With the holiday season upon us and the days growing shorter, many people fall into depression. As someone who has dealt with depression for a very long time, I’ve come to value the help my dogs give me to make it through the troughs. I am not a religious person and in fact an atheist so all of my spiritual matters are dealt with on the earthly plane. Yet even I wonder at the ability dogs have to bring me out of the cocoon of solitude that I sometimes find myself in.
I wonder how dogs seem to know instinctively what to do in order to draw people out into the world they have worked so hard to shut themselves away from. Anyone who has watched a therapy dog in action can attest to this. You can watch a single dog interact with many different people during a visit and the dog may take a different approach with every person. With one person the dog may be very extroverted and push its nose up under the person’s hands, encouraging contact. With another, the dog may just lie quietly beside the person, waiting for the person to recognize a chance to interact without demand, without question, without judgment. And with yet another person, the dog may hang in between, encouraging the contact, yet respecting the space.
When my particular type of depression is manifest, I can be very hard to reach. The whole world seems to shrink itself down so that nothing else seems to exist outside my little cocoon. Yet my Aussie Gavin seems to know exactly what to do without ever having heard of Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung. Gavin knows that I need his company, but he knows to respect my frame of mind as well. He will find me and then sit or lay near me but nothing more. He’s able to see that whining for attention or trying to get me to play would only result in my sending him away. At some point I realize Gavin is near me, waiting for me to acknowledge the furry expression of life beside me. He invites me to come out of that stagnant frame of mind that considers only itself and allows me to indulge in one of the simplest pleasure in life; petting a dog.
The process leads me to remember my problems are not wholly unique in the universe and that there are things out there that are more worthy of my time, consideration, and participation. I recall, in short, that life is a collective– and indeed, there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio.
So how does this four-legged beastie who thinks a slobbery tennis ball to the face is the height of good clean fun know things that a $100 per hour therapist does not? It’s something I may never know, but it’s certainly worth the wonder.
For those of you suffering through your own depression this holiday season, I offer you the empathy of someone who has been there. Please remember to take as much time as you can to remember that there is life outside your depression, waiting to be recognized.
Kevin, Jackie, Gavin, Annie, Tosha, Elbee