How Pets Help Bipolar Disease
Pets and Mindfulness
I grew up in an apartment in Arlington, Virginia across the Potomac from D.C. Pets were not allowed and my father being basically an immigrant and old school did not want anything to do with cats or dogs anyway. We next moved to NYC when I was sixteen and a junior in high school.
Living in a high rise at 62nd and 3rd Avenue. dogs, even large ones, were certainly allowed but I didn’t really want one (too busy studying and running track) and again Dad had no interest. It was kind of ludicrous seeing professional dog walkers in the mornings with five or more dogs on leashes walking them for their morning business for their owners. Also, back then you could slide from our apartment to my father’s office in Rockefeller Center on poop. You had to look down as you walked. The term “watch it” became “watch shit”.
At Yale no pets were allowed in the “dormitories” and same for medical school at Washington University in St. Louis except for off-campus apartments but my roommates and I hardly had time to take care of them.
My first pet was a kitten, Elijah, after moving to San Francisco in 1974 and finally getting a paying job as an Intern at San Francisco General Hospital. One evening Elijah walked into a ground floor apartment of a lady friend as we ate spaghetti on the ground floor. I should say Elijah meowed outside the door and we let this adorable black kitten with white paws in and he went right to the pasta. It was love at first site.
I took him home to my Marina apartment and he slept with me over the rest of the weekend. It did not even occur to me that he might have fleas and that he had all his claws. I took him to a vet one street over on Lombard and he had a good bill of health.
From that point it was “the beginning of a beautiful relationship”. He was, of course, an indoor cat in my third floor studio apartment at Chestnut and Laguna (180$ a month in 1974!!). Very soon he began to tear my curtains to shreds and was beginning on the coverlet on my bed. I had to have him declawed. I began to realize that upon arriving home from work at the hospital Elijah melted away my stress. Recent thoughts became the MOMENT of smiles.
His only outdoor time was on the little roof outside of my three story walk up siding alongside of a two story building. A young woman of about my age in the next building and I shared the cat back and forth from our windows. This friendship blossomed particularly when calling Elijah in one night I saw her dressing. She did not seem to mind.
My mentor and sage from high school in NYC told me not to get married until I was thirty. He said the decade from twenty to thirty was the only time I would be independent and to cherish those ten years. I made it to twenty-six! Finished college at twenty-two, medical school at twenty-six, Internship and Residency at twenty-nine and Fellowship at thirty-one and moved to Modesto to get a Real job. Married in ’76. Eighteen to twenty-six was close to his “Taoist Rule”.
In mid-‘76 when I had my second depression Priscilla (on again, off again for two years) would come over to the apartment to feed Elijah while I was in St. Louis getting zapped. Later that year we were married four days after the bicentennial. We made the trip to St. Louis for my Fellowship in 1977 in a Datsun B-210 WITHOUT AIR CONDITIONING and back to Modesto to start my practice in 1979. Elijah got to fly and met at both ends by family because of the summer heat.
All subsequent cats adopted us as well. Sockie, Starving Marvin, Prince, Mama Cat and then her litter (Tigger we kept).
Dogs: Sam, Golden Retriever; Scott, Black lab mix and rescue; Dieter, German Shepherd; Sydney Bichon-Terrier mix, rescue; Trista (chocolate toy poodle passed at sixteen six months ago; Lucy white toy poodle now seven years old and great companion for Trista; and our recent addition at four months old Ginger, red poodle, relationship with Lucy a work in progress.
We took Sydney and Trista and then Trista and Lucy to the office with us and the patient’s dour faces turned to smiles and they would ask if they were in the office in subsequent visits. Sometimes Sydney would sneak into the exam rooms.
Last week we took Lucy and Ginger to my psychiatrist’s office. This is an office of about six mental health professionals. We walked in and the waiting room and patients and family member’s demeanors went from L to J. We even took them into my doc’s office and he said we could make them service dogs. In my last hospitalization in early 2015 each Sunday a woman would bring a different large dog for the patients. Petting them was hugely helpful. We take Trista and Lucy and now Lucy and Ginger everywhere we go.
By car to San Francisco to hotels that are pet friendly (most), L.A, Carmel, Oregon coast and short hops by plane to Santa Fe and Sedona. At hotels they charge as little as twenty-five dollars a night per pet and up to one-hundred dollars. It is actually cheaper to fly. As for the car they have car seats that are as buckled in as child seats.
After that last visit with Dr. H those charges are going to disappear. I am not one of those rich doctors. I was always a private and never a general.