In this post, my intern Amanda talks about her experience with the healing power of pets for anxiety and depression.   

I remember the conversation I had with my sister before the call; I remember just telling her that it was bad, really bad, that I did not know how much more I could take.  She asked me if she could let our parents know that something was really wrong with me.  I remember fearing her words - I did not want it to come out, I was afraid of their reaction, afraid they would not understand, afraid they would blame me, afraid they would say well can't you just… but at that point I was more afraid of myself and what I might do then I was of their reaction.

Shortly after my phone rang again, it was my dad.  He was confused and hurt - they had not known what was going on despite my phone calls, because I had simply omitted the truth.  But as I sat there listening to him, I felt the crushing waves of sadness descend again and suddenly I was crying.  I had not cried in front of my father in years.  And here I was, a 20-year-old, hysterically sobbing on the phone.  I could not describe to him how it felt, having this constant sadness.  This sadness that seemed to go so deep that it penetrated my very bones, as if my bones themselves ached.  I could not truly explain how even the simplest of things took all my effort and self-will.  And worst of all, I could not explain how it felt to be afraid of yourself.  To fear what you might do to yourself, to be unable to trust yourself to keep you safe…

To his credit, although my dad was, well, freaking out, he did the right thing.  My dad asked me what he could do, what would help me, I didn’t even hesitate, all I said was, “I need a cat.”

In that moment, I was desperate; I needed something that could be there for me 24/7.  I needed something that would be waiting for me when I walked in the door; I needed something fluffy to hold when the world was closing in on me.  

It all sounds very dramatic, I know, but the thing was, I needed a cat for emotional support, a cat that would be there for me in the early mornings, and there for me in the middle of the night when I woke up from an anxiety attack.  I felt bad and guilty for bothering my friends and family constantly with my need for just someone to be there for me.  I just could not bring myself to call them in the middle of the night when I needed them.  I just felt so much shame - shame for the way I was acting, and shame for my inability to fix what was broken.  But if I had a cat, I would not feel bad waking it up in the middle of the night for cuddles, because I would be its caretaker.  I would be making sure it was healthy and happy, which in turn would make me feel helpful and significant.  Because even if my mental health made me unable to do anything productive, I could still look at that food bowl and think ok, I am responsible for providing my cat food.  I could love this animal and receive the love and comfort that I so desperately needed.  And in my darkest hour I could look over and think, I have to survive another day, I have to take care of my pet.

I remember hearing only the briefest bit of silence before my dad said, "ok, if that is what you need then ok".  Honestly I am still so impressed with my dad’s reaction.  There I was, crying my eyes out and my father knew what to ask.  Not only did he know what to ask, but he also knew how to respond - and he never questioned my answer.  Not once did he say a cat was a bad idea, nor did he tell me to just do something different.  He trusted me to know what would help me.  And thankfully I knew, I knew what could help.

About a week later, I welcomed my angel, Abigale Bodicia, to her forever home.  Looking back on it, I still find myself in tears, because the difference she made was instant.  From one day to the next I was coming home to a mewwwwooo.  I was being woken by the cutest head-butts and purring so loud that I couldn’t be anxious at the time.  When I would get anxious anytime of the night or day, all I had to do was listen.  I would hear the not so soft snoring of my angel.  She was even there for me in the middle of the night, when, despite being woken from a nap, she would begin purring like a mad woman, happy to be with me.

I remember the first night we spent together, I had picked her up and was holding her in my arms, just so blissfully happy, that I began to sing.  I was singing show tunes, silly songs, but singing nonetheless.  The thing was, I had not sung that way in years.  I had never sung that way or at all in my dorm room, but here I was belting my heart out, serenading a cat.  Honestly for me that was the most amazing moment, there I was celebrating the end of my depression with song.  I felt free, joyful, I could finally breathe without feeling like I was drowning, my bones were no longer made of lead, and my heart had been thawed.

Today my anxiety and depression symptoms have greatly improved.  In fact, I no longer have symptoms of depression.   I attribute this, to a large extent, to Abby and her love.  

For more information on emotional support animals, see the National Service Animal Registry at www.nsarco.com  

www.stephaniesarkis.com

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