Oh, the pressure we put on ourselves every day. We have to be good at everything. We have to have everything under control. We have lists to accomplish a mile long. At the end of the day, if we finish half of what we set out to, that is amazing. At least, that is how my days go. And at the end of the day, I am tired. Very tired. Maybe you feel the same, even if your job or responsibilities are different from mine. But two of my responsibilities are in fact the best parts of my life. And yet, pressure I was putting on myself was taking away from the joy they brought to my life.
I am pretty sure that I have enough guilt for the entire state of wherever we are! This week, we are in South Carolina. So yeah. South Carolina? I have all the guilt. You are good. Seriously though, guilt has always been a major part of my thought process. I worry every day about what I should be doing for someone, if I hurt someone’s feelings or I think about that animal I saw in a shelter last year. Last week. Yesterday. It does not end. I constantly try to work on this aspect of my personality. But what I have found most difficult is balancing guilt, worry and love for my dogs.
I sincerely try to take care of my dogs in the best ways that I know how. This includes their exercise, food, mental well-being and their care as seniors. Some days, I know that I am not doing enough. I want them here as long as possible, in fact, forever. So I obsess. I neglect myself. I imagine that I can do better, that I should do better. So I obsess some more.
It was on a walk this week when it all hit me. I had been feeling really bad all week physically. I had more headaches than usual. I found it hard to get out of bed. Every muscle in my body ached. I was irritable. I found it impossible to cross one thing off my list of goals for the week. It had been raining here for almost two weeks and I was tired of the mud, the cleaning, the baths. Yet, I was pushing myself and my dogs more. I was ignoring the signs that they didn’t want to walk in the rain. I just KNEW they had to. I mean, we had to stick to a schedule, right? The world would collapse. And as we pushed ourselves that extra mile yesterday, I stopped and looked at my reflection in a campground window. I looked insane. I really did!
I knew if anyone was watching us walk down this flooded street that they might think I needed help. Digby was pulling me one way towards the RV, Brickle was pulling me the other way towards the nearest shelter, and yep. This was ridiculous. This was my instance of awareness. Some people’s “burn out” may mean crashing in their bed, yet for me, the opposite seems to happen. I push myself even harder. And this was not being fair to my dogs. Why was I doing this? Love for them or obsession with thinking they were going to be unhappy if we didn’t stick to a schedule? Why couldn’t I realize that their love for me and ALL of our well-being meant more for their happiness?
If anyone thinks that a dog parent can’t experience “burn out”, oh, they are wrong. I think that most often, this is overlooked. Here we are, with a life that is totally dependent on us for food, for shelter and for love. We have put them in our world. And so it is our responsibility to take care of them in the best way we can. Yet, they can’t voice to us like human kids what they need. We have to figure it out. They can’t tell us when they are unhappy or unfulfilled. We try to read their body language and make the best choices we can. And sometimes, it is hard. And we don’t know if we are doing the right things. So we try harder, we neglect ourselves sometimes, and that starts a cycle of imbalance. The truth is, we cannot nourish any other living thing without feeding ourselves, without feeding our souls. Taking a few minutes a day to just be by ourselves is key. We have to. We are important too. Don’t ever forget that. Your dog does not want you to forget that. To our dogs, we are everything. Make sure that YOU are there for THEM as long as you can be.
When you feel that “burn out” coming on, your dog has already known it was there. It is guaranteed that when you are happy, your dogs are happy. When you are stressed, your dog will be stressed. Balance is key, but I have to work on it. I have to work on my guilt when I go get groceries and leave them for an hour. I have to work on my guilt when I take an extra five minutes in the shower. I have to work on my guilt when their dinner is ten minutes late. But as a dog lives in the moment, so should we. Realize that you are human, you are amazing, and you are doing the best you can for the best parts of your life. Realize that you have made the commitment to give them the best life that you can, and that is not part of any list. So throw away the guilt, avoid the “burn-out” and live life with your dog. Cherish every moment, but don’t obsess over the little things that won’t matter tomorrow. Because if they are in your tomorrow, that is all that counts. Take care of yourself, dog parents!
-Rachael Johnson, Owner and Girl Person of 2 Traveling Dogs and Your Dog’s Diner