Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) affects around 250,000 people in the UK. Also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) there is no known cause or cure. Symptoms include overwhelming fatigue, post exertional malaise, cognitive dysfunction, pain, difficulty sleeping and ongoing flu-like symptoms that just don’t go away.
I was diagnosed with the condition at the age of 12, meaning at the time of writing I’ve had the condition for half my life. At its worst, it means I cannot walk, or talk. I’ve had two bad flare ups since being diagnosed, most recently a few years ago when I was in second year of university. When it’s bad, not only am I too exhausted to eat or go to the toilet, I also feel very alone.
How My Dogs Help ME
This week marks ME Awareness Week and to commemorate the occasion I thought I’d share with you some of the ways both Woody and Millie have helped me come to terms and cope with my Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.
They Give Me a Reason to Get Up in the Morning
The old adage is true. Thanks to Woody and Hen, I have a reason to get up in the morning. Though they quite enjoy a morning lie in, when it’s time to head out on our first walk of the day, they’re is the first to let me know. They’ll tiptoe into the bedroom and launch themselves at my face. Woody’s incessant licking is enough to get me up and out the door in minutes.
With Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, no two days are the same. Sometimes it’s hard to find the motivation to get out of bed. I’m tired 99.9% of the time, no matter if I’ve had 8, 10, 12 or more solid hours of sleep. The temptation to remain under the covers can sometimes be too much. However with an overly energetic working cocker spaniel walking all over your stomach, the benefits of getting up are soon apparent.
I Have a Rigid Structure and Daily Routine
Owning a dog brings with it great responsibility. I am accountable for Woody and Hen’s walks, meals, toilet breaks, playtime, healthcare and just about everything else. The same goes for Millie when she is visiting too. Having this responsibility motivates me on a daily basis. We’ve developed a rigid structure and daily routine where I can balance mine, Woody’s and Hen’s needs without burning out. In fact, having both Woody and Hen in my life, along with ME was part of my reason for starting my freelance business. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made!
I’ve found the flexibility of freelancing works well. I am able to manage my workload around my energy levels. Sometimes this means a solid 9-5 work day, while other times it may mean resting during the daytime and working well into the night. Some things don’t change, like Woody’s walks and having a sense of accountability in him helps me stay on task.
They Help Me Feel Less Alone
ME can be incredibly lonely. Not only do people not understand the illness, when it flares up I’m literally confined to my bed. Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is often confused with other conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Narcolepsy, Epilepsy and more. On top of this, it’s common for people not to believe you. If I got a £1 for every time I’ve been called lazy over the years, I’d be a millionaire by now!
I felt particularly lonely when my ME flared up at university. My housemates and tutors didn’t understand (or want to understand for that matter) and I was miles away from home. When I was a child, I had my parents to back me up but this time, there was no one. Woody and Millie help me feel less alone by just being around. They’ll come up and lie with me in bed and their quirky characters help me stay positive on bad days.
They’ve Helped Me Build My Confidence
I never really realised how supportive the dog walking community was until I got Woody. Whenever I walked Millie as a teenager in London, we were mostly left alone. Perhaps it’s just the community spirit of Cornwall, or that now I’m a young adult, people take me more seriously? Either way, walking with Woody and Millie has boosted my confidence tenfold, as I’ve been forced to talk with so many new people.
I’ve met all sorts of dog owners while out on our walks. People of all ages and from all walks of life. From first time dog owners to families and recently retired people making the most of walking with their dogs. Everyone I’ve spoken to has their own stories to tell. I’ve learnt about sports car racing, new businesses starting and plenty about local history!
I’ve Met Other Owners with Similar Conditions
Following on from my previous point, I’ve met so many owners with similar conditions thanks to walking with Woody and Millie. Sometimes it’s easier to be open when talking to strangers. There are no ties or judgement, you’re probably not going to see them ever again after all!
It can be hard to admit you have a physical, chronic or mental illness, particularly to friends and family but also to yourself. Walking with other owners who also have ME or similar conditions makes me feel empowered and less alone. It’s one thing to know someone with a condition, it’s an entirely different thing when you have the condition yourself. I like joking with my friends about our illnesses. How sometimes we can’t walk or talk and other days we could run a canicross marathon!
You Can’t Beat Puppy Cuddles
Last but not least on my list are the regular spaniel cuddles I receive from both Woody and Millie. However hard your day, week or month will be you can’t beat coming home to snuggles on the sofa!
How do your dogs help you? Perhaps you have ME or a similar condition or just need help relieving day to day stress every now and then. We’d love to hear your stories in the comments! If you’d like to find out more about my story and how the condition affects me, watch the video below. I talk honestly about my experiences with this illness and how it has shaped me into the person I am today!
If you have any questions about Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, what it’s like to have it and how you can help others with similar conditions, please feel free to get in touch. I’ll answer them as best I can!
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