I feel like everything I’ve been through, all the darkness and hard times have been practice for running a marathon I never signed up for.
How my dog saved my life also known as Part II of my story.
This isn’t one of those heroic “the dog helped save me from a burning building” stories. This is about a girl and her dog.
It was just before my 30th birthday. I tried to plan a wine tour and that fell through, so I tried to plan a last minute house party at a friends place. Why was I planning my own party? Because my boyfriend hadn’t realized it was kind of his responsibility. It was a total disaster. I showed up late to my own party, the beer in the keg kept foaming, and worst of all almost nobody showed up. I didn’t even want the party in the first place but my “friends” insisted. This was my nightmare come true. Suddenly I was transported to my childhood and how I had few friends because I was shy, poor, and not cool enough. Needless to say, I don’t celebrate my birthday anymore.
This was towards the beginning of what my therapist calls “a nervous breakdown.” I needed my friends more than ever. I needed to feel special and wanted. I needed a reason to live.
The next weekend we went to look at rescue dogs and I knew exactly which one I wanted as soon as I saw him from across the park. He was wearing a blue bandana on his neck, his hair was a golden color that shined bright in the sun. He seemed happy and calm. He is a cocker spaniel but looked like a golden retriever puppy, even though he was 2 years old at the time. We took him home for a “trial weekend.” We fell in love and he’s been my best friend ever since.
About a month after adopting Barley I became “dissociated” pretty much all the time. One day I just stopped being able to think clearly or feel. It’s the bodies response to fear. There is the fight or flight response, but no one ever talks about the third one, which is freezing. Animals do it when they play dead to escape a predator, but they can get up and shake it off, humans cannot. My PTSD had taken ahold of me and would not let me go.
I would go to work and stare at my computer screen for 8 hours. I couldn’t work and I didn’t know how to make this stop. And the few moments I had of not being spaced out, all I could think about was ending my life.
I begged my psychiatrist to write me a note to take short term leave. I was falling to pieces and I feared losing my job and my health insurance. I took 30 days off and attended an outpatient program for depressed and bipolar people. Finally I was surrounded by people who understood me.
When I went back to work I wasn’t better, in fact I was worse. There wasn’t a single moment in the day where I wasn’t thinking about and planning suicide. I had begun seeing a psychiatrist who also practiced as a therapist and was well educated in EMDR. Google it. 🙂
She didn’t use EMDR on me like she was supposed to, instead she used clinical hypnosis. She poked around in my brain and brought up not only recent trauma but everything from my childhood. She went too fast and she didn’t seem concerned that I was suicidal. After 2 hospitalizations in a psychiatric hospital, I had endured enough to decide to discontinue seeing this woman, but the damage had already been done. The hospital didn’t help much and the doctor told me I wasn’t dissociated so they didn’t give me meds for it. I couldn’t speak up for myself, I could barely talk above a whisper.
At one of my new psychiatrist follow up appointments I told her I had written a suicide note. I wasn’t planning on using it, I just couldn’t get it out of my head so I wrote it down. She immediately called her supervisor in and they took action to get me back into that same hospital. I begged her not to send me back. It was old, dirty, and probably should have been condemned. I just wanted to go home and sleep. I was just tired I told myself. They called in a mental health officer and he took me handcuffed in the back of a cop car, back to hell. He was a very nice cop, and now I get to say “I once rode in the back of a cop car” and I would feel badass.
Third times a charm. The doctor sat down with me and the social worker and they made a plan, in hopes to not see me back a 4th time.The method of prescribing pills is archaic. It’s basically a guessing game. You try one after another until one finally works. And of course it typically takes 6 weeks to figure out if it’s truly working. The doctors play Russian Roulette with our lives. Welcome to healthcare in Texas.
After that I finally found a good combo of a therapist and a well known psychiatrist. I was not out of the woods. I had many more evenings of nightmares, anxiety, and my suicidal thoughts came back several months later. We played some more spin the wheel of medication and so on. The point of all this?
Every time I wanted to just end the pain I thought of Barley (and my family of course). He gave me a reason to get out of bed every morning, which feels damn near impossible for a majorly depressed person. I took him on walks and fed him and bought him toys. My heart grew fonder until he felt like my own child. He sat next to me when I spent hours crying on the kitchen floor. He cuddled with me on the couch and he never left my side. How could I leave him? He needed me. Would my boyfriend take good care of him and not just ignore him or leave him home alone all the time? Would he give him treats and play ball? I once told a friend that everytime I walked in the door and was greeted by Barley’s adorable face, it felt like Christmas morning.
I couldn’t bare the thought of leaving him alone, afterall he was my son. I fought long and hard and I used every tool therapy taught me, and so I kept living. That is how my dog saved my life.
I remember the day like it was yesterday, December 16, 2008. It was a cold, dark, icy day and we rarely have those in North Texas. I lived alone in a scarcely decorated 550 square foot apartment in a borderline shady neighborhood. I awoke to a phone call from my older sister. Her voice was calm and caring, but I could hear how hard she was trying to keep it that way.
“Jose is in the hospital, he’s ok. He took an entire bottle of NyQuil and Excedrin PM, but I got him to the hospital in time. We’re okay. Be careful on your way here the roads are icy, I love you. He’s ok. The acetaminophen levels are really high so they are monitoring him but he’s ok.”
I fell to my knees and couldn’t breathe for what seemed like hours. Alone, afraid, iced in, and helpless. A million thoughts raced through my mind. “I should have been there, why wasn’t I there? I was just there 2 days ago. Why didn’t I stay just one more night? She kept saying that word “okay”. What did that mean? How could anyone who tried to take their own life be ok?” In that moment I was NOT okay and I wouldn’t be for a long long time.
My heart has never felt such pain both physically and emotionally, just pain followed by silence, numbness,and disbelief. I got down on my knees that dark December day and I prayed. I prayed to God to let my little brother live and that if he did, I would stop drinking and partying and I would commit to just being a good person for the rest of my life.
My little brother survived his attempt at suicide and he is alive and well today. However, that cold dark winter morning was just the beginning of my severe battle with depression. I didn’t know the heartbreaking news of that day would send me into a downward spiral, like a domino effect. I was not okay.
Anxiety, depression, these were not words I was very familiar with. I never considered myself to be any of those things. What did they mean? I didn’t know what was happening to me. I could see nothing but darkness.
The next few years would appear to be a blur. I did not keep my promise to God, I drank more. Bottle after bottle of wine or whatever was cheap. I quit my job or rather I was fired. I just stopped getting out of bed one day. The phone rang, I knew it was my boss but I didn’t answer. I wanted no connection to the outside world. I just wanted to be alone with my silence and my bottle of wine.
In the years to come I would fall further and further into depression, unable to find another job in such an unstable economy. It was the height of the recession and I lacked the confidence and direction to find a suitable job while my Bachelors Degree was collecting dust. I would fall into one destructive relationship after another. Never feeling true love. Never allowing anyone inside my walls. With each failed attempt I hurt slightly less. I was turning to stone.
And then it happened. I met the man of my dreams. My prince charming on a white horse who came to save me; or so I thought. He loved me instantly, deeply, and he gave me “hope.” Little did I know this man would change my life forever. Within a month of moving in together he completely changed. He was evil, controlling, abusive, and angry. He hated everything and everyone. He would take out his past relationship heartache on me. He called me names I didn’t deserve and inhibited me from leaving. That man ended up hurting me more than I could have ever imagined. I lost weight, I could barely eat or have enough energy to go to work. I was wasting away physically and emotionally. He saw a fragile little girl and he took my trust and love and he broke me down.
After a dozen failed attempts to pack up and leave while he was away, I finally found the courage to beg for my life, to beg him to let me be free. I don’t know why he had the change of heart, but one day he let me leave. The last thing he said to me was “I hope you never end up with a man like me again.”
That was 3 years ago and to this day I still see his awful face in my dreams. I still cry at movies filled with scandalous sex scenes and violence. Because of the PTSD I can rarely watch anything that isn’t a comedy or a cartoon. I just stopped watching TV all together. For no reason at all sometimes I just burst into a full blown anxiety attack. It’s the worst feeling knowing you can breathe but in that moment your lungs just forgot how to work. Your heart is beating so fast that you think you are having a heart attack.
I struggle daily but I continue to find hope in reading other people’s stories.
TWLOHA ( https://twloha.com/ ) Taught me it’s ok NOT to be ok. Taught me that my past does not define me. My story continues, my struggle is real, and I just take it one day at a time.
This was originally written on January 12, 2014. More updates to come.