Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Protection in the Hearts of Animals

At the risk of making this blog sound like a support group, my name is Anita and I struggle with anxiety, depression, and emotional unavailability that stems from my being an empath.

What does this have to do with the pets?  Well, above anything else they are my sanity.  As much as I like people, the combination of anxiety, being a severe introvert, and having empath abilities means that people in general drain me.  I  have social anxiety so large groups of people, strangers, and extremely social people trigger me.  As an introvert, I need a certain amount of time alone to recharge and regain my footing.  This means that not only do I need to be alone physically, I also need to be away from the phone, the computer, and any other social outlet where people might be able to reach me.  As an empath, I absorb and read the emotions of others, meaning that not only do I sense what people around me are feeling, I soak those emotions up like a sponge and mirror them back until I'm not sure if what I'm feeling is authentic me or just someone else's emotions.

Being around people is exhausting.  Animals on the other hand deflect these issues.  Other than small issues like kicking litter everywhere, peeing on the floor, screaming at the top of their lungs for food, and trying to trip me on the stairs, my pets do not engender feelings of anxiety.  In fact they help soothe them.  Walking Tess is possibly the best therapy when it comes to bringing me down from the ledge of an anxiety attack.  Walking is good exercise anyway, and if I turn off my phone and refuse my text messages, I get at least an hour of complete solitude with just my dog.  Animals are also good for introverts.  Just because introverts need solitude to recharge from too much social interaction doesn't mean we are hermits.  We like people and we don't like to feel lonely any more than the next person.  Animals are good buffers.  I am never alone with my brood - not even in the bathroom, as all four of them will stalk in while I'm in the middle of my business - and yet they do not drain my energy.  Some of the best times are lying in my bed with a book, three cats sacked out on the bed, and a dog on the floor.

Animals themselves are empathic which is why one of the key signs of being an empath is an affinity with animals, almost as if one draws animals like a magnet.  My aunt is like this.  She's that person who walks down the street and animals will just start following her.  I'm not quite that in tune with the animal spirits (well, maybe with spiders). but they will gravitate towards me, particularly during large parties where I don't really know anyone.  At these same parties, I gravitate towards the animals as well.  If there are no animals, I will gravitate towards the children, particularly babies.  Animals take on the emotions of their owners and mirror them back.  They have a sixth sense for feelings, and high emotions tend to make them anxious.  I relate to that.  Instead of absorbing their emotions like I do with people, I find myself relaxed and calm around animals.  There is no need to bottle one's emotions around animals - they don't judge, they love right back, and they don't walk away when one tells them they mean the world to them.  Unfortunately, animals also make it easier for me to hide emotions from other people.  My feelings are safe with my pets.  I can't say the same with people, and that is a big reason why I bottle and have become emotionally unavailable.

Because of all this I've put myself in therapy to try to learn to deal with my emotions, break down my unavailability, and reign in the anxiety.  Let's be honest - my anxiety drives my pets right up a wall.  As empaths themselves, when I feel anxious, out of control, and slightly crazy they feed right off that and start to act anxious, out of control, and crazy themselves.  Percy has been tearing through the house.  Tess paces and follows me to the point where I have actually tripped over her and down the stairs twice now.  If I didn't know better I'd think she was secretly trying to murder me for making her feel anxious.  Puckett keeps hacking up furballs on the carpet and Willow is more spazzy than usual, and that's saying something.  She's gotten clingier, needier, and can't seem to get her butt into the litter box.

Therapy has helped and I've decided to put my twelve steps into motion and see where it gets me.  The steps include learning to let go of control (what? you want me to let go and let God and TRUST?? Are you insane???), forgiving those who have wronged me, and making amends with those I have wronged.  Basically I am to unload my feelings on these poor, unsuspecting souls.

So I did.  I may be terrified of heights, rattlers, loneliness, and the sight of my ex, the drug dealing felon, but what terrifies me the most, above anything else, is telling people how I feel, authentically, and with no holds barred.  That's some scary shit.  It's easier to just pretend everything is fine.  I put my steps to the test by engaging in an emotionally-charged conversation last week with someone whose apology was long overdue.  This included admitting how badly I treated him and telling him my feelings. On the one hand I got exactly what I wanted since the situation has been haunting me and I've been wanting to set the record straight.  On the other hand, show my vulnerability?  Oh, HELL no.  To me that always felt on par with opening the door to my heart and saying "Here, come on in.  Help yourself to the laptop, the silver, the Smart TV and the expensive bottles of wine.  If you don't, well then hey, I'm just lucky for trusting you!"

Let go and let God, right?

This is why telling my dog how much I love her is so much safer.  I hug my dog, I love on her, I tell her how much life would suck if she wasn't a part of it.  She rolls over and demands a belly rub.  Then she wants a doggy pop.  There is no risk.  The dog is a sure thing.  People are not.  One always runs the risk of having one's heart ground into the dirt with a boot heel.  Paws don't do that.  One's heart is protected between paws.

After my "Big Conversation," I had an anxiety attack and freaked out all weekend.  The conversation didn't even go badly - in fact, given the circumstances it went quite well. I may have absorbed some of his feelings as well, so I was twice the wreck.  Being completely vulnerable and emotionally available put me in a panicked tailspin that kind of derailed the whole weekend.  The last time I did that - incidentally when I told the drug dealing felon three years ago to drop his current relic and come back to me where he belonged - it blew up in my face and I spent the rest of the evening huddled against the wall with my fingers in my mouth.  The door has been shut and bolted ever since.  Until now. 

Now, thanks to therapy and my being sick to death of living like an emotionally constipated zombie, I'm unloading feelings and fuzziness all over the damn place. I'm in a perpetual state of feeling too much and wearing it all over my sleeves. This is supposed to make me feel better and make me more available to people so they will find me more pleasant to be around.  Being open with one's feelings is supposed to show trust, respect, and vulnerability to other parties so that they know that person is honest and authentic. According to renowned psychotherapist, Sean Stephenson, vulnerability and authenticity are the foundation of building connections, and who doesn't want to make connections?

(I'm going to plug Sean's book here for a moment:  Get Off Your "But": How to End Self-Sabotage and Stand Up for Yourself.)

I get to wait and see now what the consequences are of my opening the floodgates.  At any rate, however it goes, rejection or acceptance, I think I'm glad I did it.  It felt good to finally be honest about my feelings.  Whatever else happens, at least now he knows.  Let's see, who else can I unload on?

That's the problem with uncorking it.  Once the feelings pour out, they are impossible to stop, sort of like an eruption of champagne.  This must be why my pets are so openly affectionate with everyone that happens by.  Bottling doesn't feel good and eventually one explodes in a nuclear meltdown. I have to face it; bottling feelings, not trusting anyone, constantly second-guessing, and obsessing over who is going to hurt me next are exhausting ways to live.  I'm tired of being so neurotic.  It's time for a change.

Percy has no problem being emotionally available.

Puckett just shows off her vulnerability (and underbelly).

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