Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Fibromyalgia and Dogs: You Can Always Find Hope in a Dog's Eyes

It's no secret that animals, in particular dogs, add something special to our lives. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what that "something special" is - the way they look at you? The softness of their fur? The warmth they provide? The adventures you share? Perhaps that something special is different for everyone. Whatever it is, dogs and other animals seem to provide a certain comfort that you just can't get anywhere else. For me, this is especially true.

I've always thought this picture of Maizy perfectly represents that quote. <3

I don't remember what its like to not be in pain. I don't remember not having to calculate how every little thing - from going shopping or to simply brushing my hair - would impact me. I have fibromyalgia. I was only diagnosed a few years ago, but the pain started well before that, about when I was 15. It was bearable then, simply an after thought. Then in first year university I had a spectacular fall from a horse that left me with a limp for two years and in physiotherapy for even longer. And the pain never went away.

Fibromyalgia is not really a disease, but rather a collective of symptoms. They don't know what causes it, but in short it makes everything hurt. It's sort of like having the flu, sprained wrists, sprained ankles, and a kinked back all at once. Somedays its difficult for me to even pour myself a glass of milk. Other days its too painful to wear pants because the fabric is simply touching me. Now that I have found a good combination of medications and management, I mostly am just very tired and sore all the time. My pain level is never less than a 4, but is often close to 6 or 7. About once a week I have an 8, 9 or a 10 day where I basically just sleep and play with Maizy.

The best pain scale I've seen yet, taken from Hyperbole and a Half 
Which brings us to The Dog. I have lots of other animals, all of whom are wonderful and whom I love deeply - 3 cats, 2 rabbits, and 2 horses. But they are not The Dog.

We  - myself and my parents, who I still live with because I'm horse poor - got Maizy specifically to help with my fibromyalgia and let me tell you, she has been way better than any pill. Well, maybe Lyrica is tied with her for pain medication, but she has way more benefits than that! So why a dog?

  1. It would keep me active. There is no way in hell I would let my dog go without exercise, even if my legs were broken. Some days we go on three hour adventures in the woods, but even on my bad days I will go hobble around the yard with her.
  2. Companionship. When its 3am and I can't sleep because it feels like I'm being eaten alive from the inside by bugs (yeah, that's a fibro symptom called "paraesthesia"), I can go sit with my dog, bury my hands in her fur and distract myself from the pain.
  3. She's a real live heating pad. I am constantly shoving my sore feet under her. Sorry Maizy! I have heating pads, ice packs, weighted blankets and more, but nothing beats snuggling up with a toasty warm, snoring dog.
  4. She brings me joy and purpose, more than anything else in the world. We have an incredibly close bond. I love all my animals to the moon and back, but there is just something about a dog.
From the day I brought Maizy home, she had done all that and more. There have been studies showing that dogs are beneficial for fibromyalgia (The Impact of Animal-Assisted Therapy for Outpatients with Fibromyalgia, Pain Medicine, Volume 14, Issue 1, pages 43–51, January 2013), but even without the science it's easy to see the impact Maizy has made on my life. She is quite literally my reason for waking up everyday - it doesn't matter how bad the pain is, the dog still needs a walk. Even my dad, who doesn't really like dogs, loves Maizy because she has so greatly improved my quality of life.

That being said, I'm not saying everyone with a chronic pain condition or similar should rush out and get a dog. Dogs are an enormous responsibility. Before I got Maizy I had to find a system that would allow me to give Maizy the attention she needs. Cats and rabbits can be fed and left to their own devices, and my horses are boarded out. The dog, on the other hand, requires I give 110% every day. I still have very bad days when it is difficult for me to walk. Thankfully I have a wonderful support system who are willing to help me when things get rough - this dog has never gone without because of my disease.

One of the major reasons I decided to focus on dog fitness is that it will have a positive impact on my health. As Maizy works up to longer and harder workouts, I too will be getting that benefit. Training gives me something to focus on other than the pain. I am planning to get a FitBit for myself and a FitBark or Whistle for Maizy to see how we both progress. I am very interested to see how my fibromyalgia will be affected by this venture.

So to Maizy, I raise my glass - er, water dish, in thanks. You may not know it but I couldn't do this without you.

Whoever said laughter was the best medicine clearly didn't have a dog!


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