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Kat's Meow: Furry companion helped chronic pain sufferer learn to cope, thrive

The anticipation began to bubble up into excitement. The possibility peaked with a hope and then plummeted like an empty wish dashing my heart into broken shards on the ground because no one picked me to be on the dodgeball team at recess. In childhood, many of us have had those kinds of experiences. Expectations don’t always meet the realities of our circumstances.

In my adult life, fibromyalgia picked me to be on a team I didn’t want to be on. The circumstances depleted my body of its past abilities; waning my energies and pounding me with pain; no answers to the why. I could wallow in my limitations or get creative about life. I chose to think of fibromyalgia as my biggest teacher. I had the power to change my thinking and choose to use my energies, what little I had, to navigate life differently.

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That said, at my lowest moments of not being able to get out of bed or do the simplest daily tasks such as getting groceries or doing dishes, I began to think about what would motivate and help me in the middle of my pain and fatigue. Many times, my family did not understand what I was going through because I looked just fine on the outside. One day, I was able to do an activity and the next I could not. The inconsistency was hard on my family and friends. Many times, I felt no one understood.

The answer came early one Saturday morning six years ago, when the universe aligned and knew what I needed. I got picked! His red eyes glowed back at me from the back shadows of an SPCA doghouse. As he slowly revealed himself, shyly creeping out of his comfort zone, his eyes locked with mine saying, “I pick you!” That spiritual connection I felt would teach me a lot about healing.

Six years later, looking back, I realize he saved my life! He got me up and moving again. My dog helped me discover through daily walks that mild exercise greatly lessened my pain. Through his companionship, I never felt alone. When the burning sensation in my muscles got too high to tolerate, he would sense the distress in my body and lick my feet. This was his version of reflexology creating a relaxation response. I learned from what he was teaching me about my body and realized the value of massage therapy; how it could help break the pain cycle. Every month massage became a part of my regular regiment. Choosing to listen to my body and think creatively, I learned from my furry companion and I started to experience healing in my life.

I was becoming more aware of the mind-body-spirit connection and intentionally prioritized self-care. Although fibromyalgia was teaching me major life lessons, I realized my dog chose me, to teach me one of the greatest lessons of all.

Let me introduce you to my eight-year old, brindle, long-haired chihuahua named Sargent (short for Sgt. Pepper). If you ask me where I learned about unconditional love, honestly, I find it hard to point to a human being. I’ve mainly learned how not to judge myself from an 8-pound ball of fur wrapped in love.

For Sargent, love comes so naturally, so automatically and with such joy. Why do I bring this up? Because an important part of my fibromyalgia journey has been to learn self-acceptance. He has taught me how to love myself just the way I am. Sargent makes unconditional love look so easy.

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