A Dog Called Bob Dylan by Ria Dylan

This is Bob. Bob came to live with me in 2013 when he was 10 weeks old. I had thought for a long time I would like a dog, I felt the companionship and forced exercise would do me good. Bob, however, was not a planned addition. I had just moved house. My few years of relative mental stability was being threatened by various events in my life.

Bob Dylan the Dog
CurlyBob: Image by Rachel Rowen Olive

I was having therapy and this was the one place I could share that my life was being threatened, I was terrified, and no. No. I could not go to the police. Nothing, nobody, and nowhere was safe and my therapist got the brunt of my fear and it broke her. Fear is very contagious. She folded herself up and put herself away in a drawer labelled self-protection and I responded with rage. My rage can burn down a house so I have some sympathy for this not being a pleasant experience for her.

One day I had a therapy session that consisted entirely of me shouting at my therapist for an hour. I left that morning angry and let down and decided I was done with therapy and would get a dog instead. I walked back into town with the intention of finding a dog immediately who could come and live with me then and there. Bob was the nearest available dog and I carried him home in my arms.

All good, only now I had a dog! What the hell was I going to do with a dog? How do these things work? Where are the instructions? Also, it seems I didn’t have just any dog but I had acquired a dog with mental health problems. Little Bob, at 10 weeks old, was terrified. He didn’t want to go outside ever. He would sit down in the doorway and refuse to budge, if I picked him up and carried him outside he would cry so much I imagine people thought I was abusing him, if I put him down outside he would again just sit, and he proved to be a stubborn wee thing.

He also liked to bite me. He would jump up and clamp himself to my arm with his razor sharp puppy teeth. Oh, and did I mention I had a fear of dogs back then? Oh yes. I was terrified. Dogs would regularly provoke a full on freeze response in me, just by walking past me, and now I was living with a mini beast who was in to biting me.

We walked a lot in those first few months. I have learned since this is probably bad. I hope I haven’t set in motion a chain of events that leads to his arthritis. I didn’t know what else to do with his puppy energy and I lived in a small first floor flat above a shop. A friend gave me emergency assertiveness lessons so I could learn to be with Bob without freaking out – training him out of biting me required immense calm and it is the closest I have come to date in having any sort of control over my responses when frightened.

Slowly we formed a bond. Bob has taught me more about relating and about myself than any other being so far in my life. Before Bob, I knew people loved their dogs but I had no idea what that love might actually feel like. While I have people in my life who I love dearly, I am not very good at the people thing. I freak out at being needed so keep a distance that precludes this. I freak out at needing so keep a distance that precludes this.

Deep down I believe myself to be unworthy, bad, filled with poison that I need to protect others from. Bob has taught me about need and needing. He needs me and I have had to learn to accommodate that. I can cope with the physical aspects of his needs – ensuring he has food and adequate exercise – the emotional aspects have taken longer. Historically I have had a lot of responsibility for the emotional labour required to keep a group or partnership going.

For many years I have shunned this responsibility. It’s too much and it makes me feel crazed. I am super sensitive to the pulses of need that emanate in another being and get directed at me. They pierce me straight in the heart and I run away. Living with my very own little ball of need I have had to learn to be ok with it. Bob is teaching me that I can love without being consumed, I can attend to his needs without my self being obliterated.

His love is simple and humbling. If you want to feel like a movie star in your own home get a dog. You only have to walk in a room for them to jump up and down with excitement at the fact of your existence, run over to you delighted that you are here and you are you. I always enjoy returning home to Bob.

Bob loves me even when I am my worst possible self. This hurts my heart a little. Being loved for my best self is one thing but being loved in all the dark places, the crevices and dusty corners that we pretend not to have, this makes me cry. I have never been loved like this before.

Bob loves me even when I am a terrible person – which sometimes I am – his love makes me fuller, it enables me to accept those dark places like he does while committing to always trying to do better because he deserves better. He didn’t ask to go and live with a mental. I owe him the best I can find inside myself. (at this point I am breaking off from writing to take him for a walk, in acknowledgement of him deserving the best I can give him!).

Before I move on to the next part of this story it’s important to be clear how important Bob is to me, how fundamental to who I am in the world. From those crazy puppy days to now he has changed who I am and how I am. He brings a really simple everyday enjoyment to my existence. When I watch him running through the fields it makes my heart sing. When I haven’t washed for a week and I am stinky and repulsive he curls up next to me and lets out a sigh before resting his head on my lap.

He makes me laugh most days, every day bar the bleakest. I love his stubborn ways, the way if I ask him to do something he will look at me and think it over before responding or not, the vocalisations of protest at the times I must really insist he does something. The wilful stealing of any food left unattended. The sense of entitlement to the best seat in the house. His love of disgusting stinky meaty food products. He doesn’t much care where he is or what he is doing as long as there is a degree of proximity to me. There is a being on this earth for whom I am vital. There is a being on earth who adapts themselves to whatever level of mental I am experiencing.

My life has taken a difficult and painful turn these past few years. While it is true to say I am a lifelong nutter, chalking up my first inpatient experience at thirteen, I had done a fairly good job of finding a way of functioning. When Bob came to live with me I had friends, a job I loved, a safe, affordable home, I was studying for an MSc and had a degree of ease with the difficulties my mind liked to throw up for me. I lost all of this and more in a very short time period.

When my life was in danger my mates couldn’t cope, fearing danger by proxy, and scattered to the wind. Living with permanent fear was beyond my capacity to cope with and I had to stop work, no longer able to be in the same room as other people without the voices firing up their paranoid warnings (its really not paranoia when people are actually out to get you…). Other small personal tragedies occurred, too much for this piece of writing, and I gradually, slowly lost my ability to reliably leave the house. Every person became a potential threat. Fearing for my life and wishing for death shaped every movement, or lack of movement for a long time.

I was referred to the CMHT, got a CPN who turned out to be CPN gold, and after a looonnnnggggggg wait was offered therapy with a counselling psychologist. I never took to this psychologist. Her incessant questions felt like an assault. If I had felt safe and respected there is nothing she asked that I would not have felt ok to answer. The quick fire questions with repackaged answers is not a format that encourages safety for me. She would reframe my answers to fit her ideology and this made my words unsafe. Her remit was 16-20 sessions.

She would regularly take something I said and repackage it to fit her time limited model. This wound me up to the edges of the universe. I eventually said to her that I had the capacity to read a research paper, knew a fair bit about different psychological models and would appreciate it if she would just admit that neither of us had choice in what she was offering me, whether or not I fit, regardless of if it would help. This is important. For those of us who don’t fit the one size fits all model of therapy available on the NHS, please don’t blame us.

Don’t leave us feeling it is our deficit, our lack of engagement, our unreadiness, our excessive mentalness, our defensiveness, our extreme brokenness, our fear, our muddly imperfect ways of communicating or any of the many, varied reasons levelled at us for therapy failing. No. These are not the things at fault here. Personality flaw is not a determiner of the outcome of therapy. Don’t leave us thinking it’s our fault we couldn’t get better, recover, or sufficiently untangle things. Admit where your model or imposed financial constraints fail us. This way our ongoing difficulties have a context bigger than our individual pathology.

We finished after six sessions. We agreed that the difficulties I experience in trusting others (particularly when they are twisting my words…) and the inability I had to put words to trauma meant I wouldn’t get anywhere in the allotted time and better not to try. Imagine my surprise many months later when I received her discharge letter stating lack of engagement as reason for finishing. At a push, there was some truth to lack of engagement but written bluntly like that and it sounds like I am just being obstinate, just for the fun of it.

2000 words in, I guess this is where the story starts, or its where Bob Dylan’s story starts anyway. Reading this discharge letter was upsetting, I didn’t feel like I existed in any meaningful way in her words. And then the line ‘…has a dog called Bob Dylan’. Huh? My initial response was to laugh out loud. My dog is not called Bob Dylan. Despite calling him so throughout this piece of writing he is not even called Bob. Humour to bafflement – where on earth did this come from?

Bafflement to disgruntled: as documented, Bob is important to me. Anyone who knows me even vaguely understands this. Having spent a couple of years being fairly broken I had received quite a lot of input from various health care professionals – the ones I had a good relationship with were the ones who realised the way to my heart was through Bob.

I took to twitter with my outrage. I was tweeting for Recovery in the Bin at the time (@RITB_). Upon reading what had happened someone commented that we should start a thread #BonkersMedicalNotes so I did. It’s worth checking out if you have a taste for personal human tragedy, medical disconnect, and the humour with which people deal with it. Highlights of #BonkersMedicalNotes include:

  • The Obstinate: @PoliceMHFailure: That I ‘refuse support’ from my family. No, I set healthy boundaries with them bc they’re dysfunctional and abusive.
  • The Disguised: @FloraDoone: She presented as a casually dressed 42 year old woman’… No, I am a casually dressed 42 year old woman
  • The Dangerous: @Keirwales: Message received from day services that Tom was going to kill himself when he got home. I phoned Tom and offered him a lift back to his flat.
  • In an extended exchange @RITB_ and @doricgirl rewrote her #BonkersMedicalNotes:
  • @doricgirl: Reference to my non existent older brother and weird to me anyway ‘refused reassurance’ isn’t that my prerogative?
  • @RITB_:How rude and difficult of you!
  • @doricgirl: I know how dare I not fulfil their need to feel they had done their job…
  • @RITB_:So the accurate version would be ‘didn’t feel reassured by our half arsed lame attempts to make her feel better’
  • @doricgirl: Exactly – because we never bothered to find out what underlying issue was in first place just went in with it’ll be better than this one day

I don’t really know why but Bob’s story seemed to really resonate with Twitter. It made a lot of people laugh and has spurned a lot of connections. Asylum named their conference dog Bob Dylan, I have recently been tweeted a photo of someone’s new dog named Dylan in honour of Bob. I laugh every time I think of Bob. Sometimes helpy people accidentally help by getting it so spectacularly wrong it is funny. I am touched by the number of DM’s I got at the time from others about the things in their notes that are not true.

It’s interesting that to a degree, he really is now called Bob Dylan. Therapists literally have the power to dictate reality, holding the frame within which all experience exists. Perhaps this is a stretch. I believe it to be true that therapists hold the frame of reality and it’s very hard to deviate from this, but I was quite actively involved in recreating Bob to the internet sensation he has become.

The most exciting outcome for me in the story of Bob Dylan is the connection I made with Asylum over it and their offer of blog space. Hello person reading my new blog. This is my first offering, a small slice of my experience, a fragment of my existence that will resonate somewhere with someone. If you want to see what Bob looks like I post pictures of him fairly regularly on Twitter @DogBobDylan

Afterword: If anyone thinks maybe my dog got renamed Bob Dylan because my last name is Dylan… Bob is not the only one of us with a stage name, mine is inspired by his!


Twitter @DogBobDylan


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