Health

Don’t Impulse-Buy Anything with a Heartbeat: Advice from So Sad Today

So Sad Today reaches into her mail bag and answers questions from readers on emotional support dogs and treating friends like friends, not doctors.

by So Sad Today
Mar 2 2017, 5:00am

Illustrations by Joel Benjamin

Dear So Sad Today,

I felt incredibly miserable this week and was a real life suck. It didn't feel within my control. I have clinical depression, but still I have to think… Maybe it's up to us to choose. Maybe we can choose to believe/decide we are, and will be, okay, that we are and always will be enough for ourselves. Do you think this is possible?

Sincerely,
who knows?

Dear who knows?,

I think it is a choice and it isn't a choice. Like, I think it's too reductive when people say "happiness is a choice." Anyone who has ever struggled with mental illness knows that it is often far beyond a choice—especially when chemical components are going haywire. And yet, at the same time, I've found that acceptance of where I am in my illness is somewhat of a choice—and can be helpful. 

The more I judge myself for where I am emotionally and psychologically, the worse I feel. But, when I accept where I am and stop layering more fear and judgment on top of it, I find some relief in that. 

The thing that helps me the most is to see my mental illness like a chronic physical illness. Sometimes I'm sicker and sometimes I'm more healthy: it ebbs and flows. This view helps me be less scared of what's going on inside me, or the notion that it's going to "consume me forever" (one of my biggest fears that has yet to come true). 

Wishing you luck on your journey.

xo,
sst

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Dear So Sad Today,

I've been taking Zoloft for a few days and it doesn't seem to be doing anything except making me more anxious. One of my friends has panic disorder, like me, and she said that Zoloft did the same thing to her, and then she switched to Wellbutrin and it made a world of difference. I'm wondering if you have any experience with these medications and if you think I should try to switch, because I'm really scared to be on something that's not working, and maybe even making me worse and wasting time.

Best,
Medicated

Dear Medicated,

I'm not a doctor and it doesn't sound like your friend is a doctor. What's more, I'm not a big fan of treating my friends like doctors. Everyone's chemistry is different. What works for your friend may not work for you, and what works for you may not work for me: even if we technically all have the same diagnosis. Also, in my experience, a few days is not enough time to know whether a psych med is working.

I know how scary the process of finding the right medication can be. But in my own experiences with changing medications, inviting people who aren't doctors to play doctor (or taking their medical advice unsolicited) really only added to my confusion, panic, and false belief that I was doing everything wrong. One acquaintance even said to me that I shouldn't be on meds at all, but just "green juicing it." That was when I finally stopped treating people who aren't doctors like doctors. I was like, bitch, would you tell a diabetic she should just 'green juice it' and not take her insulin? So my advice, based on experience, is not to treat your friends like doctors.

Having said that, it is a good idea to treat your friends like friends: people who can offer support while you are finding the right medication. There are side effects I've experienced, which my doctors never warned me about, but my friends were able to explain to me based on their own experiences. Still, it really is a fine line. Let your friends help you; but if one of them starts acting more like a doctor than a friend, put them back in the friend zone and call your doctor.

And as for your doctor, I recommend working with a psychiatrist who can take 20-30 minutes to talk with you per appointment. I've had psychiatrists who only wanted to take five minutes and then prescribe to me, which did not work. My psychiatrist isn't my therapist (I have one of those too) but in a realm as intimate as mental health, I need to feel like I am being heard. It's not always easy to find a "listening" psychiatrist who takes insurance, but they do exist. I've found three of them in various cities (all women)...you might just need to talk to a few of them until you find the right one. 

xo,
sst

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Dear So Sad Today,

I know you have PICKLE who is your emotional support dog. I want to get an emotional support animal (a puppy!) but I don't know if I'm ready to take care of a dog full-time. I'm a college student, and also I work retail a few days a week. I actually think that I could bring the dog to class, which is why I want him (I get panic attacks in class) but I couldn't bring him to work. I feel torn. But I really think this would help me sooooo much. What should I do?!!!

Thanks!!
Dog probz

Dear Dog probz,

My suggestion, when it comes to bringing a living thing into your life, is never impulse-buy anything with a heartbeat. Actually, never buy an animal at all. Adopt! But don't impulse-adopt anything with a heartbeat, either.

When I was 22, I was lonely and drunk and living in San Francisco where I barely knew anyone. One day (while day drunk) I impulse-adopted a cat from the SPCA. They had told me the cat wasn't socialized, but I didn't really know what that meant. I was just like: great! We'll be introverts together. Let's just say that a few months later, I returned the cat to the SPCA in no less-traumatized of a condition than I had adopted it. To this day, I'm still making amends to that cat by donating money to the San Francisco SPCA (and being a sober animal owner). It is my hope that this cat eventually found a better home than mine: particularly with someone who knows how to prevent an unsocialized cat from living full time in the hole in their sofa.

All that being said, I don't think that anyone who wants animal companionship should have to go without. So I have three options for you:

The first is foster. Foster foster foster! I cannot recommend this highly enough. You'll be doing an awesome deed for a rescue organization by relieving them of the burden of their need for space, and allowing them to rescue another dog. What's more, you're giving yourself a chance to see if you are ready for a dog without fully committing to one. You'll get to meet a variety of different dogs and see which type is the best fit for you (if at all). Pickle was a foster, but I fell in love and had to adopt him. But this was after we'd known each other for three months!

To clarify, Pickle isn't really an emotional support dog, Pickle needs an emotional support dog. Pickle has anxiety issues, fear of children, and no desire to interact with other dogs (which means it's true what they say: we do find the dog who is like us), as well as abandonment issues. You know how they say that some dogs can intuit when their owner is sad and comfort them? Not Pickle! Taking care of this mutt is my life's greatest joy—a welcome supply of warmth in the wake of depression, anxiety, or just a generally cynical worldview—but I would not have been ready to do so at an earlier time in my life. 

My second suggestion is simply OPP: other people's pets. Let your friends who have pets know that you are open and into the idea of pet sitting. A lot of "animal parents" need a day off. 

And thirdly, something I've done, which I found was really amazing for my mental health, was to volunteer at a dog rescue (the rescue where I ended up fostering and adopting Pickle). Volunteering helped me get through some difficult periods of anxiety where I felt nervous about interacting with others, because it provided a confined amount of time (three hours) and a specific subject to talk about (dogs). Also, it was good for my self-esteem, as all esteemable acts are.

xo,
so sad today

If you are concerned about your mental health or that of someone you know, visit the Mental Health America website.

Buy So Sad Today: Personal Essays on Amazon, and follow her on Twitter.