When I was 21 years old I got a dog, Trooper, who was with me for 17 years. Six months after my TBI we had to say goodbye to him, and that was one of the lowest points of my recovery. Traumatic brain injury puts people in a very lonely place. The sense of isolation that comes with sitting at home alone, being unable to work, unable to socialize with friends, unable to drive, all while feeling terrible, and thinking that no one understands what you are going through, can be unbearable. Studies have shown 25% of patients with traumatic brain injury have thoughts of suicide. That is a scary statistic. Although I never reached that point myself, I was low enough at times that I understood why that number is so high.
The most important thing that is needed to get through brain injury is a support network. In my ‘Like Minded’ brain injury support group, people have talked about their own families not understanding, and sometimes not even believing, what they are going through. It has been nice to have the support group come together to help folks feel like they are understood and not alone. I have also been lucky to have some great support from friends and family, including one friend that during my really rough patches, would call every day. She would call, and I wouldn’t answer the phone, but I would listen to her rambling voicemails and know that someone was thinking of me. She would keep calling every day, and eventually I would pick up and we would talk for a long time. She knew that the days I didn’t answer the phone, those were the days I really needed her phone call, and I’m grateful to her for helping me through that time.
A support network may be friends, it may be family, it may be a pet. People need to know they aren’t alone. This is one of the reasons that after we lost Trooper, my husband was insistent on getting another dog. He didn’t want me home alone all the time. A friend of ours had a litter of puppies and asked if we wanted one. I thought it was a terrible idea, but Josh thought I needed a project and some company. For the record, getting a puppy WAS a terrible idea, and I would never recommend it for folks in the earlier stages of recovery. Puppies are high maintenance, and when you are struggling to take care of yourself, it can be overwhelming to have that additional responsibility. There were a lot of days when Josh had to take the puppy to his office because I couldn’t deal with him. I was easily frustrated and overwhelmed with the constant demands. During that phase I still needed to lay down and nap frequently, and the puppy had other ideas. That being said, we survived those few months of the needy puppy stage, with potty training, chewing, and non-stop vigilance, and I am finally to a point where I realize that having a dog has been exactly what I needed.
Focusing on his training was a good project for me, and he is now a very well-behaved running and hiking partner, and a pretty awesome cuddly lap dog. He keeps me on a routine schedule, gets me out of the house even on days when I’m not feeling great, and makes me laugh every day. When things are bad, he will lay on my lap and let me squeeze him like a stuffed teddy bear. This weekend was his 1st birthday. He celebrated with a hike up Green Mountain, and even got his first spoonful of Sweet Cow ice cream…and then proceeded to beg from anyone else that had a spoon. Can you blame him? So Happy Birthday little Kili Monster, you are a tiny dog playing a really big part in my ongoing recovery.
There are lots of shelters and rescues where you can find an adult companion of your own. You can have all the benefits of a dog, or a cat, and avoid the craziness of the puppy stage!
Only four weeks until Never Summer 100k!