Personal Perspective: Anna Opalsky

Editor-in-Chief Anna Opalsky reflects on her relationship with her dogs and thanks them for their steadfast love.

I don’t remember a lot from middle school. I was sick, I was mean and I didn’t care about much. I didn’t even care about my dogs.

There’s a medical explanation for this: I simply didn’t eat. 

I’m better now — there are many signs. But I learned it’s not hard to lose myself, to become overwhelmed and unsatisfied, to become the type of person I don’t want to be. It’s not a relapse I fear; it’s a loss of self. But when I begin to slip, I look to my dogs.

I may not remember them, but they were there, with me even as I retreated from myself — Piper with an autoimmune disease and a fear of stairs and Daisy with one working eye and back legs that collapse constantly. They’re two creatures I can easily make out to be pathetic, but who actually embody an untamed appreciation for life, an outlook I aspire to have. They’re my check, my tether when I slip. For when I care about my dogs, I’m the type of person I want to be.

This isn’t a new idea; I’m essentially describing empathy. But its relevance in my life was revealed acutely as I began my recovery from anorexia, when my mom first noted my progress not by my willingness to eat but by my renewed interest in Piper and Daisy, who I’d spent the better part of two years passing by as I spiraled within my own subconscious. In a mind like my own — prone to obsession and restriction — tethers are necessary. Mine happen to be two imperfect yet exuberant bichon mutts.

Piper and Daisy are both rescues. They’re traumatized, plagued by health issues and unable to interact successfully with other dogs. They’re difficult tenants, but they’re unabashed uniqueness and excitement make them easy to love — a trait I overlooked for too long. It’s from them, as I reawakened to their presence, that I learned I don’t have to be perfect to belong.

As I exited middle school with my dogs at my side, I quit ballet — the backdrop of my restriction — and explored new interests, finding community on the Falconer and restarting violin lessons, an activity I’d abandoned in the depths of my eating disorder. I was moving farther and farther from the “perfection” I had strived for, but closer to the person I wanted to be. 

I’m not there yet. I haven’t left my tendency to be unsatisfied and overwhelmed behind. But, I’m proud to say I haven’t let go of my tethers. I haven’t lost sight of my dogs.

Now I’m moving away and leaving Piper and Daisy behind. They’re getting older, and I’ll miss much of their final years — time I owe them — as I explore a new life in college and beyond. 

I can’t say I don’t feel guilty, that I don’t mourn the time I wasted with them. But Piper and Daisy know something that I’m just learning now, that life can’t be lived striving to attain the unattainable. They’ve been dealt far worse cards than me, yet they approach life with joy, seeming to recognize their short existence as a gift. I can’t waste time wishing I was different, wishing for perfection, wishing to make up for my lost years. Most of all, I can’t waste any more time ignoring those closest to me, those who’ll later define my memory. 

I’ll always hold Piper and Daisy close; they’ll be my tethers for life. I have no intention to lose sight of them, no matter the distance and time that separate us. They’ve helped me realize how I want to live my life, reinspired my existence and given me the tools to thrive far into the future, even in a world without them. I owe a lot to my dogs. I’ll never forget that again.

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