I’m seeing myself through my dog’s eyes. Sometimes it is just a revelation of the importance of kindness and the unimportance of aesthetics. Sometimes it is profound.
Over the past few weeks I have had a couple of dissociative swings, which leave me hunched and still, silent and inexpressive. My mouth does not break upward for even the cutest face or funniest film.
Mutt has found it hard – much harder than I thought he might. I had lofty ideas that he would nuzzle up to me, tenderly leading me back toward the world. Instead he turned away from me and acted like a spurned child. Miffed and a little accusatory.
While I was stuck behind my darkened glass, watching the world on the other side, I watched my little Mutt.
The sight of his woebegotten slouch in mimicry of my own shot a pang of guilt into me. I realised that he was a Looking-dog, mirroring my horrible illness.
Each time I returned to myself, Muttable sensed the change and shook himself from tail to ears.
He does this regularly. If he is stressed or tense, overly excited or worried, he throws off the mood like it was so many droplets of water. His tail starts wagging and he trots off in search of the next loving hand or exciting adventure.
I wondered whether one of these days he would just give up on me.
So, I vowed to look at things a little differently.
I wondered whether I could shake my mood off – or whether I could get through the Looking-dog to the other side.
Some of it is beyond my control. My face looks stuck and cold because my heart is frozen in a paroxysm of fear – fear about the world, its leaders, its germs and geology, my family, the air, the plants and trees. It is endless and I wish in those times that I could press a button and disappear into the void.
But I can still move my arms and legs. It’s harder than usual – everything feels like varying densities of treacle pushing against me – but I’m not entirely without motion.
No matter how small the spark, I believe that we always have a pilot light of free will within us. Sometimes when the world is darkest, that’s when we feel it: warm and fluttering and asking to be asked. Like a bouncing loving dog, it wants to love us and to lead us toward ourselves again.
The last time I felt the heavy waves drop around me – my depression following like a tide lapping gently at my skin and bones – I grabbed dog and lead.
We went for a walk. Then we went for another one.
I began to calibrate my mood through my reflection in Muttley. If I saw him looking worried, I gave him a cuddle and a game of tug. If he withdrew from me, I took him for a walk or played fetch in the garden.
I may not have been smiling or talking, but I was connecting. He was my early warning system, and my lighthouse home. And soon – sooner than normal – my face came back, my voice came back, I came back.
I wish I had learned this years ago.