Here’s how Sterling, my beautiful rescue dog, taught me how to live in the moment and enjoy what’s around me… this is the story of how Sterling saved my life.
I will say this openly: I have struggled with depression and anxiety my whole life, for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, they called me a "worrier" and "moody", but now I know that what it was, was anxiety and a mood disorder. I've tried it all! Before I was diagnosed, I tried exercise (for those endorphins everyone's going on about).... I tried thinking cheerful thoughts, and that DEFINITELY did not work (because that's not how depression works)... but when I increasingly started having thoughts of self-harm and general awfulness, I was terrified, and that pushed me to pull out all the stops. I tried medication, therapy, St. John's wort, Vitamin B and D supplements, and unholy amounts of chocolate, but nothing worked. I always found myself back on a ledge, struggling to find a reason not to jump.
Always having wanted a dog, when I finally moved out of home, one of the first things I did after all the chaos settled was to start looking for the perfect companion. I was finally going to live my life the way I wanted to and my mum couldn't say a word about it. After some searching, an acquaintance who works in animal rehabilitation and rehoming let me know that there was a Labrador Retriever puppy who had been found abandoned on the highway and did I want to come check him out? The very next day, I visited him: a handsome young pup, independent but with a twinkle of mischief in his eyes... not as high energy as other pups I'd met, he was a totally a ‘chill speed’ kind of dog. And so after one more visit, I brought him home and named him Sterling. Now back then, I worked from home and had plenty of time to dedicate to my adorable new companion. I had planned for everything. His treats, how to get him on the right schedule, toys, his diet... but I didn't account for my depression and anxiety. It made training very difficult, and the smallest of things would sometimes set me off. We were at the vet constantly that first year...mostly because I was a puppy hypochondriac.
The first time I saw my doofus, the words “Alright, I’m taking you home” tumbled out of my mouth before I even knew what I was saying.
When the initial excitement and novelty of raising a dog inevitably wore off and life became routine again, so too did the usual bouts of depression. Unable to get out of bed and do the basic things that most people take for granted... I barely had the will to walk him. I slipped up here and there. I made mistakes with his care that I'm ashamed of. But do you want to know how Sterling reacted to this ugly part of my life? With love. With acceptance. With a paw on my hand and his head on my chest. As always, I found myself back on the ledge, looking for a reason not to jump, and for the first time I had one. I thought of how my dog waits for me by the door if I so much as slip out to buy something from the shops by my house. How he knows the sound of my car and rushes to greet me. How he is ALWAYS overjoyed to see me. He attacks life with such gusto... with so much energy and zest that it made me stop and wonder why I wanted to throw mine away.
Sterling’s favourite cure for “down in the dumps” is cuddles. It works EVERY TIME!
It made me want to try something new... to try and see the world through his eyes. It started with a bad night when I couldn't sleep. By the time 4 am rolled around and the birds outside my window started their early morning chirping, I was tired of lying in bed. So I put Sterling in my car and we drove in no particular direction until we found open land, a free breeze, and not a person in sight. And although I hadn't had a wink of sleep that night, a sense of peace and freedom settled over me. Watching my crazy boy run around in a serene, beautiful space, watching him be his natural uninhibited self struck a chord with me somewhere deep down. Since then, whenever I have the time, we go on little adventures and I let him show me how to live in the moment and enjoy what's around me.
I'm not saying that my dog was a cure. These mental illnesses have no cure... you can only manage them. Sterling taught me how to manage mine better. He taught me that it’s okay to slip, to be sad, and that a new moment would come and take away the negativity. He saved my life, he changed the way I look at my mental illness. I may have adopted him and given him a loving home... but he gave me perspective, and nothing I ever do will be thanks enough for this dog that saved my life.
Sterling’s joy on our little adventures makes everything just a little bit better.