Anyone who knows me knows I love my dog.
It might be how there’s a photo of him yawning in a tie as the lock screen of my phone. It might be because of the 14 pictures of him decorating my cube at work. Or it might be because whenever I know I’m going to see him soon, I can’t stop talking about how excited I am. (28 days and counting!)
Most people who encounter me now would have trouble believing that I once ran into the street as a little girl, so determined to get away from a dog lying on the street that I almost ran directly in front of a car. They wouldn’t know how I would be anxious when my mom would drive me over to friends’ houses for playdates, in case they didn’t feel like putting their dog in another room. Even if the dog did nothing more than look at me, I would be so scared that I would literally shake.
When I was a teenager, I decided that I needed to change. I thought it would be easy – I would start by petting my cousin’s dog, the first one I would encounter, and then I would start to pet dogs on the street, and then from there I would be fine with them. I remember scooting over in an office chair, keeping my feet off the ground, reaching out to pet the curly black fur, and realizing the dog in question was not going to hurt me.
But then, things started going too fast. My parents were encouraged by my bravery and before I knew it, there was money down in our name on a goldendoodle puppy in Florida.
I got very involved in the process, choosing him from a picture, naming him, and getting excited about how he was going to be my friend at a time when I had few friends. My family took a road trip to pick him up and I even got to hold him first, a little eight-pound pup who snuggled into my arms like he belonged there.
It felt okay on the car ride, but by the time we got home, I was starting to get anxious. Even just seeing him walk around was somehow causing me a great deal of anxiety, even though I knew he was a little dog and mine, to boot. I sat and stared into my plate of spaghetti and watched the puppy walk around my house, knowing that everything was going to change, and definitely not liking it.
In the beginning, I was scared if I didn’t know where he was. I needed to see him if we were in the same room, and I turned my bedroom into a safe zone where the door was shut and no dogs were allowed. I liked the jingle of the metal tags on his collar because I could always hear him coming. My biggest consolation was that he was so incredibly lazy that he usually stayed in one place for a very long time.
A particularly difficult challenge for my OCD was that it took a very long time for him to become housetrained. I would have obsessive thoughts about him needing to go out, and I voiced them enough that my parents stopped listening, even on the rare occasions when he did actually need to go. I was irritable, snapping at everyone, disappointed and angry at how he had changed everything. He had everyone else enchanted, but I saw him as little more than a cute, cuddly nuisance.
Every day, I tried to find ways to push through the anxiety, to get around it, to do anything to stop it from affecting me like that. And after a while, we settled into a routine where he and my mom and dad were incredibly close and I usually just ignored him.
It took me until I left for college to realize that I really did care about him quite a lot, and whenever I came home, the now-70-pound dog became a highlight of my visit. The more time we spent together, the more I wanted to spend time with him. I fell in love with the real dog rather than the cute puppy picture I’d seen online, and we began to develop our own rituals. He doesn’t usually sit in my lap like he does with my mom, but he lets me dress him up in ties and scarves, he squeaks when he yawns around me because he knows that’ll get him a treat, and when we watch TV together, I sit on the floor and he sits on the couch and rests his chin on my shoulder.
Now a senior, my dog is a wonderful friend who I speak to on the phone every night, my mom lifting his ear flap so I can tell him he’s a good boy and he can lick the phone. After his recent bout with anal gland cancer, I sometimes feel a little uncomfortable when I go home, but I’m so excited to see him that I usually don’t even care. And it’s gone beyond him to other dogs – nowadays, I still run across the street when I’m not supposed to, but it’s to greet a dog as a new friend.
Overcoming phobias is a lifelong journey for me. Sometimes, it feels like there’s always something else to conquer, but my journey to beat my first phobia has inspired me to get through so many other things, and I’ve gone through them all with a faithful friend by my side. I now understand why people say dogs are a man’s best friend – by learning how to make friends with my dog, I learned a lot about my strength and what I can do if I set my mind to things. He’s a great listener about all the things I care about, and I’ve even got him trained to eat “second breakfast” just like a hobbit from my beloved Lord of the Rings – and he never rolls his eyes.
It may have taken us a long time to bond, but when I go home in 28 days and see the paws scrabbling on the car window to make it open faster, I wouldn’t be able to imagine a comfortable and happy home any other way.
Ellie, a writer new to the Chicago area, was
diagnosed with OCD at age 3. She hopes to educate others about her
condition and end the stigma against mental illness.