You might know someone who has an emotional support animal? More and more people have one that may travel with them and/or helps them cope with life’s challenges. Mary, who struggles with bipolar depression episodes (has a very strong bond with her four-year old guinea pig Tommy. Bipolar is a chronic illness that causes extreme mood swings.
1) How does Tommy comfort you?
He sits on my chest and I pet him. He a natural anti-depressant and has anti-anxiety qualities that are tremendously helpful. He helps to make me feel more calm, less depressed and less anxious and more peaceful. I think of Tommy as my best friend, my furry child. I love him dearly and am very protective of him.
2) It sounds like you two really understand each other and have a close bond. When he is cuddling with you, do you notice a change in your moods? Can it lift you out of a depression or impact a bipolar episode.
Yes I feel much more relaxed, at ease and often fall asleep or at least half asleep when I cuddle with Tommy. He relaxes me and he is very calming, and soothing.
It relaxes me to cuddle with him after being stressed or depressed. I have felt better after I crying and I burying my face in his soft coat. He will often purr and get physically closer to me when he can tell that I’m sad. When I’m happy, I sing to him.
Many people with mental health issues often feel alone and isolated. With a pet you have to take care and provide for it.
3) Mary you describe a relationship in which you have learned to read with Tommy.
Yes. I have learned to read his squeaks and body language. High pitched squeaks and shrieks mean he is stressed out. If he chatters his teeth at me, he is often upset about something. Usually he runs and hides if he is afraid. A cat purr and a shaking (almost a vibration) often mean that he is happy. \When he is happy, he wills “popcorn”, a behavior that is common with young guinea pigs. He jumps and twists in the air. It’s an act of pure joy and delight! If a pet sitter doesn’t treat him well, he isn’t calm (running around in his cage and squeaking a lot) when I return.
4) Would you say that Tommy has a highly developed sixth sense? If so, how does he demonstrate this to you?
Tommy stays away from people who don’t like animals, and he will nip those who are unkind to him. Yes, Tommy definitely does know when I am depressed he squeaks. I believe that he does this to alert me that something is wrong. He seems to understand when I am down/sad that I would like more cuddle time. He can sense that I need to be comforted more. It’s almost as if he thinks that is his job to take care of me. He picks up on my body signals. Sometimes when I am sick, he squeaks so that I will pick him up and cuddle with him.
5) Does Tommy help shorten your bipolar episodes?
I don’t know if the bouts of bipolar are actually shortened, but they are much easier to bear having his company. I think that his loving presence actually has a calming effect on my mood. When I’ve been incredibly sad, depressed, etc., it’s so therapeutic to cuddle with him. The mania side to my bipolar is harder to control because I feel more hyper and out of control.
6) So it sounds like Tommy is both emotionally and physically supportive. Is this correct?
Tensions dissipate and I relax when we cuddle on my bed or my sofa. (My psychiatrist had said, at one point that she would be willing to write a letter certifying Tommy as either a therapy pet or emotional support animal.)
7) What pet advice do you have for those living with a mental illness?
Pets are tremendously wonderful, therapeutic, and can add joy and happiness to people’s lives. A pet is a lifetime commitment. Consider the expense and your lifestyle. Unlike a dog, a guinea pig, cat, and fish are not very high maintenance. Remember a pet requires care even when you don’t feel well. Talk to a vet or family and friends for suggestions.
8) What words of advice do you have for others who have a mental illness?
There’s no shame in having a mental illness. Due what is best for you. Remember to take care of yourself before taking care of the needs of others!