Caroline Ratcliffe, Simulation Instructor Demonstrator in the Faculty of Health and Wellbeing shares a personal story of anxiety and the therapeutic impact of her dogs.
Living with social anxiety is hard going, while you might seem bubbly and outgoing at work you have a constant internal struggle where you feel everyone is judging you and watching what you do, you blush at inappropriate times and feel sick, you want to hang back in situations to observe quietly what going on, your nervousness causes you to interrupt people as you just have to blurt an answer out, this leads to people thinking you are rude which then starts off your whole shame circle again.
Coming up with an endless list of excuses as to why you can’t attend a social event or why you do not wish to participate in a conference or large event is in itself quite exhaustive. Equally when you are pushed forward to participate in something you are often over tired having been kept up the night before with endless worry about the event and the accompanying upset stomach or crippling panic attack.
This has plagued me since Secondary School and I have retreated more and more away from the public spotlight, choosing the life of a hermit instead who prefers their own company. I have tried counselling and even tried medication but little has helped and nothing seemed to take the darkness away. When my GP recommended getting a dog, I thought he had finally exhausted all his training and pulled something random off Google. He argued the benefits with me that it would get me out of the house daily, I would have something that needed me to help focus my energy on, it would lower my blood pressure and I might even lose some weight (I suspect this was his secret intention!).
I had never entertained getting a dog, yes I loved them but I worked full time and how would it survive at home?! I spent hours of research looking at dog breeds, seeing what is suitable, speaking with my local vet, visiting local dog rescue centres and when I had made the decision it probably wasn’t the right thing for me to do I had dismissed the idea completely. Then I came home from work one day to find two big brown eyes looking up at me with a big red bow around its neck, I had been brought a puppy. The rapid learning curve for me began instantly as the maternal instinct kicked in, yes she needed me for absolutely everything and I suddenly had an excitable, windy, ball of endless energy to deal with. She was a Sprussell, a Springer Spaniel x Jack Russell, a breed I had never heard of and had no idea what was going to happen moving forward.
She wets herself when excited (postman delivering letters, when she sees my other family members, when I get in from work), she wets herself when frightened (plastic bottles, plastic bags, when its breezy outside….), she takes up two thirds of a king size bed, she moults so much I could make a little dog hair statue for her on a daily basis, she licks you whenever she loves you (40,000 times a day) she ate my skirting boards and she does not like the vet.
She saved my life that very day from the moment she arrived and continues to do so every day going forward, the darkness is still there but at a much more manageable level and no matter what happens, she will always be at home waiting for me to cheer me up, dry my tears or melt my face with her bad breath. To repay her for her loyal and unwavering service after three years, I adopted a big brother for her to keep her company. So now there are two of them that can gang up on me to get access to the hidden biscuit supplies, plan the destruction of next doors cats and genuinely guard me at all times.
Begrudgingly, they do everything the GP said they would and it is the sole reason for My Wellbeing.
Caroline is running a “Restart a Heart” session during Staff Wellbeing Week on Friday 22nd June 9.30am – 12 noon in AH3.31, drop in any time and practice the life-saving skill of CPR.