Ah, it has been awhile since my last tip. This tip may not work for everyone, but it is a personal favorite of mine. On with the tip.
#8 :) You should never underestimate the good things that will come from having a pet in your life. I wanted to say that everyone with a mental illness should consider getting some kind of pet, but I know it is really out of the realm of possibility for some people. I know it may seem odd to suggest that people who sometimes can’t take care of themselves get pets, but I’ll tell you why I think it is a good idea.
First of all, people with mental illness are notorious for being loners and having to deal with a lot of isolation. This isn’t good for anyone, but especially bad for people with mental illness. Having a pet of some kind can give a person some kind of contact with a being outside of themselves. Pets also provide you with comfort and unconditional love for the most part. If you are lonely and depressed having a little bundle of something there to keep you company may mean the difference between life and death.
Part of having a pet is taking care of them. Making sure they have food and water and a place to play and go to the bathroom. You have to pay attention to them. I think it is good for people with mental illness to have something that they need to do—something that isn’t too hard, but something to keep them going. The only problem comes in if someone is too deteriorated to take care of their pet and themselves. In those situations a pet can be an overwhelming burden and its life may be in danger if the person simply cannot look after the animal. If someone is that bad off though, they probably can’t look after themselves either and they should probably be in the hospital. So, while I am saying all of the good points about having a pet, everyone should remember that taking on a pet is a big responsibility and the positives and negatives should be weighed with due diligence. The last thing anyone wants is for someone to end up with 50 wild cats in a house defecating everywhere and going mad all over. This is just plain bad and wrong for everyone and every animal involved. So, really make the choice to get an animal carefully. If you cannot handle taking care of a pet, opt for a stuffed animal instead.
Okay, but let me continue now with the benefits of having a pet. So, I did say that they provide much needed companionship and unconditional love. They also give the person something to do outside of themselves. And, they can be a social magnet! If you happen to choose getting a dog, and you have to take the dog for walks, people will inevitably come up to you and talk to you about your dog on your walk (unless you live in a really unfriendly place)! You can also join dog park groups or talk online with people about your pets, sharing photos or going out to lunch, etc. People who love their animals love to talk about loving their animals! So, having a pet is a great way to get connected with other people.
Another good reason to get a pet is that they can often times help with anxiety and other feelings that trouble people. I think there is actually scientific evidence out there that I’ve seen or heard about that shows that holding a pet or being in contact with a pet can prolong your life and at least can calm YOU down and relieve some anxiety. I know that I love coming home and having my cat run up to greet me as he meows a little hello and walks with me to the front door. And cuddling with my cats surely improves my day and helps me relax. Having my cat sleep on my legs or cuddle under my arms is one of the best ways that I can think to spend an afternoon!
If you have never had a pet before, first consider it carefully, read about it, and consider what kind of pet you can have in the place where you live and what kind of pet you would like to have. Some people can even get service pets (usually dogs) for psychiatric reasons, so they can take them wherever they need to go. Maybe if you have never had a pet before you might start out with something simple, like a fish or two. Now, fish are not as cuddly and cute as cats or dogs, but it isn’t going to be the end of the world if it dies either. Fish are notorious for having short lives anyway, so if you are bad at taking care of animals, you can learn this easily from owning a fish. I’m not saying you should TRY to kill your fish. I’m just saying…well, they are easy to flush down the toilet. And, having fish can also be a great hobby. Maybe you like fish and you begin to collect all sorts of interesting and rare fish and eventually you wind up with a 200 gallon tank! You never know.
Other animals that might interest people are reptiles, like turtles or iguanas or lizards. Maybe a hamster or guinea pig is more to your liking. There are tons of different animals to choose from and it can be really exciting to get a new pet. Just make sure you have read about it and know what you are getting into. Make sure the pet will be suitable to the environment and building where you live. You don’t want to be unfair to the animal by putting it in a small, confined place when it needs a place to really run a lot or something. I mean, you can’t put a horse in your studio apartment no matter how much you might want one, but maybe you could volunteer at a place where they keep horses and you could sort of “adopt” one that way. Just be careful and know about what the life expectancy is for your animal and make sure you have the mental and physical resources for it.
I make it sound like it is a HUGE deal and on some levels it is, but on other levels it is really simple. Unless your pet has been previously abused, you can look forward to your animal loving you to bits. They will probably bother you for attention when you are busy and they will throw up on your most expensive rugs, but it really is worth it when you get the love back from this cute little creature.
So, if you like animals and have checked everything out and are ready to make a home for another creature, I say go for it! For me having pets throughout my life—dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, fish—has been so incredibly meaningful. You learn to respect other non-humans and you learn that yes, you can love an animal even though you can’t speak with it like you can a human. Animals give you love and affection and they ask for so little in return. And really, the world seems so much more full of possibilities when you have a nice friend in a pet.