I know what you might be thinking. What do pets have to do with mental health? Before you check me into the psychiatric ward - a place I have been before, hear me out. I have three pets living under my roof: my sweet, cuddly and timid, Molly; my loyal worker bee, Luna; and Oscar, our ballsy loner. For quite some time now, I've been observing the three Meyer pets. (It's amazing what a few quiet moments of observation can do for a person.) It was intriguing to notice patterns that mirrored my own struggles with mental health. Below, I've listed reasons for why everything I need to know about mental health, I've learned from my pets.
Molly, my black and white beauty is a contradiction in terms. I call her my worried warrior. She is a timid girl who desperately longs to be brave. So often, she seems torn between these two impulses. When Luna, our 2-year-old black lab, first came to live with us, Molly raced down to the basement and didn't emerge for over two months. (My husband and I worried that we had done irreparable damage to our cat's psyche.) What was interesting was that, even though we would have never let Luna do anything to hurt Molly, our protection meant little or nothing to her. It didn't matter that we knew she was safe, Molly didn't feel safe. Therein, lies her problem. From her, I've learned that we all have opposing forces at war within. Sometimes, it's a choice between what's safe and what's brave. In observing patterns in my own life, I realize that opposing forces at war within have shaped me into the person I am. Mind you, I always had a choice in what impulse I let win. You do, too.
Then there's loving, loyal Luna. She seems to be all in when it comes to obedience. Except, of course, when she's not. Luna's struggles with being a "worker" remind me of my own. Her greatest desire is to chase after her ball. However, she is constantly seeking to do that admirable task on her own terms. Here's what I've noticed. If I ask Luna to sit, or stay before I throw the ball, she resists. Even though she wants desperately to chase it, she won't follow my rules. This is how that's played out in her life. When I want to give Luna affection or attention, she immediately turns it into a hypo-manic search for a ball. She can't slow down enough to soak in my love for her. Therein, lies her problem. She's a worker, which in and of itself isn't a bad thing, but she wants to work on her own terms. In other words, Luna has no balance and no boundaries in her life. It reminds me of my own struggles to constantly be working and problem solving issues for myself and others. My fixing things becomes the end goal. So much so, that I don't take time to rest and soak in God's love for me. These days I'm learning to find a balance between rest and work. I encourage you to try to find that balance in your own life.
The last one to round out the Meyer pet menagerie is Oscar, our fat cat, our Garfield in the flesh. One day, I watched as he approached his food bowl for the second time in less than twenty minutes. He was so clearly torn between the pull of the food and the knowledge that his stomach wasn't empty. Eventually, the pull won out over common sense. For Oscar, the struggle continues. The lesson with him is perhaps a bit less clear. However, it has struck me that when a struggle comes down to choosing right or wrong, a little grace to help one make the right choice, is called for. If we were truly good pet owners, we would just offer food twice a day. In other words, we aren't doing him any favors by not providing him boundaries in his eating.
The long and short of it is this: we all have strengths and weaknesses at war within us. Sometimes, it's the struggle that keeps us stuck. Here's my advice: If you find yourself stuck in a Luna pattern where you're all work and no play; or a Molly pattern where you want to be brave but you just can't find your way out of fear; or an Oscar pattern and you crave what you shouldn't have, take small steps to try something new. Just because you've been stuck in a holding pattern for days, months, or even decades doesn't mean you have to stay there. Keep moving forward. Small steps towards freedom are better than none. Blessings. Til next time!