Must love dogs: My journey to mental wellness
I was struggling, drowning. I had a partner, I had a job, I had friends, but they weren’t enough. Nothing was. My spirit was weak.
I knew I couldn’t hold on. I was spiralling but I didn’t care. I kept screaming at myself to do better; to be better, but my body would not obey. I couldn’t keep my shit together, so I scattered it around Lagos one drunken night at a time.
The job was the first thing to go. It was something I’d spent 5 years working towards, but I watched it go like it was nothing.
The partner came next. That too felt like nothing. Even if it had been pure in the beginning, it couldn’t withstand my toxicity.
The friends didn’t just leave, they vanished. I don’t blame them. We have a duty of care to ourselves. People who allow themselves to sink into the depths of despair are likely to drag their rescuers down with them.
In the end, all I had left were drinks and cigarettes. I hit the bars. I was trying to be more than I’d let myself become.
When I was at my most vulnerable, the dogs came. A crate wrapped in a red bow in the drive way, opened to reveal two Rottweilers of dubious heritage from South Africa.
My father, the cantankerous Papa Afam, named the healthy one Zeus and the runt, Plato. After this he looked at me and smirked. I understood his decree. They’d be his in name, but mine in duty.
When Mental illness descends there are only two possible responses: fight or die. The death can be quick; a quick dive off third mainland bridge. Or it can be slow; an endless stream of bad decisions inspired by insanity.
The first week with the dogs was rough. At the time it seemed like we’d imported violent contagious diarrhea from Africa’s ass. Zeus would explode like a hose: a brown soup all over me, all over the toilet, all over Plato. Then, Plato would erupt like a volcano, but where there should have been ash and lava, there was only watery faeces. Then the plague crossed species. Me: drinking and clubbing, but likely to shart to the beat without warning.
Their illness was severe that it changed the nature of my anxiety. I stopped thinking about myself or the rut I’d sunk into. There was no room left for self pity and inaction. Faced with the death of my boys, I sprung into action. I called the vet. He was useless. The diarrhea was spiritual.
“My boys are going to die.” The thought of that killed me. I’d lost enough. I wouldn’t lose them too. The stress of the situation only served as fuel for my anxiety. My hands shook. I stopped eating. The Mental illness had turned physical.
I didn’t want to go to therapy. My mother, Mama Afam dragged me there. I left with a prescription for a Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor. My therapist, was adamant about anti-psychotics, but I refused.
“I’m crazy, I’ll admit, but who brings a bazooka to a fist fight?” I said.
I was an idiot.
When you’re going through a mental health crisis, there’s no one cure. Every good thing becomes your medicine. Swimming, honest conversations, social exclusion, meditation, medication, religion and the pruning of the people I called friends were the foundation of my rehabilitation.
I have moods. I have always had moods. Most of the time I’m a cloudy sea of melancholy and apathy, but the silver lining; it is sweeter than ecstasy. I do not simply wake up. I fling myself out of bed with a yearning for adventure and a lust for life and success. The right gestures, the perfect words, all at my fingertips. I am the loveliest creation in the history of creation.
And then it fades... leaving behind the memory of the day, or the two days, or the week that I was perfect. This is the only version of me that I call myself. Everything else is a shadow.
I do not know what made me decide that only this version of me was deserving of love and life, and that every other version was punishable by death, but that’s what happened. I don’t want to die, or feel like I should die, so I do my best to perform him at all times and I punish myself for every failure.
The mania is the source of my anxiety. I am a difficult act to follow. I start to wonder if I walked when I was supposed to strut or if I was nice enough, but not quite dazzling. Every little action is judged and found wanting. My internal world becomes a mountain of pressure.
It would have been tortuous - I think, if I didn’t have the dogs. They pine for me, they search for me, they wait for me, are there for me. They anchored me to my recovery and they tether me to the truths of my existence. I am loved, I am needed, I am enough. I am deserving of oxygen. I have a right to be here.
This morning, we were in my room, chilling like a pack of wolves, a happy trio. I looked away for a moment. There was an email that needed an enthusiastic response. Zeus, the best boy in the history of boys, asleep on my bed. Plato, my prodigal, chewing through my wireless headphones, pausing only to meet my alarmed gaze.
He gulped them down when I got up to scold him. My anger was quick and vicious. I felt myself losing control, but I stopped. Love is love and he is love and I love him. Love does not assault. It does not take advantage of guaranteed affection to abuse.
I want to do whatever they want to do. A dog that’s needlessly destructive needs attention, instant gratification and stimulation.
It was time to leave. We were going for a walk.
What worked for me, may not work for you. Everyone is different. Wherever you are in the world, I recommend www.samaritans.org. I’ve sent them many an email and have never had a bad experience. @MentallyawareNG on twitter also does great work.
If you have any questions, or need someone to listen without passing judgement, I suppose you could drop me an email: email@example.com. I’m not a therapist. I cannot be the pillar of your recovery. But, I have survived all of my worst days and that counts for something.