Mom Suffering From Traumatic Brain Injury & Postpartum Depression Says Her Dog Inspired Her to Persevere
Shirley Rilett always had a sense of duty and was devoted to making a difference. "Growing up in Peru, I witnessed how my loving mother suffered in the hands of my abusive stepfather," the former police officer and children's book author wrote in a moving post on Love What Matters. "I made a promise to her that I would never let anyone hurt me as I strived to make this world a better place for us and for the people I met." Several years after she had first moved to Connecticut in 1998, she says the 9/11 attacks in New York City "changed the trajectory" of her life. She became a soldier in the U.S. Army in 2004 and met her husband during training.
Fast-forward to 2012, when Rilett was working as a police officer in Greenwich, Connecticut. "Life couldn’t be better," she shared. "I felt like I finally had the chance to make this a better world for everyone I encountered, especially children. My favorite part of the job was my ability to connect with children, and I took advantage of every opportunity."
But two years ago, a car accident threw a wrench in her career dreams. In the immediate aftermath, Rilett said she was in denial about what had happened, which meant she struggled to see the extent of her injuries. "Against my own doctor’s recommendations, I requested to go back to full duty," she explained. "It didn’t take long before I realized something had changed. I was no longer the same smiling, positive person I once was. I was having constant headaches with bright lights triggering excruciating migraines. At times, everything was foggy, and the world became so loud to the point I was always nauseated. Everything and everyone irritated me, including my husband. While on patrol, my fellow officers noticed changes in my usual capable and competent performance."
Rilett soon saw her doctor, who decided she needed further treatment and therapy, and removed her from duty as a police officer. And just four months later, she found out she was expecting her first child. "I was extremely happy about being pregnant but also fearful of how the symptoms of my injury would be managed," wrote Rilett. "I've always been against taking excessive medicine and here I was taking different types of medication I couldn’t even pronounce. Surprisingly, the pregnancy hormones helped with my migraines and allowed me to have an easy pregnancy. But unfortunately, after my baby was born, all the symptoms of my injury came back, and I was running out of time."
She explained that her police department has a return to duty policy in place, which means "injured personnel needing to be able to return to full capacity duty within a certain amount of time or they will be let go." Rilett wrote, "As a brand-new mom fighting postpartum depression, as well as my injury interfering with me being able to perform my work responsibilities to full capacity, I knew things did not look good with the deadline fast approaching ... Against my own wishes, I was medically retired from the police department in September 2019."
Heartbroken that she wouldn't be able to complete the career she had dedicated her life to, Rilett suffered from depression. "At 38, I found myself a stay at home mom, my police career over and a brand-new baby to take care of," she wrote. "On one hand, I felt blessed to be able to care for my sweet baby but on the other hand, I felt like part of me was gone."
With her husband at work and their new baby constantly sleeping, she felt her "only companion" was her 120-pound Rottweiler named Oso. He kept her company, always begging for snacks, she wrote, describing how "his drool made puddles everywhere as he would beg for a morsel of fruit or veggie."
One day, Rilett was in the kitchen and felt hopeless. "I was feeling like my world was about to end," she wrote. "I had been crying all day and felt so lonely. Everything became too much for me and I grabbed a knife, because I felt like I no longer had a purpose in life. I loved being a mom, but what was I going to tell my child when he got older?"
She recalled how she wanted to be able to tell him that she worked so hard to accomplish my goals, and her hard work had paid off. "I wanted to tell him despite all the challenges in my life, I was able to achieve my goal and become a police officer," wrote Rilett. "My depression did not let me see a bright future and a dark cloud was hovering over my thoughts. I don’t know if it was the hormones or the fact that I no longer had my career, but I felt like my strength had left me. I felt like I was a nobody."
That's when she saw Oso out of the corner of her eye. "He was standing next to me, drooling, making another drool puddle next to my foot, probably thinking I was going to cut yet another apple," she recalled. "Oso’s silly face made me smile, and with tears running down my cheeks, we shared an apple. I began to think about how my Oso could bring happiness to other families, how his love of my family, and his love of fruits and vegetables needed to be shared with others."
It was in that moment that Rilett was inspired to write children's picture books starring her Rottweiler. That night, she wrote Oso’s Tails Cooling Off with a Cucumber. "I ended up publishing the book almost a year after my kitchen incident with Oso," wrote Rilett.
"With his book, not only does Oso inspire children to eat healthy, he hopes he can break the stereotypes that surround his breed," shared Rilett. "Rottweilers are often portrayed as aggressive, and while Oso’s looks can be intimidating, Oso is just a big teddy bear. I want the world to know that inspiration comes in many forms. We just have to pay attention."
Now, Rilett is heartened by her new path as an author (as well as a mom and dog owner), will allow her to make a difference in children's lives and help make a better world for people she encounters. By sharing her experience, she aims to inspire others. Summing up her heartwarming life lesson, Rilett shares, "Even when things look grim, if you stop and look around, you can find happiness in things you might have overlooked. Mine came in the form of a fruit and veggie-eating Rottweiler."