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She never took the pill bottles out of my hands. She never talked me out of it. She never called for help.
She’s a 12-year-old, 70lb, mixed-breed rescue dog with a love for french fries, a curly tail, and a crap-your-pants bark, and her name is Haylie.
During summer of 2018, I reached my lowest point in my battle with depression. I had been struggling for some time and the many cocktails of meds I’d gone through weren’t bringing relief as I painfully learned my depression was medication-resistant. I was also working in a mental hospital, surrounded by patients who reminded me of myself, my life, and what I believed my future with bipolar disorder looked like: a revolving door of hospital stays, medications, and psychiatrists. I made the descent from severely depressed to suicidal over the course of three to four weeks, the thoughts shifting from occasional to constant and from passive to planning.
Every night I came home from my shift at the hospital at midnight to find Haylie, beyond thrilled to see me after we’d been apart for a whole eight hours. Her back end wagged and wiggled in rhythm with her tail as she worked hard to contain herself and not pee all over the floor with excitement. At the end of the night, I also came home to my bedtime meds. Four of them. Which meant in combination with my morning and as-needed meds, I had seven bottles of prescription pills in my home.
I’d change my clothes, wash my makeup off, and stand in the kitchen with the prescribed doses in my hand and the full pill bottles on the counter in front of me and fantasize about taking them all. Fantasize about what it would be like to close my eyes and finally find relief from this heaviness, this pain, these thoughts, these voices that left me cloaked in a blanket of hopelessness and kept me in a prison of the body and mind of someone I didn’t recognize.
But, then there was Haylie. Standing in the kitchen with me, watching me. As I was brought back to the present and to her I’d begin to cry, night after night, like clockwork, the same thoughts running through my mind: how I didn’t believe anyone could possibly love her as much as I do. How confused she would be when I was suddenly gone. The thought of someone else caring for my Haylie the way I had done for so many years.
I would take my prescribed dose of meds, wash them down with water, and slip down onto the floor where I’d sit with my back against the cabinets. The crying would take the breath from my lungs as I struggled to get air. By this time I was in such sharp, all-consuming pain I thought there was no doubt it would kill me itself, guilt about contemplating leaving Haylie and what a bad dog mom I was compounding on top of it.
One a.m., by now. Pitch black and silent outside. The dim glow of the kitchen night light creating shadows around me. Family members and friends long asleep. I felt completely, utterly alone, with the exception of one being: the dog standing over me, licking the salty tears from my face.
Haylie saved my life over and over that summer when I faced the decision of whether to live or die night-after-night, my brain convincing me dying was the only logical solution to end the pain I was in. She was the deciding factor, staring at me with those big brown eyes, accepting me in all my depression and emptiness and covered in snot. She kept me holding on without any intention of it, without knowing she was doing it. That’s the beauty of dogs: they give and they give without any awareness. They do it as part of their core being, part of their nature, not because they have to, or are obligated to.
These recurrent nights of me anchoring myself in Haylie went on for several weeks before I finally shared with my dad that I was having these thoughts and considered ending my life every night after I got home from work when faced with my meds. I lived on my parents’ foldout couch for the next week, soon also temporarily dismissed from my job for “triggering my patients.” My medications lived at my parents’ house for several more months after that, where one weekly pillbox was filled up with my meds as prescribed and they were the only ones allowed in my house.
Those nights still haunt me occasionally: the finality of it all, the thread I was holding on by, especially during my more difficult times with depression when the familiarity of those nights surrounds me.
I consider myself forever indebted to Haylie for being the source of meaning and purpose in my life when I couldn’t or can’t find any. This dog who walked through the darkness with me, even when that meant being in bed together for days at a time. She never judged me for not showering. She never got frustrated with me for not getting better, sooner. She never told me to “just smile” or that “things can always be worse.” She was never disappointed in me and in the life I wasn’t able to participate in. She was just there. A silent supporter holding me up. And if love and gratitude were enough, Haylie would live forever.