[Disclaimer: The aim of this blog post is to tell my experience with honesty. Therefore, some content may trigger an adverse reaction. If this post is beginning to upset you, I advise that you please stop reading it immediately and talk to your support team. Content and Trigger Warning: Depression & Anxiety]
For the past few years on 10th October I have celebrated World Mental Health Day by sharing some of my own experiences to my personal social media accounts. This year was no exception.
I always get nervous doing this; whilst most of the people I choose to connect with are like-minded individuals who understand the complexity of mental illness, you never know how people are going to react to content like that.
Personal posts that talk about difficult subjects can make people uncomfortable and they therefore react in ways that may be uncharacteristic for them. They may have had significant life events that have changed their outlook or they may have fallen into a dark place, meaning that your post may hit them differently than it usually would.
I always try to be mindful of this when I post. Not all stigma is overt or obvious and the last thing I want to is contribute to that stigma further. That's not just on social media though; on this blog I will always put disclaimers before my content and try to avoid language that is unnecessarily graphic so as not to trigger any adverse reactions in those who are currently struggling.
The reality is that this topic of a triggering nature and I will never be able to police other peoples' reactions (nor would I want to), and that's okay, as long as I try to be considerate that's as far as I can take it without just not posting at all.
On the other hand, posting your own experiences can help others feel like they aren't alone. This ultimately is my goal when I share. I want others to feel comforted and to know that there is always someone out there who understands. Ahead of World Mental Health Day I found myself in a situation where I felt alone, and the only way I could deal with that was to write about it and reach out to others in the same boat. If ever there was an appropriate day for honesty and openness, it was World Mental Health Day.
So below you will find the post I shared. It explains the life changes I have had that have contributed to my recent absence, and even features some adorable photos of my puppy (with a bit of extra elaboration due to the original character limit).
I want to address the impact of bringing a dog into your home. Dogs are amazing and full of personality, but they also need training, attention, care and boundaries.
Me and Lewis had dogs growing up, but owning a puppy was a new experience for us. We knew how to look after dogs, understand their behaviour and how to train, but that doesn't prepare you for the whirlwind that a puppy is.
Along with the cuddles, kisses and playtime, you also get stubbornness, rebellion and biting. You lose all of your spare time (hence the reason I took time away from this blog). They need you constantly and they need to be monitored at all times with the eyes you spontaneously sprout from the back of your head. You cannot turn your back without them eating some piece of plastic they found under a dresser or behind a sofa that will undoubtedly kill them should they swallow it. You cannot sit down for a cuppa or finish your breakfast because they are up to something... again.
It was this shock to the system that was hardest to cope with. You become knackered and short tempered, feel guilty and constantly worry that they will turn into a "bad dog" because today's training didn't go well. And even though that aforementioned piece of plastic won't actually kill them, you lay awake at night thinking that it will, and that their death will be your fault.
Lewis and I have wanted a dog since before we moved in together and getting Bonnie was a dream. We love her more than words can describe, but amongst the Instagram accounts showing perfect dogs and painting the process of getting a puppy as a wonderfully cute and care-free experience, you start to compare yourself and think you must be doing something wrong.
It's okay for me to say that it hasn't been easy.
I'll be honest and say that the cuddles we shared in the mornings were (on the worst days) the only thing stopping me from breaking down and sending her back. There were days when I loved her and hated her at the same time. These past few months have been the most turbulent my mental health has been for years. I didn't ask for help because it's "just a dog" and felt like I was a failure if I couldn't handle it.
Instagram and social media in general only shows the best parts of peoples' lives, and although I didn't fall victim to the Instagram trap of the perfect false reality, but it does make it all the more difficult to reach out for help...
There were many occasions when I enviously looked at other accounts and thought "I wish my dog was more like that", or wonder how that person made it look so easy.
I am social media literate; I work in marketing and understand how (social) media only shows us selected aspects of any topic and is designed to be addictive. Yet I still had to remind myself that I am only seeing a small part of that person's reality, and let's face it... if your dog is being a little shit you don't want the whole world to know about it!
I needed to take a step back to stop beating myself up. As Bonnie is with me throughout the day, I had the most responsibility to train. Lewis would take on that role in the evening to take the strain off, but I still took all that weight on my own shoulders as though I was doing it alone.
The influx of "picture perfect moments" that we often see online creates 2 very real, harmful realities...
The illusion of getting a puppy continues to be just that... an illusion. So many buy puppies that are "instagrammably" cute, without considering the dog's health issues (especially in certain desirable breeds) or whether that particular breed of dog is suitable for their lifestyle. We were told when we got Bonnie that the black puppies in her litter were sold last because they were "harder to take photos of". These puppies were not wanted because their owners couldn't she them off as easily. Once as person has been sucked into the illusion and buys a puppy, the reality of actually owning a dog then sets in; the mess, the hard work, the training, the chewed up belongings, and the dog finds itself sent back, passed from home to home or in a shelter at best (abused or on the streets at worst).
Those who struggle feel isolated in their struggle. They don't see how others experienced the same things and therefore feel unable to ask for advice. Or feel that they can't be honest about how they feel because that would make them ungrateful or incapable, and most people don't like admitting when they've failed. Struggles that can be eased by communication, advice and support go unheard, and both the new owner and the dog suffer as a result.
By ignoring reality on social media, we encourage a culture that treats dogs like commodities rather than living, breathing pains in the ass. That's why I want my Instagram account to have personality. I want to show Bonnie at her best, but be honest about her worst. We need to share more REAL life experiences. I want people to see my struggles (and accomplishments) and feel that my account is a safe place to ask questions or for advice without judgement.
When I spoke to other dog owners and opened up I found that I wasn't the only one who found it difficult, and that gave me hope that things will get better. Those conversations got me through.
Lewis did everything in his power to support us both. I wouldn’t have coped without him. A support network is so very important when it comes to big life changes and stresses.
Even with these wonderful dogs, you never know who is putting on a brave face. So I encourage you to talk about what it's really like, check in on new pup owners and please ask for help if you need it.
And honestly... I wouldn't change Bonnie at all. She's family.
Yes, pets can be great for your mental health as they offer companionship, motivation to get up so you can look after them, a reason to go outside and comfort on bad days.
But they are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Each dog is different, as well as each persons' lifestyle and home situation. If those 2 things are not compatible there will be issues, and even if those things are compatible there is still an adjustment period that can make things worse before they get better.
Getting a pet of any kind is not a short-term fix for a mental health issue, and more a long-term commitment. This is why it is so important for us all to be honest about our experiences.
Bonnie took up so much of my time that I was unable to do the things that I enjoyed and that has a knock-on effect to a person's mental health.
After posting this to my social media I had people come up to me to thank me for being honest and shared their experiences with me regarding their dogs and puppies. I also had people say how worried they were for me because they didn't realise I was struggling.
You never know how a post may be received, but that doesn't mean you should refrain from telling your story.
I'm hoping to be much more active now that Bonnie is bit older, but life is unpredictable so I will do my best and hopefully see you again soon!
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this post, or are in need of urgent help, please use the resources below: Samaritans Helpine - https://www.samaritans.org/
Mental Health Foundation - https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/getting-help
NHS information regarding general mental health - https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/
NHS information regarding access to urgent help - https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/get-urgent-help-for-mental-health/
Mental health advice tailored for men - https://www.thecalmzone.net/help/get-help/
Mind Charity - https://www.mind.org.uk/need-urgent-help/
How Mental list of apps and online resources - https://www.howmental.com/resources
Rethink Mental Illness - https://www.rethink.org/aboutus/what-we-do/advice-and-information-service/get-help-now/
Alcoholics Anonymous - https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/
If you feel you are in immediate danger, please go to A&E.