As a newly married American expat living in Edinburgh, I am not unaccustomed to change. So amidst the visa applications and endless job search (it some ways it feels like a lingering cold) and not to mention the adjusting to city life in a foreign country, it is no wonder that I needed to take my mind off of life’s many new transitions and do one of my favourite things: walk dogs.
I first met George on the first day of October at a large open park called the Meadows. He is a very friendly flat coated retriever that the owner explained “is just like me” because you see, George is an American dog. George is also a very special dog. George only has three legs as a result of his fight against leg cancer when he was a much younger dog.
“I don’t think George minds though”, says his owner as we walked along the tree-lined path. George hobbles in front of us.
“He gets extra strokes from people so I don’t think he minds at all that he’s missing a leg.”
I went on my first date with George this past Thursday, and I quickly realised that George was “just like me” more than I thought. Not just because we are both originally from the same country but there was almost something like a mutual understanding between us.
When I first picked up George for our playdate, he was more excited than when I first met him in the park, jumping up and down and doing circles in the foyer of his owner’s flat.
But I was a little nervous to walk him for the first time. I didn’t want to wear him out. And I didn’t want to hurt him. I never looked after a “disabled” dog before.
As we stepped out onto the cobbled road for the first time, that’s when I knew George was a special dog. He didn’t hobble or limp down the street. He raced on ahead of me, often dragging me in tow. He charged up little hills and darted after the occasional bird. George was indeed special, not because he was a three legged dog, but because he didn’t act like one.
That’s’ when it hit me.
George didn’t act like a three legged dog. Who knows if George is consciously aware of his struggle. Either way, it didn’t stop him from doing all the things dogs love to do.
It’s funny how unlikely people or things teach us valuable lessons in life and I believe that my walk with George was one of those instances.
How often do we allow our struggles and our fears to limit us? Because we are afraid of facing our fears and we are tired of navigating through life’s ups and downs, the easiest thing to do is to make excuses. We end up missing out on life’s opportunities and we don’t achieve our goals and dreams. And somehow along the way, we allow for our struggle, the very thing we were afraid of, to identify us.
My attitude towards anxiety was no exception.
There were times when anxiety disorder limited me, mainly because I let it.
I have often acted like my identity was rooted in my struggle with anxiety. I let anxiety define me and determine what I did and didn’t do.
I can’t go to that party, I might have a panic attack and then what will people think of me?
I can’t get that dream job. My anxiety will get the best of me, and I’ll interview poorly.
I can’t go to the doctor. I’m so anxious about walking into a hospital building that it might make things worse.
I can’t tell my friend about my disorder – she might think less of me and stop hanging out with me.
I have thought each one of these discouraging and self-loathing thoughts at some point in my struggle against anxiety disorder, and I know that I am not alone. Over time, I let anxiety become a part of who I was. Anxiety became me.
My walk with George reminded me that my struggle with anxiety is just one little bump in the road, and that I am not defined by it. Anxiety is just one obstacle that I have to overcome little by little. But anxiety is not me.
In George’s case, his physical disability served as an important reminder that our identity is not based on our struggles. Everyone battles against something but the key to overcoming those obstacles is having the right attitude. While this is easier said than done, I do believe that part of the battle is in the mind. And there is nothing more debilitating on the mind than negative self-talk.
George taught me to turn my “I can’t” into an “I will”. But that’s the thing about dogs – I believe that there’s something special about them. They don’t care where you’ve been or what problems you may have. There is no judgement. And no matter what challenges lie ahead, they’re always up for a walk in the park.
Perhaps there’s something to be learned from a simple animal like George. If it’s not learning to overcome our struggles, then perhaps it’s learning to enjoy a good walk in the park – three legs in all.
My name is Rachel and this is Where I Stand.