By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC
She didn't want her real name used in print. “Mary” reads this column in a small Midwest city, has a physical disability greatly affecting her mobility, and has a mental health diagnosis of severe and recurrent major depressive disorder. If not for her pets over the years, she said, she wouldn't have coped nearly as well in life.
In a telephone interview, 65-year-old Mary said, “First, it's extremely hard for me to walk. I was born with a congenital condition in which my joints were not fully formed. I've dislocated many joints over the years, but mostly my knees. No doctor ever mentioned this condition until 1999, when I broke my leg, and the doctor taking x-rays mentioned I had the congenital condition.”
She said the worst part about growing up with it involved always doing “poorly” in most school physical activities, even hanging from playground monkey bars. On the other hand, her loose joints gave her an advantage at dancing and in yoga, where she excelled. She said her joints stretched in ways other children's couldn't.
“As for depression, it began with my father's unexpected death, when I was 8 years old,” she said. “Absolutely nothing was the same after that event. While before I was an outgoing child, I became an extreme introvert. I've been unable to form many good relationships over the years because of always (fearing) someone will die or walk away from me. And they generally do.”
Feelings of loneliness and isolation have been her biggest problem areas. To emotionally get by, she has had pets to fill up her “loneliness” gap..
She said, “For example, I've had a cat, literally, all 65 years of my life. As for dogs, they are so important because they give you so much love. They enhance so many areas of your life, such as the joy they feel when they are off leash and they can run. I live vicariously through my dog. I have never really experienced much joy in my life and so I get a huge kick out of watching my dog enjoy herself.”
In offering advice to people with disabilities feeling isolated and lonely, she said, “The best thing you can do for yourself is get an animal. If you're looking to get out of yourself, get a dog, because they are social creatures and will lead you to social interactions.”
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