Hello, my name is Julia and this is my story about how four legs and trail changed my life.
In order to relay the story, I need to be honest and I need to begin in November 2007, where I found myself bedside at a hospital holding the hand of a dear loved one as she took her last breath.
In the months following, I fell into a dark place. Depression is very taboo these days, and until this point I refused to openly admit it, but I was depressed. There were several days in a row where I could not bear to leave the comfort of my bed. I refused to go to class. I quit my job. I made brash decisions. I was angry. I was harsh. and I was so very exhausted, all at the same time.
One afternoon, as I was still in bed I reached for my cell phone and called my primary care physician and made arrangements for the next day. Neglecting the obvious, I was internally insistent I was disease ridden which was primary to my exhaustion. Maybe diabetes? or cancer?
It was just denial, which I found out in time.
At my appointment, a tall confident nurse escorted me to my exam room where I was asked to step on the scale. The number she read aloud was unrecognizable, unfathomable and forty pounds heavier than what my brain said I weighed. The number she read caught me completely off guard and reactively tears formed and flooded my cheeks. I admitted to the nurse that I was completely out of touch with my body. I couldn't even recall the last time I stepped on a scale.
When my doctor finally met with me, I was a sight. As I tearfully relayed my symptoms, she politely listened until I was finished despite her diagnosis was accurate based on impression alone.
"Julia, do you think you might be depressed?"
I was insulted, and proud and refused to acknowledge it. Denied it. Insisted it must be something else, to which she humored me knowing my insurance would pay for the lab tests. A week later a letter from her indicating my results were normal and her professional advice was to begin taking care of myself.
Before I was receipt of her letter, I had already started on her prescribed regime. My biggest take away from my consult was that I had gained forty pounds in six months. For some reason, that number stuck to me. Reaching out my mother for help brought me to a Weight Watchers meeting.
Weight Watchers introduced a program that abetted my pursuit of a healthier weight. I slowly began to lose. Each week bringing me closer and closer to a milestone. By the end of December of 2008, I had lost a whole five pounds.
I was four weeks into the program, and my husband begrudgingly allowed my to adopt a puppy to reward myself for the success thus far. It wasn't the days of nonstop talking and conviction, but it was the name and the dog I found. Flipping through the internet, I found a boxer-husky mix puppy. When one last defense was thrown back:
"Well, what would you even name it?"
Names rattled off my tongue like a stock ticker in the anxious hopes I could find the right one while my husband had a moment of weakness.
"Ok, you can call them."
Emails had already been exchanged with the owner, and I finalized the plans to meet my new puppy.
We drove an hour outside of town with a foot of snow on the ground to meet Goliath. On the ride home, as he slept inside my coat next to my heart and I began to wheeze from his puppy dander I suddenly realized this little guy's life was 100% my responsibility.
You can't stay in bed when you have a two month old puppy biting your ears. You can't devote time to eating yourself into a coma when your four month old puppy is chewing up your carpet. You can't ignore everything in the world, when you have a six month old puppy resting his head in your lap.
Goliath was a destructive ball of energy that wanted to either play or chew something at all hours of the day. In order to combat his excess of energy, I used whatever I had left at the end of my day to walk him. Our walks grew longer and longer to accommodate his restless heart. I never wanted to go, but it's amazing what you will do when you care for a helpless dog's well being.
The walks grew faster and faster until eventually we were running. We ran every day. Every single day. Morning or the evening, and sometimes twice a day. We'd hit the trail in the rain, in the snow and in 90 degree days. Nothing brought my more joy than seeing the unbridled joy on Goliath's face as we tromped ungracefully through our wooded trail.
The further we ran, the happier he was. He trained me for a half marathon before I even knew it was happening. Goliath and I would run until we lost track of time. We'd get lost in the miles, I would forget the day's burdens and he'd gleefully skip ahead of me as long as I'd allow it.
With every run and every week, I lost more weight and gained more clarity of mind. By the end of the summer of 2009, I had shed all forty pounds.
It was such a slow and gradual process, I didn't even recognize it happening. I truly had started over. I was happy again. I was happy making the fawn pup on the end of the leash happy.
It's now December 2012, five full years later. Goliath's head comfortably rested in my lap, still recovering from our five mile run this morning. I don't lead the most balanced healthy life, I am not the happiest girl on earth and my struggles aren't over but I always have a reason to get out of bed now.
His four legs and a trail truly changed my life.
***Disclaimer: Emotional illness and depression are serious issues and should be treated as such. By no means am I health professional sharing ways to treat or manage clinical depression. This is simply my story, and should not be taken for anything more than that. If you are currently struggling with depression or any emotional problems please seek assistance from your local mental health services, your primary care doctor or find a resource at this site: http://www.nami.org/