• Expert By Experience

Pets & Mental Health, A Love Story : My Fair Lady

Written by Fiza Pirani

I came upon My Fair Lady, then a 5-week-old 4-pound ball of white fluff speckled with manic fleas, at the park after a boozy brunch with friends in midtown Atlanta. Her so-called owners spoke as if unbothered when I asked about her health, about the well-being of the other eight or so cotton-ball siblings in the box.

It was the fall of 2016, a season many nonwhite Americans like myself may have bookmarked as a reality check of sorts, a stinging, lingering reflection of our nation's ugliness, an ugliness that seeped into my own brain-storm brewing within.

I'd been living with depression for as long as I can remember and found it increasingly difficult around this time to imagine living in a world where I'd grow to be much older. I was 25.

The word for this kind of floating, groundless and often unwanted existence I was barely breathing in, I would later learn, could be medically diagnosed as suicidal ideation.

People with depression like mine often don't know why they cry, why they can't stop. The tears burn my cheeks, the sobs are frighteningly quiet, and the hangover headaches often debilitating.

After bringing Lady home to my studio apartment in October 2016, the cries continued, but they seemed to be cut short, made infrequent. My tears were still warm, but rarely scalding. A soft, wispy-headed creature nuzzled her miniature self between my neck and right shoulder, and the headaches seemed to dissolve, at least for a moment, replaced with a smile. If you haven't smiled in a while, the act of involuntarily curling the lips upward can feel so unnatural, almost suspicious.

Lady forced me outdoors even after my limbs dragged me to bed long before sunset. She knew after observing my every sluggish movement during her first few months in this new boxed home that it would take some work to will me out from under the covers, to encourage me to play human for a few minutes of unbearable small talk among well-meaning neighbors as she relieved herself. So she would sit on the carpet facing me as my disheveled head melted into my flattening pillow. She would sit and stare, give a silent coo if my eyes shut for a moment. She would wait and wait and wait and I would give in at the sound of a third coo.

When Lady heard the crunch of a leaf-pile or tasted snow flurries for the first time, her tail wagged in rings. She loved it all so much, the crispness of a breeze, the boisterous clap-sounds of a thundering orchestra, the splash of creek water on her pink paws amid scorching heat.

She taught me how to go beyond the four walls and find joy under the sunlight or within the moon's shadow. Lady taught me to love the Earth I forgot I belonged to at a time in my life I felt I belonged nowhere, at least not within the political boundaries painted on the latest map.

Every walk, every hike, every minute spent with her under the sky since she became mine three years ago, Lady has reminded me just how much there is to get out of bed for.