CAUTION: This post may contain content that some individuals may find disturbing or difficult to read. Please proceed with care.
Writing this introduction has been more difficult then most for me, for both good and bad reasons. But ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce the dog that made this blog, this day, this trip, this entire life I’m living, possible: Syn.
Syn is a seven year old German Shepherd. She was one of hundreds of dogs rescued from a major hoarding case in Orange County, California in early 2012. Syn came in to my life as a temporary foster, three weeks maximum, while room in the shelters opened up or a forever home could be found. I named her before I met her, after the Norse goddess of vigilance and protection. I couldn’t have known how completely she would fill that role.
Syn and I didn’t hit it off very quickly. She was about 40 lbs underweight, clearly had been neglected, and showed obvious signs of abuse. I found her to be neurotic, clingy, much too vocal, and unpredictable in her behaviours. In short, she kind of annoyed me. There was no risk of a foster fail.
During the time I had Syn, I suffered a mental breakdown. And I decided that I no longer wanted to live. One night in March, I found myself sitting on my bed, surrounded by the 200 pills I had been collecting over the last few months while doctors attempted to smother my condition under endless medications instead of giving me the therapy I was begging for.
I still remember that night like it was yesterday. I was feeling so tired and lost and alone. I was desperate for an escape. As I sat there deliberating over which pills would work best, Syn wandered in to the room. I can remember her stopping, to take stock of the situation it seemed to me, before calmly walking over to the bed, laying her head on my knee, and proceeding to watch me intently. I know that I answered the unasked question in her eyes, reassured her the rescue people would find her a home with someone who could care for her the way I couldn’t. She never took her eyes off my face, and I took her calm silence as understanding, and permission.
I lifted the pills I’d chosen in one shaking hand, and the glass of water in the other. Syn and I watched each other as I took a deep breathe and prepared to end my life. And in that moment, the most painful, lowest moment of my life, into the most strained silence, came the sound of Syn’s tummy grumbling. And I started to laugh. Syn was not watching me with understanding or compassion or sympathy; and she certainly wasn’t giving me permission to leave her. She was staring at me intently in an effort to remind me that, buried in my grief, I’d forgotten to feed her dinner… she was hungry.
I laughed until the sobs took over, and Syn let me cry in to her neck without ever moving a muscle. Finally, her by now more insistent tummy growls worked through my hazy brain and I got up, put the pills in to the bedside drawer, and fed Syn her dinner. I promised myself I’d call the rescue the next day and have her taken away first before following through.
But I didn’t call the rescue the next day. Instead I took Syn out back to play. And the day after that we took a walk on the beach and watched the waves crash. And the day after that we started running a bit, because she was always so restless and full of energy and it was driving me crazy. And one day I woke up in a new house, ran seven miles with her in a new state, and smiled as I watched her play with a man I would one day marry. She was a foster fail after all.
Some months after that night with the pills, I registered Syn as a therapy dog, and we specialised in working with victims of sexual assault and abuse. One day, a young woman came up to me and told me Syn had saved her life. And for the first time, it hit me that she had saved mine that night. Oh I had always known that she helped me through some tough times, but it had never fully hit me that without her there on that night, without her needing me to be there for her, I wouldn’t be here. And it wasn’t just that night, but all the days and nights after when she gave me a reason to keep going. For years, before I was willing to admit to the rapes and sexual abuse, before they finally diagnosed my PTSD, before I was anywhere near a path to healing, Syn was my reason for being.
Wasi is my guardian, Nibble my reminder, Moomkin my joy, Raj my hope, Nefsi my heart… but Syn was the one who saved me so that the others could be those things… it’s to Syn that I owe my life.
**If you feel you are in crisis:
USA: please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It is a free, 24-hour hot line, at 1.800.273.TALK (8255). Your call will be connected to the crisis center nearest to you. If you are in an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
U.K.: you can go to any hospital A&E department and ask for help (if you need to, you can call 999 and ask for an ambulance); you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123 (freephone) – they’re there to listen; you can call NHS 111 (in England) or NHS Direct (in Wales); you can contact your GP and make an appointment for as soon as possible.**