As you can probably tell from some of my other blogs, I am passionate not only about the work I do with couples and individuals, but also my furry friends (and all animals). I believe that pets can teach us so many life lessons, as well as helping us to learn how to “play” more and enjoy life with less stress. In a way, many of the things they go through aren’t really that different than humans. My dog’s previous owner wasn’t a good parent to him—he wasn’t fed right, he had skin problems and seizures, he wasn’t given the time, love and attention he needed (and deserved). He was basically kept around for when the owner was lonely or in need, but otherwise treated more like a burden. When he would come to the owner “asking” for attention and love, he was either yelled at or pushed away (for acting like dogs are supposed to). As a result, he slept most of the day (and night), he didn’t play like most dogs do (Labradors are supposed to be high energy dogs!!), he NEVER ran, he didn’t get excited about much, he acted like he was hungry all the time, he ate too much (unhealthy food), was overweight and he looked and acted like he was much older than he really is. His only mood was either “sleepy”, or “on edge” where he startled easily (from being in an emotionally toxic environment). He even had no interest in playing with the other dogs around him. He never even barked! What dogs don’t EVER bark?! He was depressed! In the past several months, since becoming his new pet parent, I’ve slowly seen him open up and relax—it’s like he is a different dog! We take long walks several times a day and play a lot, not to mention the love and attention he receives (he may even be considered a bit spoiled). He loves his toys, he runs and plays—even with his sister, the cat. He eats a high quality healthy diet, doesn’t overeat, and has tons of energy. His skin problems are gone, and his seizures are minimal (hardly ever). He gets excited and acts like a puppy when he is running around playing, and loves to play with his neighbor dog friends now. It even makes me happy to hear him bark, because he is finally acting like a dog! Does any of this sound familiar to you? If you have ever been in a toxic, unsafe, addictive, emotionally and/or physically abusive environment, whether in your work or your personal relationships, chances are, you can relate to the above symptoms (minus the barking!). I could! I have been in that kind of environment/relationship. The symptoms of depression and the effects of the toxicity can come on so gradually, we might not even realize it (but the people around us usually do). Sometimes, when we are in an unsafe and unhealthy environment, we don’t even recognize how much it is affecting us– physically, mentally and emotionally, until we are out of that environment or away from that person. Once we are in a safe place, it takes awhile for those symptoms to subside and for us to return to a better state of mind. It takes time being in a trusting and nurturing environment where we have good support, in order for us to become “whole” again. Pets are no different! If you are in an unsafe or emotionally toxic relationship, ask yourself if you have any of the symptoms: fatigue/low energy and sleeping too much, weight gain, food cravings (to fill an emotional void), physical illnesses or problems with your immune system, not acting like your “self”, irritability or a quick startle response (“on edge”), lack of interest in “playing” or doing fun things, distancing yourself from friends and the fun those friendships bring, or acting like you are much older than your years. If the answer is yes, I challenge you to make the changes in your life that are necessary for you to find your inner peace and happiness!
Joleen Watson, MS, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling. Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.