The black dog

It’s Mental Health Awareness week and it’s really made me think. One of my mates posted on social media, ‘If anyone said that they haven’t been affected by mental health issues, they’re lying’. That really resonated with me.

I pretend that I haven’t but I know that I have. I struggle with what I call the dark clouds (it seems less serious that way) others would call it the black dog, depression. I’ve had black clouds for as long as I can remember and I fight them hard.

My best and most wonderful weapon and defence is to have a purpose. A reason to get out of bed every day and to care. 19 years ago that purpose was a funny, silly, skinny little puppy who I met at Manchester Dogs’ Home called Oscar. He wasn’t a black dog, he was sandy coloured and truly wonderful. He nestled into my heart from the moment I saw him and from the day I brought him home we loved each other completely. Unconditionally.

He kept the black dog at bay.

He was my baby, my hero, my best friend. Together we could take on the universe.

And then in the blink of an eye he was 15. Going grey around the eyes. Slowing down. Sleeping more. The vet said it was arthritis and gave us pills. I took him swimming. I learned about dog massage. It all helped.

We were hanging on for each other.

I eventually had to admit that my boy was in pain. Incurable pain. He had to admit that he couldn’t hang on. I lay on the floor with him for seven hours until the vet could see us. I sang to him, all the silly songs that I’d made up about him over 15 years. He was the only one that had ever heard them and this would be their final show. We cuddled. His chocolate brown eyes looked into mine the whole time as I stroked his velvet ears.

I can’t share the moment when I had to say goodbye. It breaks my heart now, even after four years.

I was broken. I spent three days in bed. What was there to get up for? I had four panic attacks. I thought I was having a heart attack during one of them. I think that my heart was just breaking. I promised my mate I would go to the doctor. I did. I never told him about how I felt. I didn’t to be a burden. I didn’t want medication. I was in pain and wanted to feel it. But also I could never, ever admit that. I never wanted to ask for help. Me? That’s not what we do!

Before you think, ‘It was just a dog’, that’s not what this is about. Re-read what I’ve written. That dog was my saviour. My reason to get up in the morning. I used to say to him regularly “They call you a rescue dog but just who rescued who?”. He was brighter and better than me and just cuddled.

We all need a reason to exist and being there for someone else is a very bloody good one.

There are tears running down my face as I type this because I will never recover from that great loss. I struggled in the weeks and months after wondering ‘what was the point?’. I swore that I would never let myself get that hurt again, I would never have another dog. It was too hard…

Two months later I adopted a 3 month old puppy. He was due to be put down the following day. His time was up. His photo stared from me from Twitter with chocolate brown eyes and they said ‘I’ll keep the black dog from the door’.

He has. He is. He’s snoring next to me as his younger ‘sister’ snoozes on my feet. I now have a (small) pack who make me laugh every day and  keep the dark clouds away. I’m lucky.

We’re a small pack of rescues and we get each other through.

Be kind when you can.

The resolution will not be televised…

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At the end of a year and the beginning of a new one we’re culturally encouraged, almost expected, to make a set of resolutions, promises to ourselves – and more often others – that we will try harder, strive to be better, give over old habits. Many expect us to declare them from the rooftops, hold them out for approval and judgement, only to then have to turn our blushes and apologetic eyes to the world if we fall short of our grand ambitions.

Surely this is why many see their resolutions out till the end of January (mid-February for those with great will-power) and then abandon them as a lost cause for another year. That doesn’t seem the best model for improvement does it?

I’ve outlined a set of objectives and ambitions for Wochi for 2015, and beyond but – call me pedantic – I’m refusing to call them new year resolutions, that terminology just doesn’t sit comfortably. I believe that in order to succeed we need to be flexible, responsive and agile to change. That’s something that is difficult to achieve when you set out a rigid goal at the beginning of the year without knowing what the year holds.

I’ll share these objectives with you in the coming weeks but as a principle I agree with this quote from Henry Moore;

“I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years”.

That is not to say that the objective and ambition will bend with direction of the wind, it’s the activity required to make the ambition a reality that will have to flex as circumstances change and develop. That’s incredibly exciting and inspiring.

The thing that will always remain steadfast is the bedrock of Wochi; the values that it stands for and the purpose for which it was created. Future blogs will continue to explore these values and how they work in action and I’d love your feedback and views on them and how we can continue to develop further through new opportunities.

For now though I’d like to wish you a happy, peaceful and incredibly successful 2015.

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” Ralph Waldo Emerson