Editorial: My four-legged friend helped me tackle anxiety

by Jacqueline Holloway

I’ve dealt with anxiety for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, I didn’t even know it had a name. When I came to UCKAR, I learnt what it was, but I still didn’t know how to control it.

I’d just figured that some unfortunate souls have to deal with it and the lucky ones don’t, almost like natural selection. I wasn’t ready for how stressful university was going to be, both in terms of academics and the social scene. So, anxiety took over my life without me even knowing. It would determine if I went to my lectures. It would determine if I spoke to anyone. It had all the say. This thrust me into quite a bad depression.

I was plagued by this until I adopted a dog.

[Ozzy. Photo by Author.]

The dog I adopted is a Labrador named Ozzy, and he had a rather sad backstory. Ozzy was put in an enclosed area (a cage, pretty much) with two other dogs, a Boerboel and a jack russel. Both of these dogs had very dominant personalities, while Ozzy was very submissive. They bullied him, to the point where he didn’t eat anything, he lost a lot of weight and he became very depressed.

One day, he and the Jack Russell broke out. Unfortunately, the Jack Russell was bitten by a snake and didn’t make it, but Ozzy ended up at the SPCA just outside of Makhanda.

This was where we met, and something about him just struck a chord with me.

I made the decision to adopt him, unaware of how he would change my life. Just a few weeks before, my house was broken into - the point of entry being the window in my room. Nothing was taken, and I wasn’t even home because I was pulling an all-nighter on campus, but my housemates were attacked, one of them even stabbed.

All of us were very shaken after this, feeling very unsafe at our house. The anxiety had once again taken over, accompanied this time by paranoia, leaving me sleep-deprived and very depressed.

But, things changed when I got Ozzy. I decided he would sleep right by my side every night; one of the best decisions I’ve made so far. For the first time in weeks, I had a peaceful night’s sleep.

This made me realize how therapeutic pets really are. Slowly but surely, I became a better-functioning human. I had taken on this responsibility of owning a dog, and I was determined to do it right. I had to get out of bed so I could feed him, I had to leave the house to take him for walks, and I had to clean up after him and brush him regularly (Labradors shed quite a lot).

This would take time, effort and a lot of patience. It helped me get into a routine - I would always wake to feed him, then be forced to take a shower and start my day.

Without even realizing it, I wasn’t ridden with anxiety all the time. I was taking less anxiety medication, and I wasn’t dreading getting out of bed in the morning.

Today, Ozzy is my absolute best friend.

I’ve grown a lot. I have a better understanding of anxiety, and I know I don’t have to fight it alone.

My four-legged friend keeps me calm and grounded. Both of us have been through a lot in our lives, but we’re still standing, helping each other get better.

[Ozzy and Jackie. Photo by Nienke Botha.]

I wouldn’t trade my boy for anything in the world, and to all the people feeling defeated by anxiety or depression - don’t underestimate the magic of your fluffy companions, they can help you.

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