Apr 18 • 5M

Mental Health Tip From My Dog

How to not add more pain to our pain

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Andrea Gibson
A quest to uncover what shifts, when we shift our attention
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Hi Lovelies,

My partner and I have a three-year-old chihuahua mix named Winnebago. We call him Winnie Bagel. Or Winnie. Or Winner. He’s definitely a winner, though we feel like the real winners since adopting him. 

Winnie originally came from a bad breeding situation. He was taken from his mama too soon and wasn’t properly nourished. After being sold on Craigslist to someone who could not care for him because of his many health issues, he was saved by a compassionate woman who ran a cat rescue. Yes, Winnie the dog was raised by kitties.

When Winnie arrived at the cat rescue he was so sick he nearly died several times of pneumonia. On top of that, Winnie had multiple limb deformities and no use of his back legs, so had to pull himself around like a baby seal. At the cat rescue he began physical therapy, and gradually learned to walk while also gaining a bit more systemic health.

After we adopted our little guy he had major leg surgery that gave him more mobility and eased the arthritis that he was already beginning to navigate at just one year old. He also did weekly physical therapy. Because of his early malnourishment Winnie also needed two major dental surgeries. He’s had all of his teeth removed and his jaw rebuilt, which is why his tongue hangs out of his mouth and why he looks like he’s constantly french kissing the air. 

Though he will always have health challenges and though he’s been through so much in his young furry life, Winnie is one of the happiest, sweetest, and most loving beings I have ever known. He can currently run as fast as our other dogs, and though he can’t hop on and off furniture the way they can, he has learned how to use his (very loud and persistent) voice to demand immediate elevator rides to any up-high place he wants to be. 

I originally adopted Winnie because of my own experience with chronic illness. I’d had lyme disease for years and wanted to give the love, care and understanding I was just beginning to learn to give to myself. What I didn’t expect was how much Winnie would give me in regards to lessons that would transform my relationship to the challenges in my life. 

Humans, I’ve learned, have a tendency towards something I think of as double-suffering. For example, if we’re physically sick, we don’t only feel the pain of physical sickness. We add to that the  pain of thinking ourselves a burden to those who love us. If we have a panic attack in the grocery store, we don’t only feel the terror of the panic, but we add to it a feeling of shame or embarrassment. If we break our leg, it’s not only the leg that aches, but the stories we tell ourselves about life not being fair. If we’re depressed, we add to the heaviness the thought that we are alone in what we are going through, that no one understands. 

I believe much of Winnie’s happiness is due to the fact that he never double-suffers. He feels what’s happening without adding more pain to his load. For three years now, he’s been one of my most constant teachers. My little furry Buddha, helping me pay close attention to when I’m adding unnecessary hurt to my life. My practice is simple: I watch my thoughts, noticing each time I’m telling myself a story about a challenge in my life that is making that challenge even harder to bear. Once I notice it, I can shift it in a number of ways—meditation, positive affirmations, walking outside, dancing, playing basketball, calling a friend to say ‘i love you’, writing a poem—the list is endless. What works for me will be different from what works for others, but the most important step is the first one—noticing. Noticing the painful stories we are telling ourselves is how we learn to stop believing them. 

So sweet community, what have you learned from a dog or cat or squirrel or horse or bird or rattlesnake in your life?  Animals are wonderful teachers. I’d love to read what you have to share in the comments.

Thank you so much for being here!

Love, Andrea 🖤

△ In Winnie’s honor I’m donating to my local animal rescue today and if you are able, please consider donating to this amazing animal rescue — Maxfund Shelter & Adoption Center

△ And if you’d like to hear a love letter I wrote to another one of my dogs, here’s the appreciation for my dog Squash, aka Squish Squash, aka Squash-a-rooni, aka Miracle Button, aka my Perfect Peanut