Hello, to my harmonious readers. Owning animals has severely affected my mental health, both good and bad. While my family and I only own a hobby farm (40 acres). We have struggled with the stress of caring and maintaining our smallholding. Our residence is much like the farm from Patch of Heaven (Home on the Range).
When we first moved to our patch of heaven, the land was untouched, and the grass was thick. We needed some livestock to maintain the grass, to lower the risk of fire and snakes. My mum fell in awe of the nature of cows. Through the help of a friend, my mum learnt how to raise and care for them.
So, my parents began raising orphaned calves. Like my parents, I, too, fell in love with the lifestyle and bonded with the calves. I would sit with them and cuddle their heads, as well as feed them, brush them, hug them, and put them in the shed at night. Eventually, the farm life grew to include chickens, ducks, pigs, cats, dog, and snake. Over the years, we’ve also cared for sheep and rabbits. Unfortunately, we realized we couldn’t keep all the animals we had taken in. But, what we could do was give them the best start in life. However, Some of our livestock we developed strong bonds with and couldn’t part from them. As the saying goes, you don’t choose the animal. The animal chooses you.
Although caring for our menagerie of animals has been joyful, surprising, and funny. We have had our difficult times. My uncle purchased a truckload of station cows but didn’t have the property to house them. So, he stationed them on our property. What was meant to be a short holding period turned into months, and our lush grass was eaten back to nothing.
After a year, the station cows were moved from our property, but the land had been stripped bare. We still had our own livestock to take care of. As the years went on, the rainfall decreased, and the pasture grew less and less.
During this time, I had my stint with Chronic Fatigue, recovered, and moved into high school, where I developed severe anxiety and depression. Understandably, farm life wasn’t the cause of my mental health, but it did impact it at times. While I was suffering, trying to care for my animals felt gruelling and never-ending. I felt exhausted all the time. Every task felt monotonous and backbreaking. The interests I loved, e.g., caring for my animals, going outside, getting out of bed, felt like a job I had to do, not what I wanted to do. I felt like a failure that I wasn’t doing more and, I felt awful that I even felt like this.
At the same time, I would stress and panic easily about the health and wellbeing of my beloved animals. When I struggled to train my dog (Evie), I became anxious that I wasn’t being a good owner. When my cat was wrongly diagnosed with cancer, I had a mental breakdown. When my calves were sick, I panicked, and when I felt that I wasn’t spending enough time with them, I stressed. I’d lost before, so I had developed a deep fear that I would lose my cows either through death or being sold. Unfortunately, living with animals or on a farm, loss is a strong possibility. Perhaps, I should’ve hardened up. However, the more animals we took in, the more I cared. At heart, it’s instinctively in my nature to nurture.
Once I left high school, I started taking antidepressants to manage my fears and anxiety. After a while, I stupidly came off my medication because I thought that my mental state had improved and that I could treat my anxiety without medication. Guess What! My anxiety came back with a vengeance. Yet, I kept trying to prove to myself that I could manage without my antidepressants. Not only did I suffer, but my family, including our animals, suffered as well.
I was easily infuriated. I lost my temper when I shouldn’t have. My coping skills were nonexistent, and I was relentlessly imagining the most horrible situation’s. I put astronomical pressure on myself to be perfect and do the best for my animals, that when I stuffed up, it was awful and disheartening. I suppose one of the upsides of owning an animal while suffering from undiagnosed mental health is that the animal can bring those issues to light and help you treat it.
Even now, I feel like I’ve taken another loss. I raised 5 beautiful calves named Zeus, Louisa, Hermione, Lady and Harmony. Unfortunately, after years of struggling with decreased rainfall, lack of pasture, and increase of financial loss as we had to continuously buy fodder. I realized that my cows had outgrown our property and deserved to be on bigger and greener pastures. I wanted them to have better, and it sadly wasn’t something I could give them. So, I sent them to a friend. I know that there loving life in their new home.
On the other hand, I feel like my heart has been ripped out and a piece cut off and then shoved back in. They were my babies, and I miss them so much. While I’ve been told that cows cannot be pets, they can be family or a companion.
Regardless of all the bad times, I’ve had with raising and losing animals. I would still go through it all again. Raising animals has taught me patience, care, gentleness, compassion, selflessness, and a different kind of love. Those lessons and memories are priceless. Even when I didn’t want to get out of bed for myself, I knew I had to get up to care for my animals. When I didn’t feel like spending time with my calves, I did it anyway. Unbeknown to me, it was improving my mental health. Animals can take your attention off yourself and focus your time away from your struggles.
If you have the room and time. Consider finding a new family member that can lighten up your life, or consider moving to acreage if you’re feeling like an adventure. Although, they can induce panic, anxiety, fear, anger, sadness. The good outweighs the bad. It doesn’t have to be a dog or cat. Find an animal that best suits your personality or lifestyle, whether a lizard, rabbit, snake, bird, horse, sheep, or goat. I believe, most animals when shown kindness and care, will come to know affection and will reciprocate.