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Anxiety and animals

By Staf Newsletter  |  Posted: October 18, 2012

  • Tinkerbell the bunny entertaining a commuter

Comments (1)

Recently, I've been quite poorly, that's why posts are a little less regular. With me becoming more poorly, my anxiety flares up and my agorophobia rears its ugly head, so in the space of a month, I had only left the house twice. The idea of going out was frankly, petrifying  and I will write more on agorophobia at a later date.

Despite how I felt, on October 2nd, I braved it and attended 'Commuter Calm' at Stafford Railway Station. I had already planned on going with the intent of being able to write about it, so armed with camera and notebook at the ready, I went in to meet Dale and his animals. Well, not before nipping to the loo and staring at myself in the mirror, giving myself some positive affirmations, taming my wet hair a little (I got caught in the rain) and trying to pull myself together.

I went back into the station, determined but still very nervous, and stood around a little and listened as Dale excitedly told commuters about his skunk, Stoosh, one of the most popular critters. You could tell when a train came in by the people rushing through, oblivious to everything else untill they slowed, saw something was going on and their grump turned to grins. This was my first indication that my afternoon was about to get both interesting and amusing. But nothing prepared me for MY reaction.

As commuters left, I met with Dale and introduced myself, he was really polite and quite bubbly, very enthusiastic about the animals that he brought with him. As I have anxiety and am a recovering agorophobic which has taken a bad turn recently, coming out was a super big deal and instantly I knew it was worth it and my mind started to settle. I didn't intend on staying the entire duration, but I did! I was enjoying myself too much!

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I listened and took notes as Dale gushed about the critters and learned a lot of new things. He dispelled many misconceptions. I love learning new things, so I was really excited. I was feeling good while I scribbled down what he said and was getting very excited about him bringing Stoosh back out. I was very nervous about my first skunk encounter. Dale helped ease my worry that I'd be sprayed, I was still kind of nervous but I was more overwhelmed by how cute she was!

I petted and stroked Stoosh, quite surprised about how soft she was. Anxiety? What anxiety? I'd forgotten all about it. I started to get lost in my own little world! I nervously gave it a go and held Stoosh. You hold her like a baby. So soft, warm and cuddly, I could feel her heartbeat against one of my hands... but I started to panic a little, not because of Stoosh as such but because I sort of felt she was fragile with feeling her heart beating. It kind of threw me off when I thought I could probably cuddle the thing to death!

Not that I would but she was just so adorable and I felt myself start to melt, but I was scared I would hurt her and I know a lot of people would be out for me if I did! Irrational of course, but I felt like a kid in a store full of glass antiques and vases. My mind kept thinking I'd break something, or rather, someone? Well this animal, that's irreplacable.

I have a fear of hurting people or animals on a really silly level. I babble when I meet people with desperation that they will like me, to the point where I'm really self conscious about saying something that would hurt or offend. I felt like this after a minute of holding Stoosh. She wasn't just a 'thing', she's incredibly special and loved and so I made myself panic. I think that's the opposite of what it was supposed to do but I guess that was more because of my discomfort with myself rather than the animal. I handed Stoosh back feeling a little devestated, and sat myself on one of the chairs and went back to scribbling down what Dale was saying and fussing his dog Beanz who was lying next to the chair.

That was an experience I never imagined I would have! It didn't take long until I started to feel better. I told myself I was being silly, felt really bad for feeling how I had felt and realised I could not get over how cute Stoosh is! Beanz gave me a knowing look and rested his head on my lap. I couldn't help but giggle to myself as I felt like he sort of knew... and was... I'm not sure, forgiving me?

I watched as Dale got out a bunny and explained her name was Tinkerbell. By this time, I found a smile was tugging at the corners of my mouth and although starting to feel rather fatigued, I felt content. He put Tinkerbell on a young lady's lap and I went over and stroked her (the rabbit, not the lass!) and found myself just smiling to myself without even realising it. I'd gone from panicking to being happy, a little excited and really content.

I even found myself chatting to this lass with the bunny on her lap. I surprised myself there! I struggle with communicating with people so for me to strike up a conversation with a stranger was a big deal. It wasn't until she left that it had clicked what I had done... and all because of a rabbit? Wow!

Lots more learning happened. Loads of photos were taken. I didn't take as many as I thought I did, but I still took a fair few. Several pages of scribbled notes later and a slight feeling of horror as Connie, the (baby) boa constrictor was brought out and I thought about her choking me. Yep, scary... I was scared, but at the same time, I really wanted to touch her and hold her to see how she felt. I knew really she wouldn't harm me and Dale was very assuring of that fact, so he put Connie around my neck, told me how to hold her. It was kind of unneving, watching her and feeling her wrap around me - yet I was still smiling.

I felt like a child. In fact, I even feel like I look quite young compared to usual on the photos of me taken with her. I was full of awe and wonder! It was weird. I thought "wow, she's quite heavy, it hurts a little" (because I have a rather sore neck with my health conditions) and then Dale told me that she weighs a stone and a half! No wonder! She felt a lot smoother than I was excpecting.

I started to forget my fear of being throttled by this snake around my neck and started to unclench and relax and enjoy this little massage. She started to go behind my back and I felt confused as to what she was doing, but I wasn't worried. I started to wonder why on earth I was so uneasy about it! Eventually he took the snake back and I didn't want her to go! I went back to sitting down while I watched other peoples frowns turn upside down. Which was almost equally satisfying to watch, fascinating too.

Other critters were brought out and fussed over (as much as you can pet a tortoise) and I was fascinated by the texture of a blue-tongued skink but eventually, 7pm came and it was time to pack up. We left, I was in pain - my feet especially and I very much regretted that I had forgotten my cane but I carried on because I was just in such a good mood. I was so proud that I had come out, met strangers, animals and people! The experience had made me feel good and put a smile (from ear to ear!) on my face. 

I was home at last and finally sat down. Instead of feeling exhausted and a wreck, I felt exhausted and elated. I was overwhelmed that I had such a hard day and I got a little emotional and tried really hard not to cry. I was overjoyed and felt quite at peace with myself. I'd managed to do so much. It might not seem much for you, but for an agorophobic, socially awkward, poorly disabled girl like me, it was a huge deal!

Even getting caught in the rain wasn't going to dampen my mood. The effects lasted a few days afterwards and I wish I could have gone when they held it again on the 11th but I was unfortunately, too poorly. I was devastated because it had made me feel so good before, but then I smiled knowing how good it would be for other people to be there. If they felt even half as amazing as I did after I went, it was a job well done.

Written by Elizabeth Fleming of BeneBelle.

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  • dalep68  |  October 18 2012, 8:22PM

    Lizzie - this is an awesome article and shows just how fantastically well pet therapy can work. Thankyou very much for sharing your experience. How anyone can not like you when they meet you I don't know - so stop worrying - the person you are is fantastic. You have a warm smile and a warm heart . . .keep on doing what you do, because you are awesome :)