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Thursday, 19 May 2016

Mental Health Awareness Week Day 4: Animals

This week is Mental Health Awareness week, with a theme of 'relationships'. I'm going to be publishing a blog post each day talking about different ways in which relationships with various people (or groups of people) impact on my mental health. I've struggled with depression for years now, and my journey has been shaped by relationships and interactions with others.
Today, I'll be writing about my relationships with animals.

I've always seen animals as tiny fluffy people. They have personalities of their own, they can love us, and they can see when we're not ok. Animals played a part in my recovery from my depressive episode (and still play a part now).

My cat is called Hollie. She's seventeen now, and we've had her since she was rescued as a kitten. When I was little, she entertained herself, not really bothering with me; I used to cry when she refused to come sit on my lap for a cuddle. But on days when I was off school being ill, she wouldn't leave my side. She would lie on or beside me all day, which was a real comfort! She just seemed to know when I wasn't feeling ok.

Isn't she beautiful?!
In the year I was back home incapacitated by depression, she stayed with me all day every day, just like before. She knew I wasn't ok, she new I needed her, and so she was there for me, all day every day. She's ridiculously soft and fluffy so giving her a stroke was always calming, but she didn't just sit on me getting cuddled; she would always be watching me, rubbing her face on me when I was zoning out into cycles of depressive thinking, I vividly remember one time when I was lying on my side on the floor, and she climbed up onto my side and just stood there on me to let me know she was there, that it was ok.

This probably all sounds really stupid but it's the truth; she was there for me just like my friends and family.

I mentioned the other day that my folks got me some fish when I was ill. They were awesome little dudes! Obviously not quite as cuddly as Hollie but watching them zooming around the tank was always great to take my mind out of it for a bit. I would spend ages thinking up new layouts for their tank ornaments to keep them entertained, and they'd always swim up to the surface when I opened the lid. I realise they were just after their flakes but it was nice that they came to say hi.

My dog, Hugo, was a real help too; a real friend. He was massive, so I could full-on hug him, and he'd just come up and rest his head in your lap or lean his whole weight against you. That sounds weird but it was hugely comforting. He was definitely a gentle giant, and always had a smile and a wag of the tail for me even if I was completely out of it. He passed away over a year ago now, which was really hard on all of us, but after that he became a little Obi-Wan Kenobi for me; I'd talk to him about my day, my thoughts and feelings, even writing letters to him sometimes. He was still there for me, he still is now.

I think animals in general were so good to me when I was in the worst of it all. Even seeing birds in the garden (or in the house if Hollie got hold of one), sheep and cows in the fields, or whatever, brings me back to earth when I'm getting lost inside my own head.

There's a monkey sanctuary near my parents' place, and we went once when I'd only recently moved back home. There was one in particular, a gorgeous Mandrill called Oscar (I think, it might have been something else) who I just felt an inexplicable connection to. His sign said he'd been kept in awful conditions and became depressed, and still has scars from self-harm. He looked straight into my eyes for a long time, and I felt like we both could relate to each other. He bared his teeth at me, which looks scary but is a friendly greeting; I can still see his little blue face now. Again, that kind of connection with an animal really reaffirms things and helps ground me when my thoughts are skyrocketing.

I love animals, and they've been so good to me. From lying on the sofa with Hollie to walking Hugo, watching siskins and sparrows on the feeder to driving past fields of lambs, interactions and relationships with animals really helped me, and continue to do so today.

***Please comment with any questions, or send them to me privately if you prefer! I'll be doing a Q&A post at the end of the week but I'm currently without any Q to A! ***

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