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This Is What My Service Dog Taught Me About Myself

Justin Govender

One year ago on June 17th marks when Anny, my service dog, first came into my life. Over a year ago, when I was at my worst, all I dreamed of day and night was having a dog of my own who I knew would never judge me for the state I was in, and someone who I knew would love me when I felt so unlovable. To make a long story short, after much searching and waiting, I finally met my match, and the rest you could say is history…but there were fears I had and thoughts I struggled with during this time that I didn’t expect, and I would like to take this opportunity to be open about some of them.

One of the struggles I had was that shortly after bringing Anny home, I couldn’t stop thinking if I was even deserving enough to have a dog as amazing as her that could do so many things for me; I loved Anny beyond measure, but I wondered if it was possible that I could be unknowingly robbing her of someone that needed her more than I did. For a long stretch of time, I felt really guilty, and couldn’t get it out of my mind, wondering if what I thought really was the awful truth. And then there was the matter of what the people around me would think. Not only the people I knew, but also the people I didn’t.

The thing about depression and anxiety is that of course you can’t see it, and this is a constant, unending source of doubt and distress for me. I look so able to the naked eye-I thought endlessly of what strangers would think when I went to a store, to a restaurant, to a bank; I felt everyone who looked my way would think I was “faking” Anny being a service dog – that I was simply some girl who wanted to take her dog out in public. And logical or not, the fact that no one in those settings would ever or could ever know what lay underneath made me feel the worst type of way.

And the same went for those who I knew, mainly friends and extended family and acquaintances who didn’t know precisely the reasons why or the magnitude of importance of Anny’s seemingly sudden arrival. I thought about if they would look at me and secretly think the same thing when they would hear about her-that I didn’t need her, that I was just fine because I had always seemed so well before; or worst of all, that I was simply seeking attention somehow. This fear of judgment ate and ate at me, so much so that I would be nervous regardless if I took Anny out or left her at home to rest for particular errands or events.

As I write this now, I realize it was my depression telling me the one thing, and my anxiety telling me the other, delivering me the textbook feelings of worthlessness and worry that persevere and trump all Reason in my brain. And while the fears I have are still present and remain obstacles, I try to remind myself it’s the irony of the thoughts I have that reinforce how much I need Anny; she keeps people from getting too close to me when I’m anxious by standing in front of me when I ask her; she lays on a pressure point on my chest when I’m crying and panicked; she sits at my side to remind me she’s got my back. She’s what gets me out of bed in the mornings, and what makes me get my exercise, and what distracts me from my own mind by inherently needing me to care for her-to feed her, to brush her, to play with her.

I know there will always be some people who don’t understand, and I know thoughts like the ones above will continue to creep in from time to time, but I work on repeating something else in my mind as well: it’s the people who love and support me unconditionally whose opinions truly matter – and for these people who exist in my life, know that I am forever grateful.

And for anyone in a similar situation, I hope this piece of writing will help you realize that you’re not alone in your feelings and your fears-always remember that no matter how low you feel, there is always someone out there who cares-whether they walk on two feet or four. TC mark

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