Gen was in her 20s when, in the 1990s, she passed her basic training in the army and joined the General Service Corps. Her service was cut short when she was medically discharged. Psychotic symptoms had begun to rear their head.
Every morning, Ben wakes Gen up, tells her when it is time to take her daily medication, and makes sure she goes to bed on time.
The nature of bipolar disorder and its treatment means none of these seemingly simple tasks always comes easily. For instance, when Gen is in a high or manic state, she does not feel tired.
With Ben’s help – delivered through endless amounts of nudging and pawing – psychotic episodes have become far less frequent.
“He has changed my life completely – I have gone from being a total recluse and someone who was completely broken, to someone who can leave the house and make friends. One of the symptoms of my illness is over-tiredness as it can be the trigger to a psychotic episode, so it’s very important that I take my medication and get to bed at the right time, and Ben has taught himself to get me to bed. When I’m suffering from a psychosis he won’t leave my side, because he knows I’m unwell".
“Before 2015 I had been having three or four episodes a year with each episode lasting severally months, but last year I only had two episodes which has been a dramatic decline for me and life has become so much better. My life would be appalling without Ben. I don’t even think I would still be here – he’s a very special dog. He chases away the darkness in my mind and makes me face each day with determination to survive. I am a better mum because of him".
“He gives me up to two hours’ notice that something is wrong. That means I can get home, get my medicine and put our emergency procedures into action”.
Her quality of life has improved enormously since she and Ben began with VWD – and she is overjoyed to see the impact it has had on her daughter. She said: “Nineteen months on, my daughter is now talking about university, which is brilliant. Nineteen months ago she said, ‘I don’t think I will go – I think I will stay and help you’. She was naturally feeling quite protective and feeling that she couldn’t leave me.
“But now I have Ben she is quite happy to go off and go on school trips and now she’s talking about going to university.”
Another welcome consequence is that, for the first time in three years, Ms Roberton is able to think about employment again.
The progress achieved with Ben’s help is remarkable. It is likely to serve as encouragement to people facing similar challenges to explore the possibility of getting an assistance dog, too.
“Everything I have done with Ben is going into a think tank to help to train more dogs to help veterans,” said Gen.
However, her journey is not finished yet. You never reach a point when you say, ‘OK, there’s nothing more to learn’, because you’re constantly developing more skills and identifying new needs.