This post is chock full of personal stuff, so strap in for a wild ride. It’s necessary, though, for a lot of reasons. If no one talks about mental illness, people feel alone and isolated. If everyone talks openly about mental illness, I hope it can be a subject that is demystified and de-stigmatized. Anxiety has affected my life, in pretty much every way. My dogs have helped in equally as many ways. They are intertwined.
I struggle with anxiety, my husband suffers from anxiety, and one of my dogs is anxious. The family that has anxiety together, with the help of each other, therapy, and a sprinkle of mindfulness, stays together.
My anxiety manifests itself in a different way than my husband’s. This basic statement is an important point, so I’m going to stay attached to it for a bit. If someone were to walk into the room and say, hey guys, I’ve got diabetes. Aside from sharing concern and well wishes, I’m sure folks would start to say “hey have you heard about treatment so-and-so?” and “oh, you should talk to Stanley, he just got diagnosed and he’s been using, insert random drug name, and this other holistic treatment, and it really helped.” My point is, how a person feels when they have Diabetes can differ. How a person is treated for their Diabetes may be different. How their long-term, post diagnoses, life manifests itself is unique to them. The same is true for mental illness. A Diagnosis of a specific disorder is simply the start of developing a healthy plan for the future. What that person’s symptoms are, how they personally experience their disorder, and how they choose to treat it, is isolated to them. I cringe when people make wide-sweeping statements about mental health, without thinking about the uniqueness of the disorder for each person.
My anxiety comes in the form of Social Anxiety. I can give a presentation to a room filled with thousands of people, and be perfectly fine. If I’m asked to interact with a crowd of people at an event like a conference or a wedding, I will immediately start feeling anxious. A spiral of thoughts will flood my brain: “no one will want to talk to me, no one really likes me, I’m not interesting, I don’t know why I matter, I’m going to say something that someone won’t like, I’ll never be invited to something again, they’ll be able to tell that I’m super on edge, they’ll notice that I went to the “bathroom” too frequently just to be alone.” You get the idea.
In short, social scenarios make me a hot mess. I avoid them whenever possible, and when I do have to participate, it takes me a long time to recuperate after the fact.
Me, with someone else's dog (Poppy) that I used as a safety net at an event where mingling needed to occur. See that smile? It wouldn't be there without Poppy's help!
If I have Bean or Yoda with me at a social event, or if there’s a pet there that belongs to someone else, my life is 100% better. Bean and Yoda just “know” when I’m feeling off, and they will check in with me. Bean jumps in my lap and snuggles. Yoda rubs against my leg. If it’s another person’s pet, I’ll self soothe by being able to give love and affection to another critter.
So, the husband doesn’t write for this blog, but he’s still a person who influences it, and the other things we are passionate about, include our dogs, animal rescue, and drinking adult beverages. His anxiety almost halted the lives we had as we knew them two years ago.
He’s always been an anxious person, in his own way, and there’s nothing really wrong with that. That said, he wasn’t diagnosed as having an anxiety disorder until that two year marker I’m referring to. We don’t really know what the trigger was, but once the trigger was switched to “on,” things spiraled quickly. Daily panic attacks had become the norm. It impacted our ability to communicate effectively with each other. There was a lot of crying. I started researching apartments to move into.
It’s hard, as the significant other to the person who has anxiety, to help the person suffering to “see the light.” Logic isn’t logical when a person is in panic mode. A simple suggestion like “take some deep breaths,” seems like a massive, impossible, incomprehensible task to undertake. Sometimes, I could literally see the fight or flight survival mode kick in, but he didn’t know where to flee to and he didn’t fully know what he was fighting. How do you protect yourself from an unknown, that manifests itself as a large, dark, mask of foreboding?
Through it all, even when we were at the darkest moments, we had Bean and Yoda. They, truly, were our saving grace. They would hop from couch to couch (a “his” and “hers” couch) as we talked, cried, yelled, and stared in silence. Bean would wriggle as close as physically possible to one of us, and we would instinctively pet her tiny body. Yoda would comically bumble, try to hop on a couch, fail to get enough air time, and ricochet off. We would giggle, or at the very least smile, and take the time to help him find a spot near one of us. This brief respite from the tension was sometimes what was needed to prevent a full breakdown from happening.
Through it all, we knew we had two tiny creatures that relied on us for everything and that we had to keep it together to help maintain stability in their lives. We’d stop a tense conversation to take them for a long walk, and by the time the walk was done, the anxiety had subsided. Sometimes, the simple need to feed them, broke up the situation enough for everyone to take some deep breaths of much needed fresh air.
The dogs helped to save us.
Finally, I said, after researching symptoms late at night, “I think you’re having panic attacks.” It was at that point, that a diagnosis of an Anxiety Disorder seemed like a possibility. There was relief in one regard, in that we could attribute symptoms with a named disorder. In another regard, there was that new label. A label with its own implications. Eventually, therapy appointments were made, conversations with professionals occurred, medication was prescribed, and the path towards the other side of Anxiety was visible. Anxiety will never go away, one isn’t cured of it, but we at least have some resources and “best practices,” that will help us to navigate life as we know it.
Bean has always been an anxious dog, even though we raised her and did all the “right” things. She was socialized. She started training at a young age. We got tons of attention and time to play. Regardless, she wound up being anxious. I think a better word to describe her sometimes is, she’s an empath. She picks up on energy and the messages other people or animals are sending verbally and non-verbally. If someone in the room is anxious, she mirrors that sentiment. If there’s another dog that’s happy and playful nearby, she will also be happy and playful.
There are times when anxiety is the best way to describe her behavior. There are certain dogs that she reacts to when we are out walking or when she is watching from the window. When the weather is about to get nasty, we can tell by the way Bean behaves. She also exhibits some OCD type behavior when she feels she isn’t in control of a situation, like extreme scratching. While she scratches because she also has allergies, this scratching is the direct result of a situation, not because of an allergen.
We have found CBD oil to help Bean immensely in a variety of situations that have historically caused her to be anxious, such as spending times with new dogs or when inclement weather is imminent. We will be sharing more about CBD oil in a future post regarding fireworks, but we’ve been experiencing huge success with HempMyPet.
We all have our tics. We are a unique bunch and I wouldn’t change a thing. Having anxiety, in our own ways, has helped us to be more mindful of how we support each other and how we can help to address the stigmas associated with mental illness whenever possible. Thanks for joining us on this wild ride.
This post was inspired because other fellow pet bloggers wanted to address mental illness and how it has impacted them & their pet's lives. There's a blog hop with other posts, all with their unique perspective and story. I encourage you to visit them when you have a chance. Links are posted below.