I want to share a realisation with you, that I had last weekend. And it involves my little puppy. It was a bit of a mental revelation really, that left me inspired, a little bit less fearless and connected with the curious child inside of me – the bit that stays in us as an adult but we gradually ignore. The part that isn’t taunted by any mental health difficulty. Something that relates both to eating disorder recovery, recovery from mental health in general, and just life really.
So I was in the park, walking Hagrid (my little Goldendoodle puppy for anyone that doesn’t know) and for a while I’ve had this yearning, this craving that I just didn’t trust. I really wanted to start letting him off the lead so he can expand his adventures, but I had 3 major doubts crossing off the idea:
- He won’t come back to me which means he’ll probably get run over or lost.
- Other dogs can’t be trusted – they will attack him, he could get injured or even die.
- I’d embarrass myself if other people get annoyed with him approaching them, especially if they’re not dog people.
It also, I suppose didn’t help that we never let our last dog, growing up, off the lead. Maybe as a family we were all too overprotective. But after having our first puppy training that morning of the park scenario, the first thing we were told was to let our dogs off their leads to play. I was scared then, asking for reassurance if it would be okay seeing as he never had been before, and he dealt with it well aside from being overwhelmed by the other energetic big dogs chasing him at times. This lead to him tucking his tail right under his bum like a comma, and crying as he brushed the fence.
He was also like the shy kid at nursery, hiding behind my legs after jumping straight out of the sandpit I had to lift him in to socialise with the other pups. And when we had to stand in a circle, we had to recall our dogs back to us by their names, one at a time. As all the other dogs ran around in chaos, Hagrid was chilling right by my feet. I had to keep running away from him so I could do the exercise, and he just followed like a toddler scared to play with the other kids. Amongst this, there was the odd hump from this little beige dog.
Letting him off in the park, was another bigger issue really. Being in a safe, protected, fenced off field is much different to being in a public place, full of other dogs, a range of people, and plenty of hazards, as well as being next to an open road.
But the first walk I took him after that lesson? I had a major ‘fuck it’ moment. Before taking action, or stepping towards any ambition you have, it doesn’t start with fully trusting yourself. If you wait until you have full trust, you’ll never get anywhere. Because there’s no guarantee for anything in life – the good bits or the bad bits. So I disconnected his lead and crossed my fingers and held my breath, as we strolled (and jogged together at times) round the park. Past other dogs… he’d have a curios sniff, a pounce, bending his front legs and his head towards the floor, persuading the other dog to play with him. Other dogs he’d back away from, intimidated by their height or their bark. He had an excitable jump up at any human in possible sight as we passed. And you know what? I proved my nervous, negative thought wrong. People weren’t annoyed by the greeting of a pup, most of them lit up and commented on how lovely he was, making conversation about his breed and their dog too.
As a bigger built, or rougher looking dog walked past, or even if their owner looked that way (yes this was an automatic stereotypical assumption) I felt a red, noisy siren go off in my head, as to how safe Hagrid would be. And what a surprise again! They had a sniff, and sometimes the other dog wouldn’t be phased by Hagrid… they’d have a moment and then they would go their separate ways. Every encounter in the park that felt risky, also felt exciting.
Being able to walk at a steady pace, without pulling him if he stopped was so invigorating. At first, I was apprehensive and then walking a bit further off from where he may be stopping or having a sniff, I’d call his name in a silent panic. But a week on, I’ve tested the waters a little further by walking on and not turning around, awaiting and hoping his arrival back at my feet. And it works!
I can’t tell you how much more freeing it is, both for Hagrid and I to take our walks off-lead now. I haven’t stopped since that day last week. With anxiety, comes anticipation… and if you channel that anticipation in the right way and decide to act opposite to the behaviour you are naturally craving for a level of safety, with that will also come excitement. Moments of which, gathered up, lead to that comfy little word, ‘happiness’. I now can’t imagine going for a walk through the park without letting Hagrid off his lead and sniffing the rainbow of smells instead of the few close by.
It made me realise that we all have a puppy inside of us. You can choose to keep it on the lead for as long as you like, staying safe, reducing the adventure, reducing the grounds of which you explore… or you can choose to grin and bare the anxiety which allows you to open up so many more opportunities. By doing this, you learn to trust yourself a bit more. By not waiting until you have full reassurance or trust by doing that new or uncertain thing, you become more resilient, more fearless… which in the end will lead to a fuller quality of life.
Go on, let him off. Be free.