Dealing with long term illness can be lonely; your energy is zapped, hospital visits, medication side effects and disease symptoms. Just talking to people can be exhausting. Being out with people leaves me craving the comfort of darkness, dreaming of snuggling in my bed.
I am not antisocial; I just do not have the strength or energy for socialising.
My work leaves me drained, so the thought of going out at the end of the day is not something that I relish. One night out can leave me exhausted for several days.
The lack of energy makes it preferable to hide away rather than face the world and join in with friends.
What keeps me moving?
Well, no matter how tired or worn out I feel, there is one thing that makes me smile, my gorgeous black Labrador, George. He has made me smile for six years, every single day. We have recently added to the family and brought in a Cocker Spaniel called Burt. He is the archetypal puppy with a constant wagging tail and big pleading eyes.
Their energy and the gentle nudging with the soft nose make me go for daily walks. Even if it is a slow shuffle or a very short walk, they get me out of the house into the fresh air. They make me brush my hair and move my legs. It gets the heart pumping a little and means that I look at the sun and smile.
I know that without the enthusiastic encouragement from my canine friends, I wouldn’t leave the house some days. Without them, I would happily stay hidden away, avoiding reality. Even when I am really struggling, a short escape from the confines of the home brings a lightness to me and lifts my spirit.
It doesn’t have to be a loving Labrador or a crazy Cocker. It is just the responsibility of owning a pet, a commitment, a snuggle, the absolute and unconditional love. The fact that they don’t understand how much the illness has changed me or that I am limited in my physical actions. They don’t care that I need an afternoon snooze or that I have piled on too much weight after all the treatment. They just want to be with me; any version of me will do. They have no judgement of me.
Please do not get me wrong; I am not delusional, I know the dog is really driven by food, exercise and toilet needs and is not a human. But the knowledge that they don’t care about my history and keep me moving and going outside is good enough for me. There is an understanding, I see it when I am at my most fragile, and they respond to my change. Their needs reduce, and they go at my speed, almost like they know I need to do less than usual.
Dogs make great listeners
There are moments when the words I want to say are not suitable for human ears and when I need to shout and get my frustration out into the air around me. The dogs do not understand my words. But they are there; they listen and look at me with an understanding that I really need them in my life at that moment in time.
They have helped me to solve many a problem over the last few years. Yes, I know they cannot join in the discussion, but maybe that is the point; they are my sounding board to say exactly what is on my mind, without a filter.
Chronic illness leaves you hiding your honest thoughts because you feel guilty. You think you are boring those around you by always being ill, or you feel like you are constantly moaning. Dogs don’t care, you could say the same thing every day, and they would still wag their excitable tail.
Not a human replacement
When you read this, you may feel that I am a strange lady who has forgotten that dogs are animals. This is not so. I am fully aware that the dog is a dog, an animal. But there is a connection, and there are moments when just stoking their ears make me realise that life can feel positive and that there are possibilities for me in this world.
Dogs give me a nudge to join the real world, a nudge to get out, a nudge to face the world. And all those nudges mean that I go out into the human world, join in with human conversations and meet people.
We need human contact; we need to be part of a community, contribute, feel loved and be part of something bigger than our own life.
When we feel ill and our energy is low, it is very easy to hide away and say that we are too ill to join in. Some days this is the truth, and going out would be too much, but other days we could do it, but maybe we don’t feel that we can face the real world.
Go out and join the community
We must force ourselves out of our hideaway and join in, otherwise, we will disappear into a miserable, lonely world. We cannot live in total isolation. We are social animals, and maybe we need an animal to show us how to be social.
We could learn a lot from a loving, loyal Labrador and a crazy over-excited Cocker spaniel with a passion for life.
Go out and enjoy the world, as slowly as you need but go out, and maybe you will have a lovely conversation with a friendly animal or human along the way.
Thank you, Burt and George, for always making me smile.
Jane Edwards is the author of ‘Chronic Illness: Learning to live behind my smile’, a book about learning to live with a rare, invisible chronic illness.