READERS' CHOICE: Let's Talk About Furry Lifesavers

This one time, in graduate school, I had a breakdown. When have your furry loved ones helped you through a hard time?
Publish date:
March 21, 2015
pets, mental health, corgis, self care

Almost two years ago, I went to graduate school in Cincinnati. Fresh out of undergrad and fresh out of a relationship, I packed up a car -- my whole life fit in a Honda -- and drove to Ohio. I thought I would be fine and better than fine. I had a full ride, a stipend that seemed huge, and an apartment with a deck. I would be teaching for the first time and despite the fact that I was down one boyfriend, I got the dog. Remember the dog. He's important.

I'm going to back up for a minute and tell you that I was twelve years old the first time I put a little blue pill on my tongue. Little blues to stop the crying jags. Cylindrical whites to smooth out my mania. Chalky beige squares to put me to sleep at night. The point of all this is to say I've taken a cocktail of antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and uppers and downers since I was a mini-goth bipolar tween wearing combat boots and hospital bracelets.

The point of all of this is to say I have a serious chemical imbalance.

I'm not sure when the break up hit me. The reality of it, I mean. But 'alone' hit me hard before classes even started. 'Alone' made me listless and sleepless. I was never hungry. I was inconsequential.

When I moved into my graduate school apartment, I brought a bed and two chairs. When I moved out of my graduate school apartment at the end of my first semester, I still only had a bed and two chairs. The point of this is to say I lived in an empty apartment for five months.

When groceries ran out, I didn't buy more.

When my meds ran out, I didn't get them refilled. I tried halfheartedly to find a psychiatrist, first through the university and then through local private practices. It didn't go very well and I gave up. I had a habit of giving up on things.

About three weeks in, I began to seriously crack at the edges.

The point of all this is to say that I didn't care enough about myself to take care of myself.

But I had this glorious little bean who needed to go on walks and needed physical affection and was a pretty little love machine.

When the weather cooled off, we started going on a long rambling walks to nowhere. We found parks where I would grade papers and let him run around for hours.

I started to see Cincinnati as a pretty place, despite my not-so-sunny state of mind. I started to crawl out of my shell. I turned in a few papers. I made my students laugh. I got a crush on a cute boy and rode on his motorcycle.

I wasn't happy, but I wasn't a hermit either. Spondee accompanied me to every bar and every coffee shop and sometimes to campus, and reminded me I was a human being.

I couldn't sad-drink wine in a hot bath all day because he needed a walk or a belly rub or a game of tug-of-war.

When winter came, I couldn't stand the cold. It had been years since I had been so very unsteady on my feet. I spoke to my advisors.

They understood. They'd read my poetry (did I mention this was poetry graduate school?). They wished me well and sent me on my way, which happened to be towards Chicago.

I'm not going to go into crazy - heh - detail about just how bad things got in Cincinnati, how long it took me to stabilize and gain the weight back, or the color the world turned when I knew it was time to leave (let's just call it rock bottom gray for now). What I will say, and what I hope this strange little slice of life shows, is that having a dog to care for kept me afloat.

Things are much better now. I still take Spondee on long walks through the woods. He's just as important to me when I'm stable and healthy as when I'm puddling on the floor.

I manage my mental illness and my medication for many reasons and one of those reasons is to be there for the people that I love. Spondee, furry little person that he is, is included on that list. Even when I was isolated and 'alone' was on the tip of my tongue and the back of my head at all times, I had him. His is a face worth getting out of bed for:

Now, I want to hear from you guys. Has a fur baby (not a Furby. Those things are satanic, please don't start a comment conversation about them) helped you through a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad life experience?

Can your cat smell stress-related asthama attacks? Does your dog know when you really, really need a hug? Let's talk about how wonderful our pets are and give them the praise they so rightly deserve.

(Although they would probably prefer food instead.)

Amber posts many, many corgi pictures on Instagram and Twitter: @amberdeexterous