The moment I knew I’d fallen hopelessly for Ted, he was a tiny black-and-white lump.
Unlike the rest of his siblings, he was set on exploring the farmyard, playfully navigating the build-up of sludge and snow that had fallen the February just gone.
Once he’d finished playing, he ambled back inside the barn with his family but, while they still sniffed and yipped at my mom and myself, he took himself to the bed at the back of the pen and pulled the covers over, eyes slowly drooping closed. We both instantly melted.
A few weeks later, we brought him home. He howled on the ride over and then proceeded to howl every night for two weeks. It was so loud that my mom and I could only communicate in hushed whispers. We’d lie there, stiff as two boards, and listen to him cry — both of us close to crying ourselves imagining sleep.
Then one night, nothing. Not a peep. A little movement, some paws padding on our kitchen floor and then… Silence.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the first lesson of many that Ted has taught me so far: These things do not last forever.
If you had told me a year ago that I would get a dog — a highly-energetic Border Collie puppy at that — right at the beginning of a murky recovery cycle, I genuinely would have laughed.
The possibility of having a ‘Ted’ had never crossed my mind, mostly because I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to exist. After years of suffering from the ‘typical’ symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, a condition which developed when I was eight, the co-morbidity aspects crept in just as I was beginning to write my dissertation.
All of a sudden, I began to feel disconnected from the world. My brain would try to rectify these feelings through intrusive thoughts, coaxing me to self-harm to elicit a physical response.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the first lesson of many that Ted has taught me so far: These things do not last forever.
Deep-rooted anger came bursting forth, with my moods switching quickly between complete dejection and seething fury, where I loathed everything — especially myself. I began to compulsively pull my eyelashes out. I’d imagine peeling my skin off and stepping into a boiling hot bath as if that would purge what was going on inside me.
I felt my brain grind to a halt. The ever-itchy anxiety was drowned by syrupy depression as if the adrenaline stores I’d been hitting to keep going had finally run dry.
Even after being prescribed antidepressants and finally accessing care through my university, a part of me still guiltily thought: “If this is how the rest of my life is going to be, just one cycle of bad and slightly better, then I don’t want any of it.”
After graduation, I moved back home with my mom. She had just turned fifty and, after a celebratory holiday in New York, we discussed the possibility of getting a dog. I’d always wanted one when I was little, a regular daydream once consisting of a house bought with the money from a book deal from that amazing book I would one day write. That dream included the presence of a rescue dog.
But at that point, the prospect felt completely batshit.
We saw the puppies quite a few times before we settled on Ted. Every time we went back to the farm, I felt a little pull towards him, a softness that I hadn’t experienced in such a long time. I knew in my gut we’d be taking him home.
Of course, any person will tell you that dog ownership is far from easy. Despite being accredited with great ‘stress-relieving properties,’ Ted has been the source of great worry. I imagine it’s the same shade of panic most parents feel when their toddlers get a little too close to an outlet, only if the toddler was so much faster and toothier than you.
For example, at five-months-old, Ted is a hefty dog who does not know his own weight and will slam into you in an effort to show affection.
His herding instinct makes him a nightmare to walk near roads with, because of his inclination to try and run after passing cars. He also loves nothing more than chewing your drying underwear from off the line. Dinnertimes are punctuated by the insistent squeak of a ball. Fecal matter of any kind is apparently a canine delicacy. Dog tantrums are very real, and you simply have to wait them out.
But for all the trials and tribulations of navigating life in recovery, Ted’s existence is key to normality.
He gets me out of the house, which is a feat in itself. We go on walks, where he demands focus and attention as deserved, which keeps me from spiraling into cyclical thinking. When I come home from work and open the kitchen door, he springs up from where he’s been lying and I’m greeted with happy licks and a belly presented for scratching.
It makes me feel loved every time because your dog doesn’t judge. It isn’t in their nature.
As I try to adjust to life in the long run with my illness, I’ve found that other people rush to ‘fix’ you — as if this part is a blip that must be hurdled. And to tell you the truth, I’m not entirely sure that it can be.
I still experience intrusive thoughts. My ideations aren’t as recurrent as they once were, but my anxiety has flared up again in full force and I’m on a waiting list for therapy. I’m trying to do this leg of the journey without antidepressants but, if I want them, they are an option. Recovery is anything but linear, after all.
But Ted doesn’t know all of that. In fact, he doesn’t care. As long as he is full, had a walk, got a bowl of water, and gets to lie down with his squeaky broccoli at the end of the day, he’s good. He’s just happy to see me. And isn’t that all we want, anyway? To be loved wholly and unconditionally?
It’s wonderful to be in the company of such a good boy.