People look like their dogs.
I worried this truism might be used to extinction in all writing by now, prompting me to anxiously figure out a fresher way to start this piece that I wouldn’t also tear apart to the point where nothing English even looks like English anymore. My extreme perfectionist tick is both unnecessary and annoying. Most people don’t want every line of what they’re reading to be the wittiest thing ever. That’s like listening to a comic tell all the right jokes with a shit delivery (I dated one, maybe two, comics, and the pain of witnessing this was real). It’s like, “Dude, get over yourself.” Well, I certainly won’t get over myself to the extent I should any time soon, but I am trying to accept some of my inherent neurotic tendencies here and there. Another of these tendencies is crippling self doubt, which is why I only decided to go with my original idea of saying, “People look like their dogs,” after hearing Nora Ephron read the same statement in her memoir and deciding that, wow, it is still fresh!
Not only do I look like my dog, but my dog has started to mimic signs of my diagnosed mental illnesses. I specify “diagnosed” because there are at least three others, plus a condition, I’m convinced should be added to the list. But, I’m a hypochondriac too, so my being convinced of that means literally nothing! Anyway, I have Generalized Anxiety and Depression that eat me alive. Most of my life is either spent in a cyclone of hand-ringing compulsive cheek-chewing, or watching myself slowly fall out of love with my passions as I cease to shower or address the pile of dirty laundry in the corner so big it could suffocate my cat if he knocked it over during one of his episodes. We don’t have time to address Cosmo’s mental health issues at this time, but suffice to say, it runs in the family.
My pitbull baby/queen/duke/sir (we’re a gender-fluid pet home) matches me in my extreme emotional sensitivity. If I’m starting to feel a panic attack coming on over any small life issue, I’ll glance over to see that she’s also choking on air. Echo goes on a hunger strike in solidarity upon hearing me telling my dad on the phone how much I wish I could just die. Sometimes she acts as if something hit her and wounded her when there wasn’t even a breeze; how can I blame her when I, too, suffer from pain with no logical cause? We both have days when it feels like there are 50 pound weights shackled to our respective feet and paws. And when I’m not already stressed about something, Echo will often unnecessarily become the source of my stress. If she does any host of normal things – sneeze more than twice, briefly walk a little weirdly, cough, sleep more or less than usual – I’m often thrown into a tailspin where all I can think about is her impending death and how to get her to the vet that instant.
This is the dog who has become my tacit reason to live since I was 17. She’s caught enough tears in her fur to be able to at least make a dent in Flint, Michigan, where there is still no clean drinking water for residents. We have always held each other intimately when we are sick, physically or mentally. When I held her after a recent splinter-in-paw incident, I got the sense that I was also holding a younger and more vulnerable version of myself. I do a lot of self soothing since my illnesses can become severe at a moment’s notice and I live alone, with wonderful friends who are a phone call away but living their own lives nonetheless. We must all reckon with occasional moments of being both the traumatized child and frightened parent. With mine and Echo’s anxiety, I get to parent both of us. It’s good for me and I welcome the opportunity to grow with her. I just need to go slowly. I tell myself I’m doing my best with us, even if it feels like I should be way further along in life and have more accomplishments to show for myself than just keeping three living things alive. I’ve murdered all my plants so it’s not like I can be like, “Oh, but I also grow my own basil, so don’t think I’m slacking off or anything.” But, I’m learning that measuring one’s own lived experience against any external model is yet another icky side effect of capitalism.
It is one of my dreams to build a community where every anxious, sad, confused, alienated, or just plain weird person and their dog can find a kindred spirit at the moment they need them most. If you have a dog, cat, bird in the park, diary, or mountain peak that speaks your neurotic language, I’m so happy for you. But it shouldn’t be as hard as it is to find a good and affordable therapist. It shouldn’t be as daunting as it is to open up your friend group or family about these struggles, or to find more potential comrades who will get it. Most workplaces, schools, and other institutions are not mental illness friendly. This is where my journey with mental illness meets anarchy and the Bozeman Antifa Dance (& Theatre Collective). There is nothing wrong with me or any neurodivergent person. What’s wrong is how bad we as a society are at handling conversations about it, and how our outdated systems refuse to adjust to include those outside the cookie-cutter mold of normalcy. I appear normal most of the time. However, I immensely struggle with making it to work, operate how I’m supposed to at work, and keep me and my pets healthy. I could go into depth about the kinds of accommodations I dream of, but I have already rambled on too long. Just know that I believe there are no downsides to people-centered models which assert everyone’s capableness, yet are aware of differences in privilege and need with methods that address the gaps in these areas.
The last thing I will say is this: the world needs every weirdo it can get. Please stay alive. Remember that you are not your day job, nor the number of breakdowns you’ve had this week. Thriving communities which cater to individuals’ strengths are possible. And, you probably look like your dog.