Julie Barton grew up with an abusive brother. She did not receive the emotional support she needed to work through the trauma and pain, and so her experiences led to feelings of inadequacy — and, ultimately, debilitating depression.
In Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself, Barton writes of her suicidal breakdown, in 1996, when mental illness was not much discussed. Weaving together memories of her traumatic childhood, her severe depression, and the birth and growth of her dog, she shows us how the bond between her and her pet helped during some very low times.
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression, especially women. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the global burden of disease. As a therapist, I know that people with depression often have a difficult time feeling compassion toward themselves, and often do not treat themselves with kindness. Unfortunately, what others believe about us can shape how we see ourselves and how we behave.
Barton describes these very feelings, and how for a while she could not imagine treating herself kindly or with gentle understanding. Then, a new start: the opportunity to show these qualities to her dog. She began to view the world through, as she puts it, “hopeful puppy wonder.”
There may be no greater love than that from a pet. Unconditional. Soothing. Nurturing. Healing. That is what Barton felt when she met Bunker. Actually, as she puts it, when Bunker picked her out. He sensed, Barton writes, that she needed him. With his puppy love he pulled her out of the sludge of depression. He pulled her back into the living.
Everyone, I think, should feel such raw emotion and love.
Barton has a way of describing her suffering such that you can almost feel the weight of it sitting on your own chest. She is honest about how difficult it has been. She is also, though, warm and uplifting when she describes the way Bunker has helped.
There are many powerful moments in Barton’s book. She writes of how her painful, suicidal thoughts were as real to her as hunger pangs. She shows how, when a person is dealing with mental health issues, extreme thoughts can be haunting even when the person knows they’re not right. And she writes, heart-wrenchingly, of how her relationship with her dog helped her triumph.
For anyone interested in personal stories of depression, this is a deeply moving tale.
Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself
Think Piece Publishing, LLC, November 2015
Paperback, 234 pages