Getting out and about is something we can take for granted. Birds singing, sun radiating through the window becoming me outside and that glorious feeling of the whole day stretching out into endless possibility. Quick grab your essentials and off you go out into the world for an adventure…
Bang, the door closes triggering a whole new train of thought. Suddenly a cold breeze blows and the sun disappears behind a cloud. The mist has begun to descend. Recent science states that in people who suffer from ptsd and depression the brain reacts differently to triggers. The normal instinct to investigate a feeling, assess it’s significance and the ‘risk factors’ attached to it and produce a reasonable physical and emotional response are unfortunately overridden. Previous painful stimuli are remembered in this area of the brain stimulating the release of chemical transmitters alert sufferers that they cannot deal with this situation causing feelings of being overwhelmed and spiral into ‘meltdown’. In 5minutes I am back inside the house. Mission abandoned. This is why having an assistance dog trained to recognise the initial physical symptoms of my meltdown or freeze is such a lifeline for people like me. Confidence that he will alert me in time to take action and guide me out of the situation make it easier to access the fresh air, exercise and socialisation that we are all told are positive for good mental health. It is indeed gauling that the very things we are encouraged to do to help ourselves can seem completely out of reach by the very nature of depressive conditions. The irony of the situation is not lost on me and is the reason for this post. It does not need to be the help of a dog- anything that inspires positivity and provides a reason to keep going has to be embraced. If the dream you have seems impossible to achieve- be realistic but don’t give up on it. Take small steps towards your goal and just see what comes of it. The chances are it will take you further on life’s journey and you will learn something important to improving the quality of your life along the way.
Since Angus has begun to wear his work jacket I have had so much interest in his role that I decided it was time to write about it! The following is from a fb post after a trip to a local town event. Crowds, conversation and nowhere to hide. Soooo outside my comfort zone!
People: Aww assistance dogs are so clever. What kind is he?Had him long?
Me: He is my mental health assistance dog. We have just finished training. It took us two years.
People: Gosh I didn’t know they did that! How does he help you ? Dogs do make you feel calm.
Me: Yes they certainly do! To be qualified he also needs to help me physically. One thing he does is to recognise signs that I am having a problem. He is trained to alert me by licking my hand and guide me safely out of crowded spaces if I freeze up in the supermarket.
Today so many people asked me about Angus.We chatted to some wonderful people at the Heritage fair including: caravaners from Belfast, a school party from Sienna, Brummie Vikings, Roundheads and their horses all mingling with lovely locals. What is really amazing is that I managed to be in a busy place let alone to stick around and talk to these nice people. Something that may not be evident on the surface but has become so difficult over the last few years. This is just one aspect of how Angus has helped me to begin the journey towards good mental health.
It is time for me to speak out now. If you know someone who may benefit as I have – please spread the word. And of course keep talking about mental wellbeing. It really helps.
Finally I need to mention the unsung heroes. My unflinching supporter and darling husband Neil and Darwin Dogs CIC who give so much in time and expertise to train mental health assistance and canine personal assistant dogs.