Chasing Away the Cloud

Tears streamed down my face, spilling onto my fuzzy purple bathrobe. These weren’t tears from a heartbreak or physical injury. They were a mystery.

My parents exchanged worried looks as they tried to ease an answer out of me. I remember five years ago in January, it felt like my head was in a fog. I was terrified, but none of us could figure out why.

When you are in a dream, everything is out of your control. That was how I constantly felt for months. I kept explaining my symptoms to my parents, friends and doctors. This was how my body reacted to anxiety and depression.

I was only 13 when that happened. It was a shock that came out of nowhere. After all, my parents had always been amazing and like most parents, put me before themselves.

My brother and I spent our childhood playing outside with the neighbors and sitting around the dining room table doing homework. Every Friday night, we would collapse around the TV and watch a movie.

When my worst episode hit, it felt as if my mind shut off. I couldn’t focus or even think about the future. All my emotions, except fear had washed away. I had no idea why I was crying and scared. I felt out of control, like I was in a car destined to crash. With no desire to move, talk or eat, I spent days staring idly at the TV.

Growing up, I had participated in a lot of different hobbies. I had started ballet and dreamed of performing in sparkly dresses and pointy shoes. But soon I began dreading that, too. Exasperated with my fears, my dance teachers told me to quit. My dreams of being a ballerina were finished, but I felt relief.

Later, I attended a horse camp. It was new and exciting, so I began lessons. But it started feeling like ballet all over again. I would lie to my parents, telling them I had too much homework to go. I pretended to be sick, anything to evade the fear of going. They made the decision that I had to stick with riding.

My mental health declined. I saw a therapist. I tried pill after pill in the hope of dampening my symptoms. One helped me feel more in control but that was not what turned things around. Depression makes you want to push people away and I enjoyed being alone. The only time I wanted to talk was to my pets at home.

We live on a rural farm in Gresham, nearly five acres covered with Asian pear trees. We have many different kinds of animals – fish, frogs, a dog, cats, a horse and more on the way.

Most people look forward to seeing their friends or family after school. When I get home, the first thing I do is greet my pets. What I wasn’t getting from my friends I got from horses. My friends let me take a backseat in conversations they have. But when I get on a horse, it’s like stepping into the driver’s seat.

There’s Dakota, my dog, who before I can push open the front door already has his nose shoved in the opening. His tail wags so hard it smacks against the wall as he circles me. Whether we leave the house for five minutes or five hours, he always greets me as if he hasn’t seen me in years.

Blaze the cat walks over with his massive fluffy tail straight up in the air. He gives Dakota an affectionate rub and lick on the chin, then comes to me for attention.

At night, my older cat, Mitzy, leaps onto my bed and makes her way onto my chest to be petted. I cringe as her strong fish breath hits me as she licks my face.

My pets cannot talk or understand the depths of my depression, but their familiar presence is enough to calm the anxiety that swirls in my head.

Things are very different today. Even on my worst days, there is nothing time with my animals can’t fix. Every time I get home, I trudge out to the pasture, giddy with excitement. My horse, Bitty, trots up to the fence and I greet her by scratching her forehead.

When Bitty hears the clatter of her grain, she clops into her stall and a deep whinny erupts from her. She is so predictable, but I laugh at how excited food gets her.

I still have to go to school, so every morning I yank myself out of bed and drive off. Nothing happy waits for me at Grant, but it is a checkpoint I have to pass as part of my daily routine until I make it home to the animals. My parents don’t ask how school is because they know I will answer with a dull “OK.”  I don’t cram in time with friends on the weekends or go to parties. That’s not me.

I will graduate high school, head to college and at some point settle into a job I love. But I also know these huge changes won’t come easily. Without my pets nearby, I’ll lose a support system. I hope I can bring Bitty with me because she is as much a necessity to me as I am to her.

There are days where nothing can improve my mood. When I’m stressed, my mind spins until I can’t get anything done. But then I look at the clock. It’s 7 p.m. I breathe a sigh of relief, swing my fuzzy purple robe onto my shoulders and walk out to get my nightly dose of sunshine – a night-time chat with Bitty. ♦

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