January Blues, Chronic Illness, and Isolation Are Tempered by Pets

January Blues, Chronic Illness, and Isolation Are Tempered by Pets

In an interview with CBS last November, actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson’s disease, said, “… [Y]our instinct when you have a chronic illness is, sometimes, to isolate and make your world as small as possible so you don’t have as much to deal with. But a dog will open you up.”

Isolation, how I know thee. I currently find myself more detached than ever. The ongoing pandemic means there is little to zero socializing. I am also single and heartbroken. Yes, I know — still. Move along, nothing to see, just a fully grown woman wiping her tears with the sleeves of the leopard print coats she now wears indoors.

With my mood at an all-time low and my energy levels depleted, I’ve placed myself in “recovery mode.” I am making my health a priority, embracing the quiet of this time of the year. But, reader, it is not easy.

All I want to do is eat chocolate, live in my pajamas, and ugly cry until March. This is why Michael J. Fox’s words are a key reminder: A living creature will force us to reconnect with what’s around us. And this can be lifesaving.

Sharing our space with an animal requires relating to something outside of ourselves.

In my case, it forces me to exit my recurrent negative thoughts. I can’t overthink much when there is a dog sitting on my chest, attempting to telekinetically express his needs via intense staring.

Because dogs require physical exercise outdoors, most days there is a social element I struggle with. On those mornings when I’ve had no coffee and my eyes are still wearing yesterday’s liquid liner, I often hide from others. No, friendly stranger, I don’t want to chat about the weather, and please, have your dog return the ball they stole from us. Thank you.

But even I of severe pelvic pain and grouchy mood must admit that talking to others about the weather has positive effects. Any conversation that ignores the chronic illness inside of me is immensely refreshing. It is an exchange that brings an injection of positivity, which I’ll miss if I blink. Like when my mother told me to drink up the orange juice before it evaporated, I soak up the short chat, feel a tad human, and walk home with my dogs to the safety of my duvet and heating system.

Duvets, cozy blankets, and dachshunds. (Photo by Jessie Madrigal)

Pets and the effects they have on those of us with a chronic illness fascinate me. During the hardest times, the one thing I have been grateful for is my dogs. Even when I hurt too much or the vet bills give me palpitations, I feel blessed to live in a flat in which I find fur on every one of my furnishings.

For so many of us, this pandemic has meant isolating only slightly more than we are used to. And it can be a tad too much.

The bonus with any animal? They are judgment-free.

They take us as we are, expecting so little. This is why, if we can’t have a pet of our own, borrowing a friend’s dog, or joining them for walks, will provide us with that connection with another being who will see us and greet us with no invasive questions. They probably secretly want a treat from us or a scratch behind the ears. But they won’t be asking us about our baby-making plans, or whether we are bloated or pregnant.

Take it from this creature of darkness — my dogs make me better, especially during winter.


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