How loving a dog with anxiety taught me to love myself

I have anxiety, but I don’t go around licking things excessively. Unlike my dog, who constantly has her tongue out, as if her nervousness will follow the rules of entropy and move out into the room.

I rescued a dog a few months ago. She has anxiety. She takes a while to warm up to people, and even then, she has to be really comfortable with you to let you touch her.

Funnily enough, I’m the same way: shy at first, even guarded, not a huge fan of personal contact, but once I’m comfortable with you, a hug is really all I want.

I don’t know her whole story; was she abused? Abandoned? Probably. But I only have guesses–little snippets of her past I see when she shudders at loud noises or at guys coming too close.

We have that in common, too.

I love her to pieces–the way she puts her paw on your leg when you’re eating as if to say, “Excuse me. But you have food. I also like food;” the way she snuggles up so close to me on the couch, she’s basically sitting on my leg; the way I walk in the door, and she’s so filled with excitement, her whole butt starts wiggling.

But mostly, I love the way she’s taught me to be kind to myself, to love myself in ways I haven’t.

It’s easy for me to judge myself, to say things like “I shouldn’t feel this way” or “I shouldn’t be doing this, not after this long.” Don’t we all do that to ourselves, though? Judge ourselves for not behaving according to society’s rules. Judge ourselves for not being as resilient as we’d like, for not healing as fast as we could, for feeling things for too long.

It’s taken me years to learn that feeling things are ok. I can be who I am without apologizing, unapologetically feeling without saying sorry.

My dog licks things excessively because she’s nervous. She sits on my foot on the couch so she knows when I get up. She follows me into the bathroom because she’s terrified I’m going to leave her–she’s already been left at least once.

I’m terrified of being left too. Of being left alone with my thoughts, of no one ever loving me, of people deciding that I’m just not worth the effort, that my past is too much to overcome.

But then I look at my dog. She was so nervous the first few days, we couldn’t leave her alone. I slept in the same room with her every night. She wouldn’t let any one touch her, wouldn’t let any one come within a foot of her. And yet I still loved her.

From the first moment I laid eyes on her, I loved her.

I never once thought her anxiety was too much–I thought I was incapable of taking care of her because I was too messed up, too anxious, too broken. I was too much, but she wasn’t.

She isn’t. Even though I have to give her anxiety meds to cut her nails, or before we meet lots of people. But, hey, I do that, too. I always got frustrated that I had to pop a pill before parties. My dog, I never questioned, that’s just how she is.

I judged myself even though I know my past and what I’ve been through. I know not much about my dog’s past, and yet, don’t judge her for her baggage.

My family’s rallied around the way they’ve always rallied around me, care for her the way they care for me, but it took me getting a dog so similar to me to see it.

Sometimes, that’s what it takes. Sometimes learning how to care for someone else is the only way you can learn how to care for yourself, how to be patient with yourself, how to love yourself.

And I’m getting there, one doggy anxiety pill at a time.

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