I used to work in marine conservation and was once attacked by a shark. Just kidding, shark attacks are incredibly rare and statistically they have more reason to be afraid of us than the other way around. Shame on me for that little lie, but I was curious to see who read my last post. If you’d read that one you’d know that it wasn’t a shark, but rather a sea turtle. And that little punk almost stabbed me.
Okay, maybe I should back up. I was working at a marine animal hospital that rehabilitated injured sea turtles and seals to release back into the wild. I got the volunteer post because even though I wasn’t getting paid, I kept showing up until the staff there decided to put me to work. The near stabbing occurred when I was holding a sea turtle for micro-chipping, which is basically the same thing your dog or cat gets, a little electronic chip that can be read by researchers if the turtle is ever found again. The microchip is injected using a sharp needle, which the turtle grabbed in its mouth and then whipped its head back and forth. Luckily sea turtles have too much muscle in their neck and shoulder region, and can’t withdraw their heads into their shells or turn them enough to reach me while holding him by the shell from behind. This same marine animal hospital was where I once found myself restraining a seal, wondering what the hell I’d gotten into and wondering if I could get off before it bit me (spoiler alert, I could, but that was something I should have been confident of before straddling the sick seal).
So why am I telling you all this on a blog that is supposed to be about mental illness? Because of the animals that are at the heart of the story. Yes, they wanted to bite me at times, but what I love about animals is that they are honest. If they love you, you know it, and if they hate you, you’ll know it too. Working with animals afforded me an opportunity to interact with living creatures without my anxiety screaming in my ear, telling me that I was screwing it all up and that they wouldn’t like me.
Social anxiety can be exhausting. Yet there are ways to give yourself a respite without becoming a hermit. Animals can be incredibly therapeutic, as evidenced by the therapeutic impact of my cat. They are no substitutes for people, and I wouldn’t trade the humans in my life for anything, but entering social situations still gives me enough anxiety that it makes me sometimes miss the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle that tried to stab me (author’s note, the turtle was in fact not teenaged, mutant, or a ninja. I suspect if it were a ninja, I wouldn’t be alive to tell this story). Thankfully I have found other stress relievers, and I hope you have too, whether they are honest little critters or something else.