by Maricela Estrada-Moreno
May is Mental Health Awareness month. In honor of that fact, KRL will have several mental health related articles this month–check back every week for the latest articles, and check out our Mental Health section for previous ones. Learn more on the Mental Health America and NAMI websites.
I turned 37 on April 20, 2017. Another candle on the cake. Another year of beautiful life. Another year of surviving mental illness. I reflected on my life. It has almost been 20 years that I have been living with schizoaffective, bipolar type. However, back then, my diagnosis was bipolar disorder with psychotic features. I can’t believe I have made it this far. I have survived multiple suicide attempts and about 12-15 psychiatric hospitalizations. I survived all the delusions. I survived being humiliated after tearing my clothes off in a parking lot because I had a delusion and thought I had to be naked like Adam and Eve before they discovered sin. Thank God, I was inside the car. However, when I came back to reality I was in handcuffs with a parking lot full of people staring at me. The police yelled out “She’s a regular,” and off they took me to the psychiatric hospital.
I survived the denial and all the pain I put my family through and losing friends because I didn’t want to take my medication and was too unstable. By the grace of God I’m alive, thriving, and stronger then ever. You may ask what changed over the years. Well, for one I accepted my mental illness. The day I accepted it and decided to not skip a day without medication was the day I knew I could survive it. I have a great support system of family and friends. I meditate, pray, practice breathing exercises, self-care, grounding exercises, reality testing, go to therapy, see a psychiatrist on a regular basis, practice holistic health, and have a healthy lifestyle. I have attended Bipolar Depression Support Alliance Support Groups—love them! I have a great career as a Medical Case Worker for the Los Angeles-County Department of Mental Health. It gets better.
There was a period in my life where the depression and suicidal ideation came back. I knew that if I killed myself, it would be the real thing, and no one would find me to call 911. I knew I needed a companion dog, so I rescued a dog. Well, actually my dog rescued me. He rescued me from depression and suicidal ideation. Well, we rescued each other. He is my emotional support dog. His name is Gypsy Blue, and I take him for walks every day. I talked to my psychiatrist, and she wrote me a note so I can keep him in my apartment because they had a no pet policy. Well, with the doctor note they let me keep my dog.
I was so excited to adopt a dog. I already had a name picked out. I wanted a girl dog, and I was going to name her after a Lady Gaga song. I was going to name her Gypsy. I went to the Downey Animal Hospital on National Dog Day to rescue a dog. There was nowhere to sit, and you had to get a number. I sat there impatiently when suddenly a pregnant lady with flip flops walked in with her husband. She was holding a dirty, fluffy, traumatized dog with its tail between its legs.
“Where do you drop off dogs nobody wants?” she said.
I walked up to her and petted him. “I will take him,” I said.
“You can have him, free!” the couple said. “He has just been wondering in my backyard.”
Well, I took the dog, but he looked really sick. I thought he would die. I was going to name him Blue because he looked like he was feeling Blue. My friend Valerie told me I could still name him Gypsy, so I decided to name him Gypsy Blue. I gave Gypsy a lot of love and a makeover. I took him to get groomed, and he got a pom pom summer cut that showed off his poodle look. He looked like a rich celebrity dog. He even walked more confidently. My dog filled my heart with joy and love. My dog gave me life again.
My dog has helped me in so many way. He has helped me decrease isolation and increase my positive socialization in my apartment complex with my neighbors and their dogs. He has helped me get daily exercise by talking him for daily walks. He gives me emotional support and companionship. He has helped decrease my suicidal ideation because I would never kill myself—who would take care of Gypsy as good as I do. Having a dog has truly saved my life.
I encourage people living with mental illnesses to get companion pets. Don’t let pet policies in apartments stop you from getting a pet. Get a note from your psychiatrist, and you are protected by fair housing laws and the ADA. If you already have a pet and are moving, don’t feel like you have to get rid of your pet. Talk to your psychiatrist and get your note. Having a companion pet will change your life for the better.To make my life even brighter, I have great news. After watching Bridget Jones Diary every weekend thinking I would die fat and alone half eaten by wild dogs….I met the man of my dreams and got married. Now Gypsy has a dad. We love spending weekends at the beach and dog parks. However, I do not live happily ever after. Happily ever after does not exist. I live happily and sometimes unstable after, but at least I know I have great coping skills.
Happy May Mental Health Awareness Month!
Let’s keep sharing our stories of mental health recovery, hope, and triumph.
Check out KRL’s Mental Health section for more mental health related articles.