Sometimes I Spiral

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Review Chain

There's not always one answer to a problem, and sometimes all you need is to not be alone.

Isn’t it fun how all those existential questions that make you second guess your existence mostly occur at night? When I was little, my parents thought I was afraid of the dark, so they bought me a nightlight shaped like a lighthouse and let our dog Leila curl up on my braided rug to sleep. There wasn’t much point in explaining that it wasn’t the dark that scared me—I didn’t I know what did.

To be fair, there was a lot that I didn’t understand about myself back then, but I suppose I’m not unique in saying that.

Sometimes, the questions that dance in the shadows and linger just beyond the safety of my covers aren’t too serious. I can imagine sailing across an ocean or analyze a book I read recently. It’s times like those that I even like my mind.

Sometimes, the questions aren’t true questions but stressors in my life. I can stay awake for hours picking apart an old conversation or planning how to write a paper that isn’t due for three weeks. Those I’ve learned to handle, compensating during the day with caffeine and commiseration with my fellow sleep-deprived students.

Sometimes, the questions are spirals, one small thing gone wrong leading to a domino cascade of every little thing that’s wrong in the world. When I was little, I would curl up under my duvet with my pillow on top of my head as if they could shield me from the thoughts. I didn’t understand yet that the threat wasn’t external.

It wasn’t until high school that my parents suspected something was off, and even then, I didn’t believe there was anything wrong. I went to school every day, never had problems with my classmates, ate dinner as a family almost every night, and was a perfectly functional human being. If I was stressed, it wasn’t more than any of my classmates. I was fine.

“Are you all right, sweetheart? You look tired.” It was my mom’s favorite thing to say for months until she got annoyed with my non-answers and dragged me off to a psychologist.

Clinical depression. General anxiety with obsessive compulsive tendencies. Those were terms I’d heard before, thrown around by the media whenever they needed a modern-day bogeyman. Now, they applied to me.

Do labels free us or constrain what we can become? That was a question that circled my room for weeks after the first official diagnosis. My mom cried after we met with the psychologist, saying that she’d noticed something was going on, that she was sorry I’d struggled for so long on my own. I just shrugged, more concerned with evading the edge of a sucking spiral than mollifying her guilt. My dad hugged me and said none of it changed who I was. It didn’t, but that meant it didn’t change much of my life either.

I still saw that psychologist every other week, my parents asking the cursory questions of if I had a good appointment, if I wanted to keep seeing them, but never prying further. Why would they when they’d solved my little problem with such ease?

It was later, senior year of high school, and I barely slept for a week because my dog was getting older. Next year, I’d be at college without her, but she’d been my constant companion since I was little—her snores were like white noise at this point.

“Have you considered an emotional support animal?” My psychologist asked at my next appointment as we discussed my sleep for the nth time.

“Isn’t that an excuse people use to take their dogs on planes?”

“They’re meant to provide their owners with comfort—alleviate stress and improve mental health.” Sometimes, I think that psychologist deserved a raise for the patience they showed. “Like how Leila provides you with companionship.”

Thus, I had a new topic to research and obsess over. Learning the rights of an emotional support animal under the FHA and ACAA. Finding out that registration is a scam but that colleges are legally required to allow emotional support animals with proper documentation from a doctor.

Maybe it was because the idea came from my psychologist or maybe because Leila was getting older, but my parents agreed to get me a dog. We’d gotten Leila from a small breeder who lived on a farm and raised labs to be hunting dogs. I figured if I wanted a companion dog like Leila, it’d be best to go to the source.

“Oh, I’ve had dogs go on to be guide dogs and the like.” The breeder was chatty when my mom called her up, rattling off information about labs and the benefits of owning one with single minded intensity.“ Actually, I have a puppy who might work well for your daughter.”

My mom and I shared a smile at that. “Let’s set up a time to meet,” my mom said.

The farm was rough with peeling paint and a pot holed gravel driveway, but a dog statue stood proudly in a tidy garden. As soon as we pulled up, the breeder appeared at the gate, graying hair tucked into a braid and smile lines around her eyes like sun rays.

“Come in, come in.”

I was glad I’d worn boots because it may have been March, but that only meant the snow was melted mush, mixing with the mud like half melted chocolate ice cream. My dad winced as he stepped in some slush and soaked his sneakers.

Inside the fence, a few puppies roughhoused on a dry patch of ground, leaping and sprinting as if just being alive was incredible. I tried to ignore the thudding in my chest at how foreign that notion felt to me.

The breeder waded among the puppies who clamored for her attention, picking up a smaller black one whose enormous paws peddled the air.

“This is the little lady I told you about over the phone. Seven weeks old now. Her brothers and sisters have all been picked.”

The puppy squirmed to the ground and ran circles around our feet, even more excited if that was possible by the discovery of new people. I reached out and ran a hand down her silky back, and she doubled back, launching herself towards me.

“Why didn’t anyone else want her?” She started nibbling my fingers, my coat sleeve, my pant leg, but I couldn’t push her away.

The breeder shrugged. “Not everyone wants a black dog. They’re never as popular as the other colors.” She gestured towards the other puppies who were still mostly oblivious to us, all with butter yellow fur quickly turning brown as they kicked up mud.

My mom crouched down next to me, and the puppy tripped over her own paws in her eagerness to say hello, faceplanting but undeterred. I couldn’t help but laugh at this silly creature who thought that everything in life deserved the most enthusiasm possible.

Submitted: November 30, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Greythereadaholic. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:



I really enjoyed your story Grey. Some people are happy to have a diagnosis, just to name that which bothers them. And others don't want to be identified by that which bothers them. I have a tendency to embrace my unlabeled personality traits (OCD and Anxiety). It just takes a nonjudgmental friend (2 or 4 legged) to embrace us as we are. You hooked me from the first line. I loved it! Congratulations on winning the contest!

Fri, December 4th, 2020 10:59pm


I'm so glad you liked it! This is a topic that's very important to me, especially because books and stories were what helped me to recognize and understand my own mental health struggles. Writing my own makes me hope that other people can get a little more understanding about mental health to decrease stigma that sill occurs.

Fri, December 4th, 2020 3:28pm


I loved your story. I really enjoyed seeing how it progressed and how it captured a few significant moments of their life up til this point. It was like each thing was an important part of their life, even if they didn't know it, and it was all being put together to form the complete picture. I really like the almost nonchalant attitude they had to their mental illness, because it's often portrayed as this terrible, dramatic thing, but it's not always like that and it's important for people to know that. All in all your story was great and congratulations on winning.

Sat, December 12th, 2020 4:26am

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