I am one of the 15 million Americans who struggle with depression. I have for a number of years, but it wasn’t until last year that I reached my breaking point. My depression became so bad that I could barely work. I lived in a cloud of misery. I considered suicide.
I found the strength to go to therapy, thankfully, and started taking antidepressants as well. Both helped me a lot, but they also forced me to ask some really tough questions of myself. There was a quote I read that prompted those questions: “Don’t expect to find life worth living: Make it that way.” For myself, I didn’t know what that was. Depression had taken so much for me, I didn’t know what I was living for.
That’s when I met Forest.
If you read a previous article I wrote, I didn’t even really like dogs until I met Forest. So it’s kind of a miracle that he ended up being the key to my recovery. I don’t know if it was destiny or fate or luck or cosmic coincidence, but here was this clumsy, dorky, nippy German Shepherd puppy who needed. Needed someone to watch him, care for him, play with him, train him — whose very survival depended on me providing that for him.
He was the creature that made life worth living for me, metaphorically and literally.
When I say depression can take a lot out of you, I mean it. People can’t work. People can’t eat (or they eat too much). People struggle with self-care and routines, and tasks as simple as taking showers and washing the dishes can become Herculean efforts. Everything just kind of falls apart around you, and that ends up making depression worse. When you already feel like you can’t do anything right, not being able to do the simplest tasks just adds to that feeling.
However, while I struggled to take care of myself, I couldn’t do that with Forest. I had to feed him. I had to change out the water in his water bowl. I had to take him for walks. I had to play with him. I don’t want to make this sound negative, but because I had to do these things, my brain couldn’t make excuses for me to not do it. I could easily just dismiss my own care in favor of sleeping all day — but with Forest, I had to get myself up to pour food and wash bowls and take him for walks and play with him. (And if you know shepherds, they are highly active.) And because I had to do these things, I was able to start doing things for myself again.
Since I was washing out dog bowls, I ended up washing the other dishes since I was there. Since I was feeding Forest, that got me interested in learning about healthy food for dogs, and in turn, that meant eating more healthy food too. Because I had to take him for walks, that got me exercising, which is one of the best ways to treat depression. So on and so forth, these small routines helped put me back together.
And of course, there were other little things too that helped me. Depression can make you feel like isolating yourself — dogs never want to leave you alone. Depression can make you feel like everyone thinks you’re an awful person — but all it takes is a wagging tail or a lick on the face to realize that your dog doesn’t think that way. Depression often leaves you feeling unloved — but dogs are filled with so much love.
I still struggle with depression. I probably always will. But knowing I have Forest (and now River), and that he needs me as much as I need him, keeps me going strong.
Thank you, Forest.