I have a dog. Her name is Maggie.
I also have a dog named Molly, but this post is solely about Maggie, and you’ll soon see why.
A little bit about Maggie. She’s a beagle mix. She’s a rescue from Alabama. She’s nine years old. She’s brown and white and has little speckled spots on her legs. She doesn’t like people until she knows them really, really well and then, she’s fiercely loyal and loving. She’s a hunter. She’s protective. She’s the quirkiest, goofiest dog I’ve ever known, and I’ve known many. She feels with everything she has and she’s extremely expressive. She’s intelligent (not just saying that because I’m a dog mom) and stubborn. She’s hysterical and mischievous. She’s been my therapist, my best friend, my shoulder to cry on these nine years I’ve had her. She and Molly are my little joys.
Something else you should know about Maggie? Maggie has anxiety. They say that dogs take after their owners, so maybe I’m partially to blame. After all, she’s been the one by my side through the absolute worst of my own struggle with an anxiety disorder. But, as I mentioned, she’s a rescue and she’s sensitive and smart. All three of those factors probably contribute to her anxiety as well.
Maggie is afraid of…well, almost everything. She hates noises. I’m not talking about fireworks (although she hates those too). A lot of dogs are afraid of fireworks and thunderstorms. Maggie is no exception, but she’s also afraid of kitchen sounds, like a sizzling egg in a pan, or the sound of me loading the dishwasher, or the sound of a glass being placed on a table. She looks at me warily whenever I’m cooking and she’s always ready to run and hide should I make any sudden moves, which might result in a noise that is wholly intolerable to her.
She huddles in the corner, legs stiff, back tense, shaking whenever we take a ride in the car.
She doesn’t like the Farmer’s Insurance commercial on TV. Something about the theme song – “we are farmers…” spooks her.
She’s afraid of a crackling fire.
She hates when we move any large items. Decorating for Christmas? Forget about. She is outta here.
She also is terrified of sneezes. I was making breakfast for her and Molly the other morning. Sometimes I give them a little something extra in their dog food, like a piece of cheese or meat or something else leftover from dinner the previous night. I was preparing to do just that and both dogs were staring at me eagerly, tails wagging, when I felt a sneeze coming on. I tried to silence it but I knew it was coming so I said, “sorry Mags!” right before it happened and, just like I knew she would, she bolted up the stairs and dove for cover under our bed, a place where she spends a lot of her time hiding from all sorts of scary things, like sneezes.
I sighed. Molly got extra cheese that morning because she was standing right there before I put it away. Maggie didn’t come down to eat her breakfast for another ten minutes.
And then the thought came to me.
How many things has Maggie missed out on because she’s hiding under the bed afraid? How many times have I given Molly a piece of whatever it is I’m cooking, because she’s ready for it? She’s standing right there! Unafraid of the frightening oven. She knows there is a reward on the other side. Maggie’s nowhere to be found because she’s scared of a sizzling pan, or the possibility of me kicking the garbage can by accident (which, to be fair, I have done before), another noise that sends her running for the hills.
Mags misses the views when we drive anywhere. She misses opportunities to see other dogs, or deer, or the squirrels she hates so much and wants to kill, all because she’s shaking in the corner, bracing herself for whatever catastrophe might be right around the corner.
Sometimes she even misses walks with Matt in the morning because she’s hiding somewhere.
Really she’s much more like a cat than a dog.
Really, she’s a lot like me.
Because how many times have I avoided something because of fear? How many opportunities, foods, experiences, once in a lifetime moments have I missed because I was afraid?
I’m not saying it’s right to beat myself up. That doesn’t really serve a purpose. And, to be fair, there have been many times I have done the scary thing. But, there have also been many times where I didn’t. Times, where instead of going on that trip, or taking that job, putting myself out there, or taking a risk, I hid “under the bed”.
Don’t misunderstand me. This is not a post about regrets. Sometimes, it’s ok to say no. It’s ok to stay in the comfort zone. There’s a time for that.
But there’s also a time to feel the fear and do it anyway.
I’ve pushed Maggie to do things she doesn’t want to do. I’ve slowly trained her to come closer and closer to the stove when I’m cooking and she’s reaped the rewards when she has, because she gets a piece of steak or chicken or whatever. So, she’s learning, even though she hates the sound of the sizzling pan, there’s something delicious in it and it’s worth sticking out the discomfort for.
Maggie. My little love. Not only my therapist, best friend, cuddle partner, walking buddy. Also, my teacher. And, a kindred spirit.
Maggie is sensitive, so she feels things. I get it. I am too. She’s had some bad experiences that have taught her to be cautious. So have I.
Life can be hard. Mags knows. So do I. We’re not stupid.
But, sometimes we have to stick out the discomfort, the fear, the uncertainty. We have to sit with it, accept it, and do it anyway.
Because there could be something amazing on the other side of that fear, like a piece of bacon. A reward that makes the risk, the discomfort, the angst worth it.
Mags is learning. So am I.