On Smiling Dogs and Life Disruptions

I’m what’s called a “bi–phasic sleeper.” I take a long nap after dinner, then get up and attend to the dogs and cats, scan the news, check out Facebook, and watch a streaming TV show. Then I go back to bed for a couple hours before I get up for the day.

I usually feel OK during that in-between period. My psych meds keep me from being too high or too low, and I’m usually content living a simple life. But last night, I was feeling bad about my life. You know how it goes. I haven’t accomplished enough professionally. I don’t read enough “important” books, and I’m not involved in my community. I have failings as a friend. I spend my TV time watching bad medical dramas (along with some good cable shows), and I didn’t tell my parents how much I really, really liked them before they died.

I was browsing Facebook (usually a bad idea at a time like that; people only show the highlight reels of their lives, and it’s too easy to feel unworthy when the inevitable comparisons bubble up), when I came across a video my sister had posted on my timeline. It featured a goofy-looking yellow mutt who sported a variety of smiles. Different smiles meant different things. His smile had gotten him adopted by a loving human.

It cheered me up to watch it, so I watched it again. Those few moments reminded me of other videos of dogs simply enjoying life, living in the moment and not second-guessing their life choices or their value to the universe. They’re happy enough just existing.

Why can’t I be more like that?, I thought to myself. Of course, I can’t. I have responsibilities. I have to do things I don’t enjoy. I’m a human.

I’m where I am in this life–in part–because mental illness disrupted my life when I was 30. A psychotic episode, and another 12 years later. Mercifully short periods of severe depression caused by medication that suppressed my brain’s dopamine too much, and years of being “OK” mentally, but not overly happy until I found the right med cocktail years ago.

Most of the time, I like my life. I’m married to my best friend. I have work. I have great, lifelong friends. I have a home and two dogs and two cats and always enough food to eat.

So when I go through those periods where I feel like my life could have been better, I eventually come around to remembering that I’m a survivor of mental illness. It’s not really an issue in my life anymore. I take my pills and I see my psych NP every three months. It wasn’t always like that; my illness caused humiliation, confusion, frustration, emotional pain, and some really bad life choices.

I’ll try to remember that smiling dog the next time I go into a brief blue funk. He may have had a rough life before he was adopted, but he’s able to put that behind him and grin at the simple joy of being alive and the possibility of good things on the horizon.

Should I stop watching bad medical dramas and read “deep” books instead? Nah. Should I work on being a better friend? Yes, of course, always. Should I try to get more involved in my community, find ways to give back and just meet new people? Definitely.

I should also–and you should too, especially if you’re battling the symptoms of depression or psychosis or anxiety–remember what a challenge mental illness can be, how it can disrupt your life and change its course. No one but you will ever really know what you’re going through now or have experienced in the past. But do take all of it into account when you’re being hard on yourself, and ease up. You wouldn’t have chosen it, but you can survive it.



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