What one week of dog ownership taught me

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It sounded like a recipe for disaster from the jump. Single girl living in a 500 square foot apartment in Chicago seeks large dog for companionship. Well, when worded that way it actually sounds like a really desperate, slightly disturbing personal ad.

I initially moved to the city from Ohio with a friend whom I had grown up with since third grade. We made up silly dances at recess in elementary school, fought for the affection of the same boy in middle school, decked ourselves out in our school’s colors to attend football games in high school and even roomed together for two years in college. There was little we did not know about one another. After living in the city together for a year, we were treated to a third roommate, another girlfriend of ours that was the third member of our ill choreographed dance trio from fifth grade.

The three of us went way back and together; we were starting a new chapter in the big city.  This bliss was short-lived however, as they both decided to return to their roots in Ohio, leaving me as the last standing member of the trio.

After the sad exit of my girlfriends, a break up with my boyfriend, and the move into my newly renovated, extremely lonely apartment, I decided that now was the time to adopt a dog. I had talked about it for two years and figured now was as good a time as any. I was alone, living off loans from the government now that I attended graduate school and had plenty of time to tend to a pet.

Why not? Well, in retrospect there were plenty of answers to that question.

I arrived at the local animal shelter on a sunny, Sunday morning prepared to bring home an older, slightly larger dog (I have nothing against small dogs other than the fact that I do not like a majority of them). I was taken into a private room with a couple of dogs, many of who were running around as if amphetamines had been slipped into their breakfast bowls. I asked for a dog that was perhaps a bit less likely to destroy my apartment and in trotted Zeb.

Zeb was a 50-pound Labrador Retriever and only 7 months old. I was apprehensive at first of the fact that he was still a young puppy. But after two minutes in the room with him, I was in love. I had never witnessed a dog with such a calm, sweet demeanor! It did not matter that they said he could grow to weigh as much as 90 pounds. With a temperament as sweet as any animal, or person for that matter, that I had ever seen, I thought I could handle it.

Well, as it turned out, I could not.

Zeb, whose name I changed to Gaston, was cool as a cucumber the first few days after I brought him home. In fact, I did not even hear him bark until about day 5. After he became comfortable in his surroundings, Gaston went from cool and calm to hyper and crazy. He was a puppy. That is what they do. I totally get it. But to try and control a hyper active puppy in a tiny studio apartment just seemed cruel.

I walked him about 5 to 7 times a day just to tire him out. (I ultimately lost about 5 pounds that week from all of the activity myself). I signed him up for obedience classes, spent an outrageous amount of money on toys to keep him entertained (pet stores are ridiculously overpriced by the way), and hired a dog walker.

Ultimately, I realized that I was the one who was not ready to take on the responsibilities of my boy, Gaston. I fight issues of anxiety and the added pressure that came with being responsible for a pet, was too much to bear.

It was unbelievable how much he and I bonded in such a short period of time, though. When I realized that the situation was not fair to Gaston and that I needed to return him, I packed him up in my car, along with his ridiculous amount of toys and $150 dog tick prevention medication I had purchased after taking him to the vet.

I bawled like a baby all the way to the shelter, while saying goodbye to him, all the way home, all through the night, and basically the rest of the weekend. I have never felt like such a disappointment. I had let this dog down. It was the first time I discovered what it truly felt like to be deeply depressed.

I called the shelter everyday, often more than once, after I dropped him off to see if he had been adopted yet. Not surprisingly, a family who had kids and another dog adopted him two days later. This was the environment he deserved and a part of me knew it all along.

My motives for adopting Gaston were selfish. I was alone for basically the first time in my entire life. I was lacking a support system and thought Gaston could be it for me. I have always taken pride in being a strong, independent woman but not until after all of this occurred, did I realize how irrelevant my independence was in comparison to my need for social support.

Humans are wired with the need to connect to other humans. It is our nature to crave connections and bonds. After I had been stripped of so many of mine, I looked to a dog to fill in the gap. Essentially, I looked to a dog to find happiness.

After my week with Gaston, I learned happiness couldn’t be sought. I always envisioned my life would be happy and rich with the companionship of a dog. As is the case with most things though, when you go into a situation with unrealistic expectations, you will undoubtedly be let down.

I now value my friendships, both in the city and beyond, more than I ever have. I live for the small, often short-lived human connections I make throughout the day, whether it is a conversation with a stranger in an elevator or the guy who makes my coffee at Starbucks. Strive to find happiness within those moments because I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

I often think of Gaston and those crazy seven days we shared together. He probably would not even recognize who I was if I saw him today. I am grateful he has a good home, though and for the fact that I have finally found some contentment in living alone.

Happiness is not something you can chase nor easily attain. However, keeping close to those you know well and connecting with those you do not, is a good place to start looking. That is a pretty profound lesson to learn from an adopted Lab.

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Learning to live strong from feeling weak

Wednesday morning I woke up and started my daily routine. I did some stretches on my mat where I noticed I could just barely touch my toes. It wasn’t completely out of the ordinary, because I am rather inflexible but my body felt weaker than usual. I didn’t think much of it as I began preparing my coffee. While impatiently waiting for it to brew, I suddenly felt a wave of nausea rush over me and the sharpest back pain I have ever experienced. I felt like I had been run over by an 18-wheeler that had come completely out of nowhere. Now I will admit that I have a rather low pain tolerance when it comes to illness, but I knew something wasn’t right. I was in the fetal position on the couch; unable to move when I realized it might be a good time to give my doctor a call. They had me come in to rule out kidney stones or any infections. Luckily, it turned out to be a nasty virus that required lots of fluids and Pepto Bismol. Safe to say it wasn’t life threatening. Every time I am hunched over in pain like that, though, and trying to pray it away, I always think of people who are suffering with real, life-threatening illnesses. They experience unspeakable pain and discomfort everyday, to the point where it becomes the norm. They suffer and fight because they have no other choice.

How often do we take our health for granted? We walk around with perfectly healthy bodies, other than the occasional cold and flu, and yet the things we worry about seem catastrophic. Even though our bodies are healthy, many of us stress over things in our life that are actually within our control. Bills, relationships, traffic; we can control how we react to these things. Imagine how minimal these things would all seem if God forbid, you were to be diagnosed with cancer. How would you react to something that was so much out of your control? We all like to think we would react strongly and positively but given our outrageous reactions to simple things like being cut off by the driver behind you, we may not respond in ways we would like.

Choose to react positively to things in your life; both the good and the bad. If you get cut off, don’t explode. If you feel overwhelmed with your finances, take a deep breath and try to put it into perspective. Often people who have been diagnosed with serious illnesses say that the moment they were given the news, everything else that seemed so important before, slowly fades away. I have been trying to make a habit of remembering this. Remember what is important, what is within your power and control, and keep it all in perspective within the grand scheme of things.

I wanted to share Mitchell’s story, which along with thousands of others, I have been following on facebook. Ten year old Mitchell passed away last Saturday from muscular dystrophy. His family courageously chronicled his brave journey on facebook and if you are on the social networking site, I strongly recommend following it. The strength of this young boy is indescribable and inspiring beyond words. As his physical health continued to decline, his spirit strengthened at an even faster rate. Check out the incredible video and read more about Mitchell’s journey here: http://www.ldsmag.com/article/1/12308

3 small tweaks that can make a BIG difference

ImageWell in case anyone was wondering, I successfully accomplished my goal of not watching television for five days. It felt amazing. I eventually got to the point where I was so used to not having the chatter on in the background, that I did not even miss it. I enjoyed it so much that I have begun watching less and less television ever since. (I can proudly say I did not watch the two hour Bachelor episode that aired last night). Since I enjoyed my decision of keeping the television turned off, I got to wondering what other choices I could make that could positively influence not only my day, but my life in general. The following are three things I thought up (while not watching television mind you) that require very little effort but could definitely create positive results.

1.) Switching up the morning routine

The first thing many of us do after rolling out of bed (or perhaps even before getting out of bed if you keep electronics within an arms reach) is switch on our computers to check e-mail, turn on the television to get caught up on the morning’s depressing news, or check our cell phones for any social media updates (who doesn’t love waking up to a facebook friend request)? So many of us are guilty of these daily habits that it is difficult to see how detrimental they can be to the rest of our day. The coffee has not even begun to brew yet and we are already overstimulated! The effects of this media overload are often subtle, making it difficult to even be aware of it. This chaotic routine though can create an element of anxiety that will linger into your daily commute, that big business meeting and the rest of the day’s activities. Instead of switching on the computer and television first thing in the morning, turn on music that will set the tone for the rest of your day. Nothing says a happy, anxiety-free day like a little Bob Marley in the morning. It sounds simple, but it is amazing how the effects last throughout most of the day. Save the e-mail checking and facebook stalking for when you feel mentally relaxed and ready.

2.) Doing one thing for another

Again, this one seems simple and a bit of a no brainer. It is common knowledge that doing something for another will bring us happiness, but can you remember the last time you gave of yourself? It is so easy to get caught up in the daily hassles of work, bills, and numerous other responsibilities, that giving to someone else are easily overlooked. Whether it is volunteering for an hour a week or over tipping the morning barista at Starbucks, the smallest of gestures will be as rewarding to you as it is to the one on the receiving end. Be conscientious throughout the day of opportunities where you could lend your time or resources to improve the day of another. The irony is that your day will be equally improved.

3.) Try one thing outside of your comfort zone

Trying something out of the ordinary can help to broaden your horizons and expand your worldview. I’m not necessarily suggesting taking up sky diving or anything too extreme, but sometimes even the smallest of activities that stir up feelings of minor discomfort, can leave you with a renewed sense of self and awareness. For example, I recently attended a meditation class. Sitting Indian style with a bunch of strangers attempting to quiet my brain was certainly an unusual experience, but it was accompanied with a sense of accomplishment for trying something different. Trying new things can make you feel like a more rounded person and instill confidence. Whether it be taking up baking or training for a 5k, the feeling that you have mastered something new will not only make you more interesting but also happier overall. And isn’t that the ultimate accomplishment?

Epiphany on my yoga mat

ImageAn interesting thing happened this morning as I was sitting quietly on my yoga mat trying to slow down the chaos that is my brain. It seems as though the morning and night time are when my thoughts decide to go into overdrive. So, I have been trying to spend atleast 5 minutes every morning, sitting quietly before diving into the day. As usual, this morning I was having a difficult time not focusing on the research paper I need to finish today or the many blog ideas that keep popping up. I was trying to not focus on all this as well as tune out the construction guys across the street who are loudly drilling holes in the road when it occurred to me, this moment is all I have right now. This minute, this second is it. I have zero control over what happens 30 seconds from now because it is in the future. How much happier, not to mention more productive, would I be if I focused on the very moment that I am living in rather than the next 2,000 moments? This seems like such an obvious conclusion to come to, but how many of us are really mindful of this fact in our daily lives? As someone who suffers with occasional (make that very occasional) anxiety, worrying about future events that have yet to occur is a habit I am all too familiar with. No matter how much I worry, plan, control and prepare for the moments ahead, I am still in the present moment. What if we simply just did our best in the present and hoped it would benefit our future? Isn’t that really all we can do? Do our best in the present and hope for the best in the future? Again, this seems like an obvious aha! moment but actually being aware of this, could eliminate a great deal of our daily anxieties and suffering.

The Mindfulness Movie

Paul Harrison has an incredible new documentary coming out called, The Mindfulness Movie. I am helping him spread the word, as I have found mindfulness to be an extremely helpful practice in my own life. The following is an article I wrote to help promote the film. Enjoy!

We in a fast paced world; there is no question about it. People walk quickly, drive at illegal speeds and perhaps most damaging, think at an outrageous rate. If a song played every time a thought entered your brain, imagine how much noise you would be resonating. Personally, I would be a walking mariachi band. Since graduating college and moving from my safe, comfortable childhood home in Ohio to the big, uncertain city of Chicago, anxiety has become a constant battle of mine. Perhaps the entrance into adulthood and all of the responsibilities it brings triggered it, or maybe it was moving away from friends and family, but nevertheless, anxiety found a home in my brain and quickly settled in. For almost three years now, I have tried everything from therapists to self-help books to medication. They have all helped in their own way, but by far the most calming and easily accessible tool to help calm the chatter has been practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the act of living in the present moment, focusing on your thoughts and emotions at a distance rather than judging and labeling them. At any particular moment, you are simply nothing more than present. You are not the water bill you keep thinking needs to be paid or the job deadline you have no idea how you are going to meet. It is impossible much more difficult to hear all of that noise while in this state of peace and serenity Perhaps one of the biggest perks of practicing mindfulness is that it can be done anywhere. You can practice on your long commute to work or while waiting for the Starbucks barista to make your morning latte. Unlike so many other tools and methods I have tried over the years, mindfulness requires no prescription and is free of charge. That alone makes it worthy of trying.

In his new documentary, The Mindfulness Movie, author, Paul Harrison, has created a two-part series to not only encourage people to use mindfulness in their everyday lives but also includes a training program in which viewers are trained by an unprecedented group of 35 world-renowned experts in the fields of neuroscience, psychiatry, relationships, sports, psychology, and quantum physics from around the globe, as well as major bestselling authors. In addition, it includes testimonials from a random group of participants in the program.

For more information on the film and how you can contribute, go to http://www.themindfulnessmovie.com/ and click on the Indiegogo button to help.

5 Days of No T.V….Can she survive?!

ImageIt sounds like a tagline for another bad reality tv show, right? Well, this week I have decided to take on the challenge. I have noticed recently just how much time is wasted sitting in front of the television. I have become one of those girls I despise in that I became a fan of this season’s Bachelor. I know, don’t judge. I don’t feel good about it either. The worst part is that it is on for TWO hours and some weeks it airs two episodes. I’m ashamed.

So yesterday, after evaluating all of the work I needed to get done this week, I came to the rather obvious conclusion that I might actually accomplish it all without the loud box on. So that is what I am doing. I am proud to say that I did not watch last night’s Bachelor (although I admit I did look up online who he kicked off..baby steps here, people).

Those two hours I would have spent tuned into my tv set to watch what is most likely a staged reality show, I spent catching up with my mom on the phone and even face timed with my brother. It got me wondering what else I could accomplish this week? For one, this post probably wouldn’t be written this early as I most likely would be watching Live with Kelly right now. So this is progress!

I dare anyone else to shut off the t.v. Even if it is just for one day. The effects are pretty amazing and kind of addicting. I have gotten use to the quiet and knowing that reality shows won’t be a temptation this week, pulling me away from my work.

I will keep you posted on how it works out! Have a great one 🙂

Apples to Oranges

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I spent some time browsing some of the millions of blogs out in cyberspace and must say, it was a bit discouraging. How do people know how to make such professional looking blogs?! Was there a class I didn’t get a memo about? I was pretty proud I was able to whip up Wake up to Java, but now I am feeling like an amateur! On top of the visual aspects, I discovered some people with incredibly interesting things to write about. World travelers, published writers, you name it. Every blog had an interesting person behind it. How can I become one of those?

It is so frustrating to feel like you are “not enough.” Feeling inadequate is such a debilitating emotion. It often feels like the life has been sucked right out of you and that you should not even bother, because there are people out there who are better than you. I have learned though that these self doubts are simply a way of my innate voice telling me I need to be more confident in my own abilities. The more confident and self-assured you feel in what you are doing, the less concerned you will be with the abilities of people around you.

Do not compare yourself to others. It never ends well. You will never feel like you match up. It is a losing battle. Treat yourself better than that. Focus inward. Work towards being the best version of yourself, because you may be surprised by the outcome. Remember, comparing one human to another really is the equivalent to comparing apples to oranges. And who on this Earth is qualified to say whether the one is better than the other?