What Dogs and People Have In Common

We are not alone!

“We have to believe that even the briefest of human connections can heal. Otherwise, life is unbearable.” – by Agate Nesaule

As I climbed into my friend’s SUV Monday for a whirlwind trip to the Texas Hill Country, a cold, black nose followed by a large, white head poked around the side of the passenger’s seat and nudged me in the arm. Sugar, a young Great Pyrenees rescue whom my friend is in the process of adopting, was demanding attention, connection, and affection. Like, now.

Of course, I willingly and eagerly complied, providing lots of head rubs, ear scratches, and murmured sweet nothings. We were instant friends. (Got my big-dog fix!! Yeah!)

Not for a moment did Sugar wonder if she’d be welcome in my life or heart. Not for a moment did this beautiful dog, who’d had a rather rough start in life, assume that she was asking for too much. Not for a moment did she think, “You know, I’m not really good enough to ask for what I want from a complete stranger. She’s going to think I’m some kind of a nut for being so demanding. And besides, I’m so big, I haven’t been to the groomer’s in ages, and I’m just a little bit too needy….”

It’s ludicrous to imagine a dog having self-esteem issues. It’s equally ludicrous to imagine a dog attempting to get its needs met in isolation. Even feral dogs and other canines such as wolves band together to hunt, stake out territory, protect each other, and raise their young. And when you’re out on walks, what’s the first thing your dog does when he sees another dog? He pulls you over to greet his fur brother and establish a canine connection.

People aren’t so different. We tend to pair up, join groups and organizations, hire employees or get hired, raise families, and do things in packs. There is no such thing as being totally self-sufficient, either practically or emotionally. When’s the last time you tried to build a car? From scratch? By yourself? Or laughed when you were alone?

Yet, as depressives, we tend to think we’re supposed to figure it all out by ourselves. Or that we’re too sick, needy, weird, fat, damaged (insert adjective of choice), or simply too much of a “downer” to ask for help. Get this: You cannot recover without it. For you to even begin to get well, you’ve got to bring other people along with you on the trail to help you climb out of that dark valley of despair and into the light. Hiking alone is a bad idea; even the National Forest Service says so: http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/safety/safety.shtml.

So… it’s time to start building your support circle, the folks who will be your boon companions on your journey to recovery. (Go ahead and groan; it’s all right.) Your circle will include friends, family members, health professionals, depression support groups and/or other types of self-help groups, and maybe even a great dog.

Sugar, in love with life!

EXERCISE: Grab that journal again. Today, we’re going to focus on friends. List six friends who you think would be supportive if you were to call them and ask for help. Here are some ideas of people you can put into this category:

  • A best friend or close buddy. If you’re lucky enough to have more than one, write down all of their names, whether they’re local or not;
  • Friends of a more casual nature whom you trust;
  • A helpful neighbor or two;
  • Members of your spiritual community, if you belong to one. If you can’t think of anyone specific, just write “church” or “temple” as a holding place for now;
  • Members of groups you belong to with whom you’ve connected and feel comfortable—for example, 12-Step groups, clubs, Meetups (www.meetup.com), exercise classes, hobby groups, volunteer organizations, etc.

Caution: I urge you to consider carefully whether to add anyone at your place of employment to your support circle. Even if you have buddies with whom you chat or go to lunch, work relationships tend to be rather shallow and prone to gossip. There are still a lot of prejudices and misunderstandings in the workplace regarding depression—so, tread carefully.

If it’s unimaginable to you that anyone would agree to help you when you ask for it, listen up: That is your depression talking! I am here to tell you two things (okay, probably a few hundred more than two things, but right now, two things): [1] You are worthy and deserving of receiving the assistance you need to get well and get on with your life (you’ll just have to take my word for it for the time being); [2] People love to be asked to help out, because it gives them a sense of purpose and meaning in life. If you doubt this, look back on times in your own life when you have felt really good. Chances are, many of them have included times when you were helping others. Most folks also intuitively understand that what goes around comes around; as they are able to assist you, so they in turn may need assistance somewhere down the road.

Next time: “Friends on Call.”

(c) 2010 by Patricia R. Henschen

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