy, and he’ll play a quick game of fetch or romp around the front yard, which gives both of us some stress relief.
While I used to absolutely dread bedtime and worry about how long it would take me to fall asleep, and if I could even stay asleep, Rowlf makes sure he curls up by my chest to calm me down. We’re both usually asleep within a few minutes.
Without Rowlf, I would feel so alone, and who knows what kind of shape I’d be in?
He gives me the courage each morning to wake up to face the world we now live in, to brave the outside to make sure he gets exercise, and most of all, to help make me strong enough to care for and comfort him just as much as he comforts me.
Remember to follow CDC guidelines for keeping yourself safe from COVID-19.
Do you feel like your dog helps you deal with anxiety? Has your pup helped you through the pandemic and other hard times? Let us know in the comments below!