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PTSD and the power of puppies

How one special dog is helping me heal (I resisted a pun about "heal" and "heel". You're welcome)
Alisa and puppy on couch
Content Warning

This story contains descriptions of PTSD symptoms

Two weeks ago, my PTSD was triggered and all the colors went away, everything around me was gray, and existing in the world felt so overwhelming. I thought I had a sinus infection for two months, but a CT scan revealed that what I mistook for sinus pain were actually facial migraines from the stress of my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I was caught in a cycle of my PTSD being triggered, my body being in pain from the trauma, and that pain causing my PTSD to get worse. I’ve said it a million times now: PTSD is such a fun and sexy time, you guys.

Will Smith with headache

At night I had dreams that I was driving and the brakes didn’t work or I was falling through the air and couldn’t stop. Every corner of my mind was telling me that I didn’t have control over my body, which as a survivor, is one of my least favorite feelings I’ve known.

BUT THEN 35 pounds of fluff and love came to stay with me and Charlie and slowly, over the course of three days, I began to see colors again.

Meet the puppy who is helping me manage my PTSD

This is my Lil’ Bruddah, I call him that because he’s my mother’s dog and she was adamant that we treat the dog like a dog, so in direct defiance with her instructions, I began to refer to him as my brother.

puppy with tongue out

He stayed with us while she traveled. He is a one-year-old Australian doodle, a breed of dogs that are basically destined to be emotional support.

What we know about dogs and PTSD

While there isn’t a lot of research specifically around PTSD and dogs, the internet is bursting with story after story of companion dogs helping their owners with the management of their PTSD. We do know that petting a dog can help lower blood pressure, and beyond that, some people with PTSD have been able to train their dogs even to interrupt their nightmares or to lay on their chest or feet during a trigger.

Dogs can break down the isolation that our symptoms can cause us to feel, and also help us overcome our anxieties about getting out of bed and leaving the house since the puppy demands it.

Alisa hugging puppy

Perhaps the greatest benefit I’ve experienced from hanging out with Lil’ Bruddah this past year is that he pulls me out of my head. When my PTSD is triggered, I begin time traveling back to my trauma, and I live in two dueling realities: my present day and my previous abuse. By demanding attention, the dog helps me to stay in the present, and feel safer. If I am petting Lil’ Bruddah then that means I’m not a child again in an unsafe space.

How a puppy helped with dissassociation

Last Saturday, I had one of my worst dissociative experiences. I was at work and for about five hours I couldn’t feel my hands and felt like my body was moving without me having any control over it. It was like a strange dream that I couldn’t wake up from to bring myself back into my body.

I came home with my eyes exploding with tears about how scary it felt to be so divorced from my own body in a very public space for hours on end. And look who was there to greet me as soon as I came through the door:

dog licking away tears

And Lil’ Bruddah was adamant about licking away my tears and sitting in my lap until my breathing slowed down. (I know that having a dog lick your face is like peak white culture). He pushed me back into my body and ended my dissociative trip.

Puppies can be powerful for so many of us with PTSD

A few days ago, a fellow survivor and friend’s PTSD was triggered. She came over for dinner, and I made sure Lil’ Bruddah came over too. While she cried, he snuggled up against her chest. When her breathing shortened from anxiety, he laid across her feet. He kept her here with us in the apartment, as her PTSD threatened to have her time traveling back into her trauma.

puppy yawning

More puppies, please

I am so excited that Charlie and I have decided that this upcoming summer we’ll get our own dog (obviously Lil’ Bruddah will teach the new pup how to snuggle). I look forward to the constant companionship, and am so glad I’ll have a little buddy to help me stay here in my present when my past threatens to pull my backwards. Also, we can nap together.

Alisa naping with dog

If you’ve find support from animal friends I’d love to hear about it! Shoot me an email through my contact page or send me a pic through instagram.  All puppy photos are welcome and encouraged at all times!