Many people suffering from environmental illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and particularly multiple chemical sensitivity, lead very lonely existences. This blog entry will look at how pets can offer valuable company for some.
The symptoms of these disabling conditions such as fatigue, pain, and cognitive difficulties such as confusion, poor short term memory, and inability to focus, mean that sufferers are often unable to remain in their jobs or enageg in social activities. To make matters worse these symptoms and many others are aggravated by both physical and mental exertion, as well as environments that are noisy or have bright lighting - typical of work places and coffee shops, bars, and other places where people typically socialise.
It is a sad fact that people unaffected by these types of illness find it very difficult to comprehend what sufferers are going through, or even that they are ill at all. This leads to the breakdown of both friendships and relationships as partners inevitably struggle to understand and feel their lives are also greatly restricted.
People suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) undoubtedly live the most lonely lives in many cases as they are essentially restricted to their homes and often can't even have visitors - at least not without the use of face masks containing carbon filters or supplying oxygen; any exposure to everyday chemicals such as fragranced personal care products triggering an array of symptoms that can last for days and be serious in nature.
Obviously the loneliness associated with environmental illnesses in itself is enough to cause depression and anxiety but these illnesses themselves can also cause depression and anxiety due to various biochemical disturbances resulting from the disease processes.
For people in this terrible situation a pet such as a cat or dog can offer significant companionship and comfort. Medical research is even showing that pets have a measurable positive effect on mental illnesses including depression and anxiety. A short article in The Gaea Times this week reported on just this issue.
The article asserts that having a "four-legged, furry pet" is one of the most effective safeguards against developing depression and anxiety, not just for those suffering from the isolation of environmental illnesses, but for everyone.
Rebecca Johnson, associate professor at the University of Missouri , is cited as saying "Research in this field is providing new evidence on the positive impact pets have in our lives." Johnson adds that "Pets provide unconditional love and acceptance" - likely to be an instrumental factor for environmental illness sufferers who find these qualities hard to find in people.
James Griffin, scientist at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), agrees that so far research suggests "pet ownership may have multiple health and emotional benefits for both children and adults." However, he cautions that further research is required to confirm these findings and find out how having furry friends around the home have such seemingly profound health benefits.
Now I would be negligent in a piece about environmental illness and pet ownership if I neglected to add a caveat about pet allergies. Obviously those who suffer from allergies to cats, dogs, or other furry pets will not benefit from having them around. Research suggests having cats and dogs in the home with children reduces the risk of a child devloping allergies - but if allergies are already present avoidance is necessary in the absence of successful neutralisation therapy. Perhaps an alternative option would be a reptile or maybe a bird if that is your thing!
I personally have always been an animal lover and have had cats and dogs in the home since I was born. As the research suggests I never developed allergies to animal dander despite developing chronic fatigue syndrome aged 12, hayfever shortly after, and chemical sensitivities aged 21.
I would not be without a pet, they definitely provide comfort to me when I am down and can often put a smile on my face with their playful antics. I know not everyone loves animals like I do but since research points to the benefits discussed above I thought it would be interesting to hear from others on this subject.
Do you have pets? Do they help you get through the hard times of living with environmental illnesses? Please let us know using the comments box below!