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Saved by a Ball of Fluff: Sickness, mental illness, and emotional support

I spent the first five months of my sickness mostly pretending it wasn’t there.

When it got to point where I couldn’t pretend, I worked around it. Acting at if the fatigue, insomnia, headaches, and weakness, were just inevitable parts of my life.

Then I could barely get out of bed. Barely hang out with friends or participate in normal activities. I grew up in a family who steered clear of medicine and doctors as much as possible. But it was time. I knew.

Even still, I put it off. But a few months ago I finally couldn’t take the pain and energy loss. A few rounds of testing and doctor visits led to diagnosis of Ebstein Barr Virus. I was encouraged to start treatment before it got worse and turned into Chronic Fatigue Symdrome or something similar.

I’m at the end of a four week treatment now. Needles and IVs three times a week. The concept sounds like chemo. People often ask me if it is like chemo. It’s not nearly as rough or as extensive. But it’s not fun either.

I’ve had persistent depression disorder (PDD) since I was about twelve. And if you are a person who has had depression alongside being sick, you know the two create a very dangerous cohabitation in your spirit.

Sickness makes you feel like your body has turned against you — it’s a betrayal.

Depression makes you feel like your mind has turned against you — another betrayal.

Leaving me unable to trust the world, my thoughts, and my body. This makes it difficult for me to ask for help. And it makes it nearly impossible for me to know how to be a friend, or wife, or daughter.

A while ago I saw something online about emotional support dogs. People in the comments were making lewd comments about how this is a generation of babies who have to be coddled in order to do anything. But if you think about it, we’ve been reading books and watching movies about emotional support animals since basically forever. Dogs, horses, even dragons are the companions, the creatures who keep the heroes from giving up.

I hate hate hate hate hate asking for help of any kind. But midway through my treatment, I told me husband I thought a dog would be helpful for me in this season of sickness.

He is all about helping, so we went to the shelter that day and found Wrigley. Wrigley was a stray who’d been in the shelter for a month and half. When he was brought into the playroom with us, he trembled frantically and didn’t know what to do with himself. The shelter worker told us he’d never had anyone visit him before.

It took us about one minute with him before we were sold. We brought him home the next day and he is honestly the best. He desires a lot of attention and cuddling. He needs to be taken care of and looked after and loved. I’m am his companion and he is mine.

A few of the needs I had that Wrigley is helping me with are…

Feeling isolated: Wrigley loves to snuggle up with me as I recover from my treatment. And when he isn’t snuggling, he stays close by — laying a few feet away. When he gets up in the morning, he comes to the pillow by my bed and sleeps there until I get up. With him around it’s hard to feel alone or lonely.

Never going outside: I’m supposed to get Vitamin D and fresh air. However, I hate the sun and it’s hard to go outside when I don’t feel good. But Wrigley needs to go outside. He needs walks and playtime. He loves when we stroll to dog park. He loves chasing me and fetching toys. I’ve gone outside more in the last few weeks than in the months before.

Lack of purpose: both sickness and depression make me feel like I’m a drain on the world. What the point of living if I just inhale resources and produce nothing? I like being productive. No, I love being productive — but currently I am a lot less productive than normal. The first day we got Wrigley he shook for hours. Every thing was scary: people, cars, the wind. He didn’t bark. He threw up when he left him for a few hours. And he cried in his kennel. But as the routine was established. As he woke up every morning to heaps of love and stability. He got better. He started barking at trains. He’s becoming more independent and playful. He’s happy. And knowing that we saved him from a short life is noisy kennel…that feels purposeful.

So Wrigley is helping me and I’m helping Wrigley. I guess we both needed a bit of emotional support.