I’ve always been a picker, a worrier. No scab left to heal, no blemish unprobed. Sitting in a pub I’ll be shredding the beermats, my restless fingers can’t keep still. My thoughts are like that too. I can’t switch off, I go over and over everything, into minute detail about scenarios which aren’t remotely likely because I just can’t stop.
Sometimes it’s unconscious. I’d wondered for years about the unexplainable callouses on my hands. They never go away, they don’t correspond with how I hold a pen or anything else. I mentioned it to my GP a while ago, and she looked at me and said “Really?” And I noticed for the first time that I was gnawing on my fingers, an outward sign of my anxiety that I must have done for years without ever being aware of it. Now sometimes I do notice I’m doing it, but it’s not that easy to stop.
It’s the same with my thoughts. These days I do often recognise when I’m being irrational, when I’m getting overwhelmed and upset by things that aren’t directed at me at all, when the last strands of control are slipping through my fingers. I notice it, but I can’t stop it.
I am curled up in bed, with a dog who senses that my need for company outweighs the ‘no dogs on the bed’ rule. I should be at work, but the negative blips that have been happening over the past couple of weeks combined into a flood I couldn’t cope with. So I am at home, where I’m trying to switch off and be kind to myself.
I’m trying to stop the incessant barrage of my thoughts.
Everywhere I look there are things I shouldbe doing, reasons to beat myself up for the mess I am, to class myself as a failure. But I’m not going to do that. I need to stop.
I’ll give myself today to stop, and tomorrow I’ll look at starting again. I’ll try not to pick up where I left off, with stress and anxiety preventing me making the most basic of decision. I’ll try to restart by building on the break, with a rested empty brain ready to deal with the tasks that need doing, rather than too full of worries to even know where to begin.
I recognise the irony that as my physical health improves my mental health is wobbling. I’m trying not to probe that, just to notice it and move on. I hope to keep this as a wobble, not a breakdown. I could speculate for hours on why now, what’s triggered it, what can I change to prevent it happening again, but that would just make me more anxious.
So I empty my brain, concentrate on just being here without worrying about anything, ignore everything that needs doing. There’s nothing that can’t wait.
There’s much out there about the benefits of having a dog for increasing your health and fitness. Having a dog means you will walk more, and pet ownership has proven mental health benefits. Seeing all this sets me off a-pondering though.
I am a dog person. I’ve always had pet dogs, both in the family home growing up and in my own home as soon as I had one. Currently we have two dogs.
HoudiniDog is getting elderly and slow now and no longer makes her trademark escape attempts. She’s your typical Heinz 57 mongrel.
DaisyDog is much younger, and is the first dog I’ve ever had that is clearly a specific breed. As my vet commented “She’s pretty much 100% typical greyhound. Except for those ears!”
My dogs are great for my physical and mental health. They get me out of the house in all weathers and they make me laugh frequently. I know, having owned several dogs before these two, that they will also make me cry in time, but I think the years before then will make it worth it.
Here’s the thing though – in terms of exercise, physical health, I get more benefits when I walk without my dogs. Not to say I don’t have wonderful walks with my dogs, and I’m sure I’d do a lot less steps overall without them. But…
Walking alone I don’t have to stop every so often to allow the dogs to investigate smells/do their business/meet other dogs/get their leads untangled.
Walking alone I can get up to a good speed without the risk of a dog stopping suddenly at my feet and tripping me up.
Walking alone I can add stairs to my walks. Non dog owners might wonder why I can’t do that with dogs, anyone who’s tried to get one slow elderly dog and one young leaping dog up the same flight of stairs while on leads will understand!
My Fitbit shows that I burn more calories and work at a higher level when I’m walking alone compared to when I’m walking with my dogs.
There are places I can’t go with my dogs. Both were adopted as adults from local rescues, and we suspect HoudiniDog was not socialised as a puppy. She’s fine with dogs and humans, but any other animal from pigeons on up she hates. She barks and growls and tries to leap at them. This time of year especially we need to avoid any fields with sheep. And we can’t go over the Town Moor when there are cows.
I’m used to dogs. I don’t mind picking up after them, even when they’ve eaten something particularly stinky. I know how much they cost, and prefer their company to the foreign holidays we could probably afford if we didn’t have them. I do my homework before rehoming them.
What worries me is that people who aren’t used to dogs may be tempted to get one as a fitness aid. I know many people who’ve got and then had to give up dogs. They weren’t bad people, they had good intentions, but in the main they were people who got the dog not because they wanted a dog, but because they wanted the dog to be something. Company, a reason to get out of the house, a treat for the kids, a fitness aid…
Having a dog is a bit like having a toddler. They’re dependent on you for food and cleaning, they’re enthusiastic about everything and they don’t mind doing the same things over and over. Having a cat, on the other hand, is a bit like having a teenager. They’ll turn up when there’s food, treat you with distain and just occasionally they’ll let their guard down and show you affection.
But that’s only partially true. In fact a dog is exactly like a dog, and a cat is exactly like a cat.
I’m not going to stop walking my dogs, but I no longer think of it as my main exercise. I wouldn’t have got to the level of fitness I’m at without them. And I love having them. But it’s not for everyone. So please don’t get a dog unless you want a dog, for the glorious creature that it is, smells, hair and mud included.
Be prepared for all the costs it entails – it may be insured for veterinary treatment but you still need the cash to cover an unexpected vets fee until the insurance pays out. Include food, kennels while you’re away, poop bags, everything in working out of you can afford it.
Know that it will take time for it to get to know you, and for you to get to know it. Non-dog owners express horror when I’ve told them that in the first three months DaisyDog was with us I ended up at minor injuries twice with damage to my neck and shoulder!
“Why did you keep her after she’d injured you?”
Well, because it wasn’t her fault. She’s a greyhound. Bred for centuries to chase anything small, fluffy and running away. Both times she saw a cat, she lunged, and as I was holding her lead when she lunged I took the full force of it. Now I know her body language. I can spot the second she sees something she might lunge at, and I’m ready for her. We needed to get to know each other.
Try before you buy. There are many wonderful animal charities who would love you to volunteer as a dog walker, check out what’s local to you. Plus there are websites like borrow my doggy. If you’ve never owned a dog this is a great way to get to know what’s involved before you make the commitment.
Do your homework. Different breeds have different traits, you need a dog that suits you. Also consider rescuing. There are loads of dogs who’d really benefit from a second chance and a loving home. Check your local rescue centres, and talk to them about your circumstances. They’ll have a good understanding of what their dogs need. If you do want a puppy be careful where you get it from. The RSPCA are warning about puppy farmers selling poorly treated unhealthy pups.
Consider whether you’ll stop at one. It’s true what they say about dogs keeping each other entertained. At the moment my two are keeping each other entertained with a challenge to see who can make me scoop poop from the most dangerous/precarious place. HoudiniDog specialises in the middle of the road or Metro line, whereas DaisyDog has perfected the very top edge of a steep slope technique!
Seriously though, DaisyDog was very nervous when we first got her, and having an existing, confident dog here helped her relax. She’d look to see how HoudiniDog reacted to loud noises, other dogs, people etc. and if Houdini was OK Daisy would be less worried.
I love dogs, and mine are definitely part of the family. I hope everyone who takes on a dog does so well prepared and gets much joy from it.