Anxiety Challenge #1 Get a Dog
In a bid to try out all the Anxiety Coping Mechanisms that there are in the world, so that you lovely folk don’t have to - I asked my readers: What should I try to ease my Anxiety?
And you came through for me! I am now working my way through all 70 challenges and (weirdly logical for me) I’m starting with Numero Uno: GET A DOG.
See, I told you I was committed to the cause.*
(*While I am a true believer that dogs are superheroes, getting a new pet is a big commitment. The decision shouldn’t be taken lightly - and I don’t advocate signing up for 18 years of fur and frolics just because a random Twitterer offered it up as a suggestion. I do however already happen to have a dog - so I am in the perfect position to write about it.)
I picked up my puppy almost exactly a year ago. He was the tiniest, fluffiest little thing I’d ever seen. I called him Doug, he was my angel from that moment. Just look at him.
If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you might already know that I wasn’t in the best place last year, but if not you should know that my anxiety was at its absolute worst. I’m not prone to depression, but last year I found getting out of bed as difficult and hopeless as Present Anneli would find attending a funeral.
Labradors are renowned for the intense bond they establish with their owners, and Doug is no exception. From a young age he was able to pick up on the slightest change in my mood, and (sort of) change his behaviour accordingly.
Having anxiety is like living behind a wall. The bricks are made up of individual regrets from the past or worries for the future and it’s built just high enough that you’re unable to climb it, but somehow you’re still able to see through it a bit (it must be pretty poorly made). You can’t go round. You can’t go over. Your only option is to push the wall along with you as you try to reach beyond it, while hoping that one day it may crumble.
Having a dog is like having someone pulling the wall from the other side. Or maybe someone who is pulling you through the wall. Someone who is always on your team.
Here are some of the ways that Doug helps with my anxiety:
He is always happy to see me.
If you’ve met a Labrador, then you’ll know that they’re the MOST FRIENDLY creatures in the world. Seriously, I would be a very rich girl if I got a £1 every time I said “Doug, not everyone wants to be your best friend!”.
I have a lifetime guarantee that every time I walk through the door I’m going to be greeted like by someone who is as happy as a grandma-granddaughter combo meeting Justin Bieber in a gardening centre.
I can get home from work (or even a 10 minute trip to the shop) to see someone so overwhelmingly happy to see me that they can’t help but literally jump for joy. Someone who loves me SO MUCH that they are willing to jump into the air to try and kiss my chin. And even if I don’t show the most appreciation for this scenario, even if I turn away and say “No kisses, boy. Get down.” it continues to happen. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. His love is unconditional.
He is always happy to cuddle.
The thing is, I was assured when I first met teeny tiny puppy Doug (as opposed to the now clumsy, giant puppy Doug) that he was “pretty chill” for a Labrador. Ha!
Most cuddles with Doug are very er… Active. There’s a lot of wriggling and face kissing and accidentally standing on my face, but it’s so worth it.
Occasionally though, I’m treated to a proper Cwtch; a moment of calm and gentle in the chaos that is our life together. As I said earlier, he is very attuned to my moods and nothing makes Doug more quiet and soft than coming face to face with Anxiety Anneli.
Nothing feels more calming than being spooned by my dog on the sofa. Looking into his big brown eyes and knowing that there is only love there. And feeling his paws twitch as he falls slowly into a deep and run-ful dream. He is my soulmate.
He is a good listener.
Sometimes when two or more humans have a conversation, you get the sense that one of them (at least) is only listening because they have to. They have a duty to listen to at least one anecdote from their chatting chum, before they can weigh in and say what they wanted to say in the first place.
I can get really anxious about whether or not I’m talking too much, whether I’m listening enough and whether I’m boring the person I am with. It’s refreshingly simple to talk to my dog.
He must have listened (willingly) to hundreds of talk time hours from me. I’ve cried to him about my abusive (now ex) boyfriend. I’ve whispered to him secrets that I could never share with a people friend. I’ve offloaded to him when I’ve been sad or stressed. I’ve shared all of my fears with him (no matter how ridiculous.)
And he just listens.
He doesn’t judge. He doesn’t interrupt. He doesn’t lose patience and not once has he tried to give me advice (which is actually a shame, because I feel like he’d be the best!). He listens, tilts his head, gives me a kiss and then he’s off to have a wee. And he just knows, you know?
He gives me purpose.
I’m usually akin to a bee: busy. I thrive when I have a project, I love it. Embroidery, colouring, painting, modelling, snipping, glittering, singing, playing piano, dancing, writing, reading, designing, making… Very much like Doug, I’m into everything.
There are times though where I feel anxious, unmotivated, grumpy or blue and these are the times that he saves me most.
If you’ve ever lived with a mental illness, you’ll know that there are days when giving up seems like only option. You can be so tired, that getting out of bed seems impossible. Well I have to. I don’t have a choice.
Even if I couldn’t get out of bed for myself, for work or for my loved ones, I would have to get up for Doug. He can’t feed himself. He can’t water himself. He can’t take himself for a walk. He needs me almost as much as I need him. And I just couldn’t ever bear to let this beautiful creature down.
If you know me even vaguely, you’ll know that I hate to run (I do now have A LOT of running nominations for my Anxiety Challenge now though, thanks guys!) but here’s the thing: I’m more than happy to run with Doug. All I have to see is the look of pure joy on his little poochy face and I’m running (a la Phoebe from friends, but running all the same) - AND I actually don’t mind. He is always a reason. Always.
There’s always someone home.
Despite working together, me and my housemate live a life of opposites. I have hobbies, he has routine. I have chaos, he has organised. I have playful, he has productive. And while some housemates live in a synchronised bubble of cohabitation, our lives are very much independent.
I’m a perfect, horrible balance of craving affection and needing periods of solitude. I am equal parts loneliness and needy. I am also very easily bored. (All part of being an empath!)
A dog is the perfect resolution to all these problems. He’s there. He’s delightful. He’s affectionate. He isn’t imposing in the slightest.
I never doubt his love.
Love is plentiful from an anxious person, but fear of rejection is so natural it’s almost instinctive to question any love given in return. The slightest niggle of doubt and I am out of there, guard up faster than Charlie Sheen can say winning after 3 lines of coke.
And then it just slowly eats away at me until it breaks down all my confidence in the trust that was there. (This applies to all kinds of love - friendships, romantic relationships, etc)
While many people can live happily in a cycle of bickering and making up, my brain doesn’t quite work like that. Conflict resonates with me for months, and I can feel a deep sense of betrayal if I feel someone has demonstrated that they don’t really care. Logically, I know that they probably do care, but once that barrier has been smashed, it takes a long time for it to be rebuilt.
There is none of that with my Dog. I just know.
What I have done to deserve such devotion from this kind and perfect creature, I’ll never know. But I have it. If I had a bad day yesterday, he won’t mind. If I can’t bring myself to make a phone call, he won’t mind. His love is mine. It always will be.
He is hilarious.
I happen to be blessed with a very naughty and very funny pup. My Dad was talking to me once about the different roles that dogs will adopt and he mentioned a role that he described as the “joker” of the pack; the dog who uses his naturally silly nature to diffuse any aggression or grumpiness that occurs within the group. That’s definitely Doug.
It’s partly down to the fact that I find awkwardness incredibly funny, but mostly down to Doug. He knows how to pick his moments. Just last week he ran into the middle of a group of drinking dogs and did a wee in the communal water bowl. Very awkward. Very funny.
He’s always zooming around, knocking things over and un-potting plants and there’s just something beautiful about the tornado like wreckage he leaves in his wake. I can’t imagine a time when Doug couldn’t make me smile from my eyes.
I’ve been hankering after getting a dog of my own as long as I can remember. I think a part of me just knew that he’d fill my heart with peace and joy. When I first picked up that tiny, bouncy fluffer though, I don’t think I had ever really imagined just how much my life would change for the better with him in it.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to be in a position where they can accommodate a pet, but if you are and you think it would help - I can assure you that it does. A dog isn’t going to magically make your anxiety go away, but it will bring joy into your heart and an element of purpose, calm and company.
When I look into his eyes I feel a calm that is overwhelming and a love that is almost painful. He carries me through my darkest hours like a trooper. It’s a lot of responsibility for a little pup, but he bears it like an ox.
Did you know that you can show your support by buying me a coffee (or buying Doug a rawhide?)