Body Image & Recovery

The Evolution of Have a Good Day

This morning something mind-blowing occurred to me.

It is impossible - literally impossible - to have a good day.

At least, it is impossible for me.

I could no sooner have a good day than I could have a good life or a good death.

This is because I am not there yet.

A good day, like a good life and a good death, is in my future rather than my present.

The most I can reasonably, feasibly expect myself to accomplish is a good second....maybe a good minute if I'm extra-focused and industrious.

This means I have been putting waaaaay too much pressure on myself pretty much forever. Which sucks. No wonder I have tended to be such an anxious type.

Even worse, I've probably been way too instrumental in fostering anxiety in others as well, going around as I tend to do, wishing everyone a good day.

I mean, I do want them to have a good day, in the same way I want me to have a good day. But it is a lot of pressure. It is a lot to ask or expect of myself or others (especially once you factor in each person's ideas about what having a good day should look like, which is a topic for a different blog post).

As with many of my personal aha moments now and anytime, this one came to me courtesy of my pets, Pearl, Malti and Bruce.

Not a one of them ever wakes up in the morning and tackles a whole day at once. I know this because of how each one handles disruptions to their regular daily routines.

I see it best and most easily in Pearl, my parrot life companion of nearly 21 years now. This is how his routine should play out, if nothing (like my own schedule) arises to disrupt it.

First we do parrot wake-up, followed by cleaning the parrot casa and then serving parrot breakfast. From there should come a smooth segue to Yoga with Pearl (online via YouTube with the lovely #yogawithadriene) and then parrot shower...and so on and so forth.

Pearl is so sensitive to when and how each event should unfold, not to mention where, that I often start getting "evening rice alerts" a full hour before his warmed portion of rice, quinoa and kale is supposed to be served.

So imagine what happens when the daily routine gets disrupted.


My Thanksgiving Thankfuls List

Every year I get another year older.

Thankfully, I also get another year wiser....most years at least.

For the years I don't, there is always Thanksgiving.

A few years ago, some research came out telling most of us what we already knew - feeling grateful feels good. It also told us some things we didn't know - namely, that feeling grateful can change the structure of our brains.

Since my brain needs all the help it can get, I took this to heart as well as to mind.

Yet I still don't remember to say what I am grateful for every single day. Even after so many, many, many years of working so hard to transform my anxiety-focused brain into a gratitude-focused brain, it is still but the work of a moment to spiral out of sufficiency and back towards scarcity once again.

And so....Thanksgiving.

Today will not be a day I forget to say what I am thankful for.

Join me?

Here goes. I am grateful for (in no particular order)...

Animal & Nature Mentors

Animals Can Be Highly Sensitive Too

Several years ago I happened across a book by Dr. Elaine Aron called "The Highly Sensitive Person."

Before I even read the book, I thought to myself, "I think she means me!"

After I read the book, I thought to myself, "Yup, she means me."

Dr. Aron contends that approximately 20 percent of people may be hard-wired towards greater emotional sensitivity.

I find this all quite fascinating. But what I find even more fascinating is that humans are not the only species with this type of sensitivity skew.

Dr. Aron and other researchers have tracked down more than 100 different species where some members - approximately 20 percent - display a similar 80/20 skew.

In non-human animals, high emotional sensitivity is more commonly labeled as risk sensitivity, risk-aversion or responsiveness. The context shifts towards how the animal handles daily challenges related to environmental change.

A good example might be a watering hole drying up. While the majority (80 percent) of animals might continue to visit the watering hole, more responsive or risk-sensitive animals (20 percent) might instead choose to seek water in a new location.

Researchers also believe the bias towards a population minority with higher emotional/risk sensitivity is an evolutionary adaptation that benefits the entire long as the entire community numbers 1,000 members or fewer.

The researchers have even traced the origin of this bias to a specific area of the brain that contains ancient shared neural pathways.

Animal & Nature Mentors

My Pets Love Me the Way I Wish I Loved Me

thinks I am."
I suppose the beauty of any quote is all in the mind of the reader.
I know it is probably supposed to be inspiring. But to my mind, every time I encounter this quote I somehow automatically feel worse about being me.
Like, "Why can't I be that person?" Would it be so very hard? I must be a lazy person. I'm just not trying hard enough...." And all this followed, of course by a lengthy thought-list of all the specific reasons it's never gonna happen.
I have had friends, heck, even family members, tell me I'm too hard on myself sometimes. Perhaps this also explains why, for decades and decades, I surrounded myself with a close circle of folks whose standards appeared to be even higher than those of my pets.
Not anymore. For the most part, those folks are all gone now and only the pets remain. Thank goodness.
Yet it hasn't exactly taken the pressure off, at least internally. Far from it.
Then this morning something occurred to me. What if - just perhaps - I am that person my pets think I am?
What if it is just my own perception that is whacked?
Or - could it be - that my pets are simply loving me the way I wish I could love myself?
After all, in theory at least, I would be a much better person if I consistently saw myself the way they see me instead of seeing myself the way I see me.
The more I ponder this, the more I realize how much my perception of me and my pets' perceptions of me don't match up. In fact, if someone said to me, "That's it; you have to choose. You can either see yourself the way you see you or you can see yourself the way your pets see you. Pick one or the other."
I know exactly which one I would pick, as well as how long it would take me to decide.
Here is an example. This morning I woke up. I wasn't in a great mood. I was mad at myself for avoiding a social invitation last night. Then I got mad at myself for not having more social invitations to avoid. Then I started to worry that I might never have any social invitations to avoid ever again (on account of how often I already avoid the actual few that come my way now).
This neatly segued into a too-comprehensive catalog of all the very good reasons I should just accept that I am always going to live and be alone (with pets of course), from the missing "small talk" file in my head to my absolute inability to refrain from showing pet pictures to absolute strangers to the documented fact that no matter where I am going, whatever shoes I pick are guaranteed to give me blisters.
From there, it was a short unpleasant hop to various other parts that don't appear to be carrying their weight. Shoulders. Slackers. Thyroid. On vacation again? Tummy. Always has its panties in a twist. Left foot. If you say the word "plantar" one more time I'm going to....grrrrr.
So, okay. I was grumpy.
Now let's turn the lens on my pet cockatiel, Pearl.

Animal & Nature Mentors

How to Protect Your Pet If You Die First

Recently a reader sent me a sweet and (frankly) heart-wrenching note about a situation I also worry about all the time - what will happen to her beloved pet after she passes.

She asked me for guidance. I was honored....and daunted.

I mean, the optimal situation is to have family who will welcome our non-human loves with open arms after we pass and give them the same level of love and care we have shown them all their lives.

But neither my dear reader nor I myself have this as an option, at least not right at this moment.

Truly, I don't even like to think about it - them without me - and yet I must.

Consider this: Pearl and I have been together since he was five weeks old. He is now nearly 21. Malti and I have been together since she was five weeks old. She is now five. Bruce and I have been together for a little over four years now. His vet thinks he is about 10 years old.

I am about to turn 49. So both Malti and Bruce are on track to outlive me - each species can easily live for 50+ years with good captive care and both are still quite young at the moment. (And no I didn't think about this fact when I added them to our flock and yes I should have....but even I admit it's a little later for that now.)

So when I am not here, who will take care of them? Who will make sure they have their favorite foods, spacious and secure roaming space, a warm place to sleep each night, great veterinary care and enrichment, love?

All I can say is, if Pearl, Malti and Bruce don't get good (heck, great, ideal, sublime) captive care after I depart this planet, I will relentlessly haunt whoever is doing the slacking!

But back to the reality of today, which is that I am still here and so I can still do something to alleviate my own fears. Ergo, the one deeply practical suggestion I had to offer this sweet reader is the same suggestion I have followed myself: she should make a will.


Animal & Nature Mentors

Pets Are People….And Yet They Aren’t

I can't remember when I crossed over the line between seeing my pets as animals and seeing my pets as people.

Perhaps it was at my nine-year-old birthday party, when the first guest on my list was Perky, my green and yellow parakeet bestie.

Or maybe it was when, around age 12, my folks convinced me it would be best for our growing collection of water turtles to release them to a local animal sanctuary so they could live a wild life. But then Red, the eldest of the bunch, turned around and tried to follow us back to the car.

I still cry thinking about it.

(tissue break.)

But I suspect it was an older me who first actively, consciously, stepped across that line and didn't look back. Until now.

This is relevant because I grew up feeling very afraid of dogs. Size didn't matter. What mattered was that they all had teeth. And each and every one of them could chomp down on my wrist just like the very first dog I tried to pat at the innocent age of two.

So around the age of 30, worn out after a much more serious bite incident that sent me to urgent care, I started reading about dogs. I wanted to know what everyone else thought was so great about them. I needed to understand, since all I saw was a bunch of drooling, slavering, stark raving lunatics, barking, barking, barking at all hours of the day and night, pooping and peeing absolutely everywhere and basically making my whole life feel like I was always just one bite away from my next bite.

What DID all these people - including my own parents - see in dogs that compelled nearly every single solitary homo sapiens except myself to own one?

I had to know.

So I started to read. I read about dog behavior. I read about dog psychology. I read about dog health. I read about dog training and dog breeds and dog history. Eventually, thanks in large part to all that reading, I even got a job as a dog blogger.

Slowly but surely, I started to see the wonder and magic in Canis lupus familiaris. I knew the tide had turned when I found myself cuddling a tiny dachshund puppy who is now three years old and lives with my folks. His name is Flash Gordon and I think he loves me most of all.

Flash wants to go where we go and be where we are and eat what we eat and do what we do. When he gets really tired or bored or hungry, he will bark and bark and bark until someone notices and does something about it. He hates being alone and he likes to have both of my parents within eyesight at all time (one parent really isn't good enough).

He acts a lot - I mean a LOT - like my first nephew did when he was about three years old.

Then the other day I was reading a post from one of my favorite Instagrammers and she made such a good point. She was talking about this exact topic - how much animals can seem like little people with fur or feathers or a shell or scales.

They really can - except that they aren't. They are animals.

Animal & Nature Mentors

Pets Help People Heal Mentally

Pets. Aren't they wonderful? (Understatement of the century if you are a fellow animal lover, I know).

But as it turns out, not everyone is an animal lover. Some people need to be convinced. For the record, I understand this and here is why.

When I was very little, my mom and I went out walking in the neighborhood. All I remember is that Mom was delivering something to a neighbor. When we knocked, the neighbor's tiny fluffy white dog came out before she did. I promptly did what (I think) all delighted kids do when they see a small fluffy white animal moving around by their feet - I reached down to pet the dog.

I didn't make it. That tiny dog clamped her tiny jaws around my tiny wrist and that was that for me and dogs....for at least the next three decades.

It took several years of determined effort, including reading every book about dogs I could find and petting as many dogs as would let me, before I became a dog lover.

I am still working on cats, and to tell you the truth I am not making much progress. But that is a topic for a different blog post (and likely a different writer).

So not everyone loves animals and in many cases there are probably some very good reasons for this.

Interestingly, I have always loved birds and turtles and tortoises and frogs and toads and have never had a moment of fear or hesitation come up about this affinity even though I have been nipped and outright bitten and scratched and peed on and pooped on repeatedly by all of the above. So it seems there are some animals I just naturally gravitate to more than others.

Of course, I could say the same about some people. Some I love on sight. Some....not so much. And some, not at all.

Luckily, just as there are lots of different people in this world, there are lots of different animals. So the way I see it, there is probably an animal for each person.

Case in point: I once read a story in a nature book about a man who kept...wait for it....cockroaches.

Animal & Nature Mentors

Pets Help People Heal Emotionally

I am happy to report that two of my three nonhuman life companions are documented Emotional Support Animals, more commonly known as ESAs.

And here, when I say they are "documented," I don't mean I just went online and ordered a certificate and a badge from one of the myriad websites eager to sell me one. (I mean, I did do that part as well, because on average people respond better to badges versus just taking my word for it and my doctor's office doesn't make ESA badges.)

But I also consulted with my longtime personal physician of more than a decade and she agreed to personally write a letter attesting to the significant emotional support both Pearl, my cockatiel, and Malti, my redfooted tortoise, provide to me on a daily basis.

In other words, Pearl's and Malti's ESAs are totally legit.

This is becoming a more important distinction today than it was when I first learned there was such an (um) animal as an ESA.

After all....emotional support. What does that even mean?

The dictionary tells me emotion is a state of mind. Not surprisingly, upon reading this I am instantly confused. The word "mind" conjures up associations with mental support, not emotional support. What is the difference? Is there a difference?

Wikipedia further informs me that emotion is a mental state associated with chemical changes taking place in my central nervous system. Upon reading this, I feel like I am playing a mental game of "warmer or colder" and things just got a lot colder inside my head.

I decide to switch gears and research the meaning of emotional support directly. This is slightly more helpful. I learn that giving compassion, empathy, concern, kindness - these are hallmarks of offering emotional support to another being. Better.

So then what does all this imply about an animal's ability to be a source of emotional support to people? So interesting!

For starters, to me at least it implies that animals are capable of showing empathy, concern, kindness, compassion - a topic clearly not all researchers or homo sapiens can agree on. Most people agree that the domestic dog and miniature horse can give all of these types of support and more, because currently these are the only two non-human species permitted to be certified as official Service Animals.

In case you didn't already know this (I didn't until only recently) a service animal, or SA, is NOT the same thing as an ESA. Also, just so you know, you really don't want to mix the two up...especially when posting about it publicly on social media.

Okay, back to the topic at hand. How exactly do animals help people heal emotionally, especially if no one, even the folks paid to look into these matters, is completely clear on just what "emotion" or "emotional support" even is?

My completely unofficial answer is: they just do.

Animal & Nature Mentors

Pets Help People Heal Physically

If you are a "pet person" like I am, reading a statement like "pets help people heal" is probably pretty much a no-brainer for you.

Of course they do. Yup. Duh. Next.

Right now, as I type these words, my almost 21-year-old cockatiel, Pearl, is occupying the other half (more commonly referred to as "his half") of our writing table. While I work to earn rent money to keep a roof over his feathery head, he is happily chewing through a fresh bag of organic granola, foraging out bits and pieces he likes and flinging what he doesn't eat all over the table...and chairs....and rugs...and floor. (Want to see him in action? Now you can!)

I find this incredibly healing on all levels, but today it is on a physical level where I notice the benefits the most.

As my ears catch the telltale sounds of "crinkle, crackle, crunch" from the nearby granola bag, my eyes instinctively look up from the laptop and over at his adorable small feathered body. I gaze at his cute curved beak as it nips out individual bits of granola. His round black eyes are so happy and bright and this makes my eyes happy and bright. I smile.

This sends the signal to my shoulders to begin their slow retreat down and away from their customary position lodged right up underneath my ears. Down, down, down, they descend until at last they are back where they belong once more. The shooting, throbbing joint pain in my wrists, hands and fingers, a lovely calling card from my thyroid who is clearly feeling under-appreciated yet again, begins to recede as well. I return to my work - this blog post - feeling re-energized and inspired anew about my topic.

Pets help people heal physically.

Here is another great example.

Animal & Nature Mentors

Pets Are Just Little People With Feathers, Shells or Fur

How many times have you looked at your own pet and known exactly what s/he was thinking?

Have you ever had an experience where you felt like you and your animal were communicating perfectly even though you speak totally different languages?

Do you have some kind of super-secret "spidey sense" that alerts you when your pet is ill, upset or simply not themselves?

If you answered "yes" to all three questions (like I just did), you may find yourself wondering why everyone doesn't see animals the way you do.

And yet I have literally lost count of the times people have said to me, or I have said to others, "pets are just little people with feathers, shells or fur."

My pets certainly are, which will make more sense once I clarify what I mean by "little people."

Thanks in large part to the pioneering work of avian researcher Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her most famous research partner, the late African Grey parrot Alex, we now have solid factual evidence that many parrots are as cognitively smart and emotionally sensitive as a typical two to five-year-old human child.

But that isn't all. More recently, Dr. Pepperberg's new research partner, the African Grey parrot Griffin, outperformed young apes on a sophisticated intelligence test.

Wow. And yet not wow.

Honestly, after nearly 21 years together, I feel I have gathered sufficient qualitative evidence (this is evidence gained from focused observation of a research subject rather than number crunching, which I suck at) to unofficially prove my cockatiel, Pearl, is as smart as the average two-year-old.

On any given day, if I simply forget he is a parrot and instead imagine him to be one of my nephews at age two, I realize there is approximately zero difference in their behavior.

For example, Pearl wants what he wants when he wants it and he has absolutely zero patience with that thing called "waiting." If it isn't fun, he refuses to do it. What's his is his and what's mine is matter what it is. He gets really cranky if he stays up too late but doesn't want to go to bed and miss out on any fun. his energy level could run a marathon around mine any day of the week and twice on Sundays. The word "no" is just a shorter version of the word "yes."

Need I go on....?

However, I suspect more readers will be interested in hearing about canine smarts than avian smarts. So what about the family pup? Just how smart is your furry family member?

Very, very smart, at least according to one company that is spending zillions to create technology to bust through the interspecies language barrier once and for all. The product is a talking service dog vest. If the dog's owner goes into medical crisis, the dog can run up to any stranger and the vest will instruct that person to go help the dog's owner.

So brilliant. And yet not brilliant.

After all, if you have a dog you likely already know your dog knows before you do if you have cancer, a rash or even just a very bad day going on.

Sure, dogs don't have opposable digits like apes (or birds for that matter). But who really cares about thumbs when today's domestic dogs have vocabularies that easily surpass 165 words. In comparison, the average two-year-old child knows anywhere from 50 to 200 words. The dog can't say the words.

Now, it is true dogs can't say those words using human language. But yet again, does that really matter when dogs are so creative they have figured out over the millennia how to mirror our facial expressions to communicate with us? Canine paleontologists have proved how dogs' facial structure has quite literally evolved to take the place of spoken language as a communication tool to "talk" with their people.

Incredible. And not incredible.

On that topic, I want to share with you a jaw-dropping story of canine smarts that is very dear and personal to me.