I first realized I had a problem when I found myself elbow-deep in a giant box of Rice Krispies, aggressively grabbing handfuls of dry, puffed rice and shoving it in my mouth.
“What am I doing?” I freaked as I suddenly came out of my food-trance. “I don’t even like Rice Krispies!”
It was a charming scene: A disheveled 30 year old woman with tear stains down her cheeks tearing into a mega-sized cereal box like a rabid raccoon.
I shamefully licked my Krispy-covered paws, and scuttled into the shower where I sobbed out the remainder of my afternoon to the comforting sounds of running water and Britney Spears.
I felt stuck and alone.
3 months prior, I had moved from sunny and warm South Africa to the cold Edmonton in Alberta, Canada. I knew absolutely no one in Edmonton except my husband. While he was out working all day, I was stuck in the South corner of the city with no way to get around, and no way to meet people.
Initially, I had planned to use that time to create: To write, to paint, to write songs… to be as creative as I could. Instead, I found myself eating the entire contents of the refrigerator (daily!), crying in the shower and having panic attacks in the closet. I was a mess, and I didn’t know how to pull myself out of it.
I missed my family, my friends, my dogs and the vibrancy and warmth of the African people. I missed the sounds of people singing in the streets, taxi-drivers yelling and even the shrill squawk of Hadedas on the roof at 5am. I missed the smells of braai in the evenings, Samp & Beans cooking next door, and the bitter-sweet fragrance of African soil. I missed it all.
My husband, realizing I was in a pit (but not knowing the full extent of it), agreed we could get a dog. He wasn’t quite ready for the commitment of adopting a dog, and so a compromise was made: We would foster.
We applied to become foster parents, and a few weeks later the Edmonton Humane Society contacted us: “We have an elderly dog who’s just been rescued from horrendous circumstances, and we desperately need a long-term foster home for him. He’s in protective custody and so we cannot put him up for adoption until the case is over. Can you take him?”
Boris and I bonded immediately: I gave him a pat on the head, and he peed on my leg. It was the perfect meet-cute.
It turned out that Boris was discovered in a tiny cage with 20+ other Shih-Tzu/Bichon Frise dogs, inside a barn with over 40 other animals who were starving and covered in feces (unfortunately some of them didn’t make it). Boris was the oldest dog, and was used as the father in an illegal puppy mill.
So we brought the once neglected, pimped-out and starving barn dog into our home, and quickly realized the little stud had no house training (surprise, surprise!) and suffered from severe separation anxiety.
The first two weeks were tough: He would cry all night, and every 2 hours I had to take him outside to prevent him from peeing indoors. We couldn’t leave him alone for a second or he would panic and injure himself.
So I began to train him: I focused on building his confidence in himself, and his trust in us. Within two weeks he was completely house-trained and no longer cried at night. He became my constant shadow and companion, following me around the house and snuggling on my lap every chance he got. He still had separation anxiety if we left him alone for short periods of time, but it was getting better every day.
As for me, my mental health was slowly improving. Because of Boris, I was getting out several times a day, enjoying the fresh Canadian air, sunshine and much needed exercise. I found myself eating less and working out more. I started meeting people through our walks, and made friends with some of the neighbors. I stopped binge-eating and crying, and no longer suffered from panic attacks.
In August we received news that the owner had finally surrendered the animals, and Boris was up for adoption. Did we want to adopt?
It wasn’t even an option, it was a necessity: I needed Boris, and Boris needed me.
Unfortunately, depression has always been an unwanted, but sometimes welcomed, frenemy of mine. It lingers in the back of my mind, lurking and waiting for the day when I’ll allow it to take over my life again. I allowed it to dictate my life in my late teens and early 20s, until I realized one day that I had about a 0.3 second window every morning where I could decide: “Do I let you – my insecurities, my self-pity and my depression – in to steal away my day? Or do I focus my energy and attention on being grateful and on creating something wonderful?”
Before we got Boris, I knew I was heading in the direction towards deep, unshakable depression. Circumstances were causing me to slide back into the place that I had fought so hard to get out of years ago.
But I’ve learned over the years that in order to get out of the grips of depression before it completely consumes you, you need to do a few things:
Firstly, you need to get the focus off of yourself. And what better way to do that than by helping someone else? A rescue animal (like Boris), a person in need, a charity or organization… There are so many people and animals less fortunate than you and me, and by helping someone in need you’re able to shift your mindset away from yourself and onto someone or something else. Helping the less fortunate or someone in need gives you a whole lot of perspective, and it gives your life a sense of purpose. When you show kindness and love to someone or something else, your life will start to feel meaningful and full of hope.
Secondly, find beauty and gratitude in the small things. My mom always says: “Beauty can be found anywhere”. And it’s true! You just have to look for it. There is beauty to be found even in the most unexpected of places, and there’s so much to be grateful for – sunshine, music, food… even having access to the internet to read this right now is something to be thankful for!
Thirdly, take care of yourself by 1) giving yourself power again and 2) keeping the promises you make to yourself. I don’t know who originally came up with this quote (some people say it was Jim Carrey, but that hasn’t ever been confirmed), but this pretty much sums up how to do it:
“I believe depression is legitimate.
But I also believe that if you don’t:
-eat nutritious foods
-get enough sleep
-consume positive material
-surround yourself with support
Then you aren’t giving yourself a fighting chance.”
Take care of yourself by exercising your power to make healthy promises to yourself (eat healthy, exercise, surround yourself with people or animals that bring happiness and positivity, etc) and then keep those promises to yourself.
We adopted Boris without a second thought, and he became my official Emotional Support Animal through CertaPet. Since then, Boris and I have both improved even more dramatically.
Boris’ confidence has sky-rocketed. He listens to us, he understands boundaries, he’s learned to communicate with us, and he no longer gets anxious if we leave him alone for a few hours. Now, he happily curls up on our bed and actively watches his favorite show (Peppa Pig) while we go out and do our thing.
And me? Well, I’ve finally started creating again! (Watch this space!)
My depression was triggered when I moved to Edmonton in March 2019 to be with my Canadian husband. We’ve since found out that in January 2020 my husband and I will be moving to an even colder and smaller city in Alberta, meaning that we will have to start all over again… yet again! It will be my 14th move in 12 years. (FYI: Moving in your 20’s and for work is one thing, moving to follow a spouse to a new country in your 30’s is a TOTALLY different story! It’s far more difficult to move if you’re not moving for work.)
But this time, I’m not afraid or anxious. I have my ESA pooch to help me make a new start, and to snuggle with when times get tough.
I still miss home, but I’m happy to report that I haven’t had a Rice Krispy bender since Boris came into my life.
… And I plan on keeping it that way!
I believe that Boris and I were brought together for a reason. In a way, we saved each other. Heck, I’m pretty sure Boris saved my marriage! Depression is not a friend to relationships, and the direction I was headed towards was a slippery slope. But our Hairy Slug (the affectionate nick-name my husband gave Boris) helped me to find my feet again. I’m now happy and excited about life once more!
If you find yourself losing a battle with depression, do yourself a favor: Take the focus off yourself by helping and showing genuine kindness to someone or something in need (like a rescue animal), find beauty and gratitude in the small and simple things in your everyday life, and take care of yourself by activating the power of making and keeping good promises to yourself.
Give yourself that fighting chance (and maybe a hairy slug of your own), because believe me – it’s worth it!