On Pets and Anxiety

20180102_145601.jpg

When I went to the Humane Society, my hands were shaking despite the fact that I was very certain of the type of dog I was looking for. Not breed-wise…I didn’t really care about that…but that I wanted a quiet, medium-sized pup that liked to cuddle and was at least 8 months old. My therapist had given me a written letter prescribing me an emotional support animal, and I was thrilled. And terrified. Going to a shelter when you have a specific idea of the kind of dog you want can be hard, because it just might not be there. I couldn’t tell if I was more worried about going home without a pet, or going home with one.

However, as I walked along the kennels, a dog caught my eye that seemed to fit every criteria I was looking for. She was 40 pounds, ten months old, silent as the dogs around her barked their heads off at the visitors, but still came up to lick my hand when I walked up to her. She was beyond cute.

I flagged an employee down. “Can I visit with her?” They gave us a small, concrete room to play in, and this pup walked up to me and set her head right in my lap like we’d done this before. She looked up at me with mismatched eyes — one was blue with speckles of brown, the other brown with a blue streak coming out of the iris — and I fucking melted. I put a hold on her immediately, and took her home a few days later.

I think it only fitting that an anxious person ended up with an anxious dog. Or fearful? I can’t tell which one it is, but listen…Nova does not like doing new things. A list of things Nova was scared of the first couple days after she came home:

  • Going into the car
  • Walking into buildings
  • Going up stairs
  • Going down stairs
  • Playing with toys
  • Going into her kennel
  • Going into the hallway
  • Walking past cars

You get the idea. All of these things seem ridiculous when you’re an adult human, but I tried to imagine being a creature that was low-to-the-ground and possibly hadn’t spent much time outside of a cage…it became easier to be patient with her.

I quickly learned that “patient” does not mean “without anxiety.” Every time she didn’t listen to a command, my pulse would rush. Even though she’s now doing a good job at all of the things she was initially afraid of, there are still moments when she misses a command, or doesn’t want to go into her kennel, and my brain goes wild. What if she refuses to ever go in her kennel again? What if she gets loose and doesn’t come when I call her and gets hit by a car? If I bring her to puppy training, will she be okay? How come she didn’t do this thing? Is it my fault? Should I have a dog? What if I can’t take care of a dog? What if I can never take care of anything except for myself for the rest of my li-

My brain on its anxiety setting is the actual worst. Imagine thinking this way about…literally everything?? I’m a goddamn mess. I haven’t written on this blog for about two months because I was anxious about it. In fact, I haven’t written anything, not even just for myself. What if I’m wasting my time writing? What if I’m actually a terrible fucking writer? What’s the point of practicing writing if I suck so much that I’m never going to do it professionally anyw-

Again. You get it.

But having Nova, and working with her to get past the seemingly-silly things she’s anxious about, has been nothing short of amazing for me. I look at this puppy and think, “If you would just get into the kennel, you’d see that nothing bad would happen.” Then I look at myself and wonder, oh shit…what am I avoiding that, if I just did it, I’d see that nothing bad would happen? What’s the car I’m afraid to jump into because “what if?” When Nova doesn’t follow a command, am I anxious because I always expect perfection in my life, and that’s unreasonable with a puppy? Why am I uncomfortable and anxious about imperfection?

My therapist has fucking loved our last few sessions.

Nova’s done some amazing work in the past week. Repetition and forcing myself to stay calm when she doesn’t want to do something has resulted in a scared pup turning into a pup who loves her kennel, enjoys meeting people when we go on walks, comes when I call her, gets into the car (as long as there is a treat involved), and runs up and down the stairs like she was born to do it. All my anxieties about her were just that…anxieties. Thinking of “what ifs” in a loop doesn’t make them true, and she’s helping me realize that every day.

So here I am, in my favorite cafe, writing my first blog post in months because my beautiful, lovely, anxious puppy got into her kennel so I could have a couple hours to write and read.

Cheers!

World Mental Health Day

So, let’s talk about it.

I have major depression. I have generalized anxiety. I have borderline personality disorder.

I wish I could say that the hesitance to write that publicly is gone after so many years of reckoning with my mental health. But there is still a sense of shame, as well as a fear that if I tell people my brain doesn’t function the way it’s “supposed” to, they won’t like me anymore. Or even worse, that my illness will be misunderstood and, by association, I will be misunderstood. I especially feel this way about BPD.

I think I’ve had…maybe three?…real conversations about having BPD with people. Conversations where I said the words, “I have borderline personality disorder,” and then proceeded to explain what that meant, the ways in which it’s fucked up my life, and how I deal with it now.

Imagine only having three conversations about something that you deal with every single day, because you’re afraid. Because every time you acknowledge it (and I have to in order to manage it), you’re reminded of the boyfriends who called you crazy before you knew what this brand of “crazy” was, the friends who deemed you toxic because your brain couldn’t make healthy connections (and the pain you felt when you realized you had been toxic then, even if you weren’t anymore), and the think-pieces you’d read where some neurotypical person declared all people with BPD to be manipulative assholes purposely out to wreck people’s lives (classic).

Mental health stigma still exists. I know because the effects of it on my heart and mind are very, very real. I know because I see the way it tells my friends they’re the only ones going through shit. I know because people still don’t treat mental illness like physical illness – something that needs healing and can take you out of the game for days.

I still have to put in the effort not to stigmatize myself, especially with a “less popular” (ugh) mental illness like BPD. Part of the effort means speaking about it, being open, and being honest.

So. I’m mentally ill.

Are you?

We should talk about it.