A Tribue To My Best Friend

Let me start out by saying that this is a happy story. It has a sad ending, but the journey was full of so much love and joy. It’s been almost 1 month since I learned of the news and my heart is still breaking. I’ve never felt a love this strong or a loss this difficult. Let’s start at the beginning.

The Initial Meeting

Bella as a tiny puppy.

We had rescued an Australian Shepard (mix), named Roxy, recently but wanted a second dog. We were just leaving a pet store in South Florida with dog food when we saw a family with a black dachshund puppy. Curiously, my mother asked where they had gotten her and the family explained that she was a rescue. They gave us the information and we investigated to see if there was any more. Sure enough, there was. A small, chocolate dachshund was left. She was the runt of the litter and born to an abusive breeder. She had a skin condition where her fur was patchy and her skin was flaky. The end of her tail was a curled up little nub and she had a personality like no other. My parents and I went to see her on a rainy evening and my mom fell in love. My father and I weren’t so sure. “I mean, look at her,” I thought to myself back in 2005. “She barely has any fur. She looks more like a rat than a dog.”

Nonetheless, my mother insisted on getting her. So, with Roxy panting through the car window, we got into our old white Lincoln and drove to a Target to get her a collar. Roxy was more interested in her than I was. I would just stare at her from the corner of my eye, stubbornly thinking “This isn’t going to be fun.” Regardless, this small little dachshund looked up at me with her brown eyes and decided to make herself comfy on my lap. She curled up into a perfectly small ball and immediately fell asleep, despite her new Australian Shepard sister trying to sniff her. I sat there for a moment, staring at this brown animal peacefully curled on my lap, and knew that we would be best friends for life.

Growing Up

Not only was I growing up, but I had my best friend growing up right along side me. While she didn’t get too much bigger physically, her personality grew exponentially. She also got to experience a lot of new things with me. My family often joked about just how much she was able to experience.

She had gone camping with us and was secretly brought onto a canoe via a large waterproof bag. She rode bikes with me, skateboarded with me and was brought into department stores inside a purse despite there being strict “no dog” policies. She swam in our home pool, traveled to Michigan during a 14 hour road trip, and took many walks around Florida and Georgia. She was once bitten by a neighborhood dog and got all fixed up, thanks to my father and some super glue (I’m not kidding but don’t worry, her vet was fine with the procedure). She loved on many of my guinea pigs and had countless car rides. She was the definition of spoiled.

Bella and Roxy with some guinea pigs.

There was also a lot of help that she provided for me and we provided for her. Like I mentioned, her fur was very patchy and her skin had flakes. She also smelled really bad. It took some time to experiment, but we eventually found the right food that helped her fur grow back and that mixing Borax with vinegar helped with her flakes and smell. Then there’s the typical pet owner stuff like keeping her safe and vaccinated and keeping her warm and giving her medicine when she needed it and food. She also helped me. She could sense when I was sick and was at my side. She helped my depression. She helped motivate me on bad days. She encouraged me to learn ukulele by falling asleep every time I played. She helped shape me into who I am now.

She watched me go from elementary school into middle school, graduate middle school and start my first public high school, move from Florida to Georgia and start a Georgia high school, graduate from high school and start college. She was there for me at my highs and my lows. She slept in my bed with me every single night for her 14 years of life. She was there for every breakup, every new friend, every school project. She was there when I was kicked out of college and slept on my lap when I was filling out countless paperwork to fix my GPA and get back into school. She was there when family members died and new family members entered into the world. She was a constant in so many lives, but especially mine.

My Photography Guinea Pig

By the time I was in 8th grade, I started to get an interest in photography. I would use my guinea pigs and random objects around my room (books, stuffed animals, a guitar), but my best subject was Bella. She was so patient with me and allowed me to practice my hobby.

I learned about ISO and f stops and filters and shutter speed all because of her. The more photos I took of her, the better my photography became. It was also a bonding moment. I’d take her places so I could have interesting backgrounds but it was also just really nice to have time with her. No internet, no friends, no one but her and I. The older she got, the more patient she became and the more photos I took.

Her Senior Years



Bella in the sun.

She really started getting old around the time we move to Georgia in 2012. She got chunkier, furrier and had a grayer mustache. She slept more, was lazier, and quieter. However, she was always healthy. She never showed signs that her time was coming closer. That’s why I completely broke down when I heard the news of her passing.

I’m a college student, which means I’m rarely home. Prior to the news of her passing, I had come up during the summer of 2018 to spend two days with my Australian Shepard, Roxy, on her last day. While I hated to see her go, I was grateful to have gotten to spend her last day with her and have time to plan for her passing. With Bella, it was unexpected for everyone. She had passed in her sleep with no warning. My mom found her when she woke up, still in her dog bed.

It’s been 1 month now. My heart is still aching, knowing that she’s no longer on this earth with me. It’s hard for me to ever remember a time where she wasn’t alive. It’s tempting to cry alone and wonder “did she know how much I loved her?” but I keep reminding myself that yes, she did.

I was lucky. I got 12 amazing years with her. I had her since I was around 9 years old. I’m 21 now, so I spent a good chunk of my life with her. Dogs die every day in all sorts of ways in all sorts of places. My dog isn’t some special case, but she was incredibly special to me. I wasn’t there on her last day, but I wrote this post so that her memory can live on a little longer. She deserves that, at the very least.

Rest in peace, my best friend.

What Happens When You Mix College and Mental Illnesses

Believe it or not, having mental illnesses and going to college isn’t the easiest thing to do. Being in denial about just how bad your mental health is and starting college is even more difficult. I went into college thinking nothing bad could possibly happen as long as I went to class and did my homework. I thought, like most people probably think, that college would be like it was in movies; you’d get a really cool roommate and love your classes and live your best life. But what happens when college doesn’t happen like that?

To start out, most people don’t graduate in exactly four years. Graduating in four years is actually pretty rare yet is still a marvelous feat to achieve. In reality, as many as 59% of people seeking their bachelor’s degree take up to 6 years to graduate. Since it’s so rare to actually graduate in 4 years, a term called the “Four Year Myth” has become pretty well known and is true to its meaning. In a study of 580 public four-year universities, only 50% graduated on time. Even knowing how common it is to graduate late, it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with as an individual.

I personally started college in 2015 right after I graduated high school. I made out a plan for my courses in order to graduate on time, which included taking summer courses.

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Ari sitting in front of her university sign her first year of college.

 

Yet here I am starting my fourth year with no idea of my graduation date. My first year of college wasn’t like the movies. Instead, it was incredibly hard. I was uprooted from my routine back home and was forced to live on my own where I inevitably collapsed in on myself like a dying star. The mental health issues I was already battling went into overdrive and I finished my first semester with a 0.067 GPA and a letter of academic probation in my mailbox.

However, I wasn’t the only one facing a challenge like this. In the 2014-2015 school year, 1,170 students dropped out of their own colleges because of mental health issues. That’s a staggering number to look at yet it gets worse when you realize that it’s a 210% increase since the 2009-2010 school year. In the same study, 87,914 students asked to start counseling in the 2015-2016 school year. Mental health is an alarming issue in college students all across the nation as well as people outside of college.

For me, I faced the two most common mental health issues in college students: anxiety and depression. I’m not talking about feeling sad and being nervous in class, I’m talking weeks without showers because I lacked motivation and skipping a day of class then never going back because I felt too anxious to face my professor as to why I was missing. I’m talking days on days where I only ate microwavable macaroni cups in my dorm room because I was too anxious to face people and staying up for 72 hours straight because I couldn’t stop thinking about anything and everything. That kind of anxiety and depression. What’s worse is that students all over the country endure the same emotional pain and one of these students could be in your class.

To get more specific, anxiety and depression affects 57% of women and 40% of men. On top of that, 40% of these people do not seek help. The reason many don’t look for help is for a variety of reasons.

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Infographic based on a survey done by loyolaphoenix.com

It’s possible they’re in denial of how bad it is or maybe they can’t afford to get help. It’s possible that many could have misconceptions of what it means to go to therapy, like that it makes you weak or that therapists don’t actually do anything. Then there’s the more macabre possibility: maybe they just wanted to give up. Whatever the case may be, mental health issues are only getting worse in college students.

For me, I was continuously told to give up my dream of a college education my entire second semester. What’s worse is that I was told this by the therapists on campus. I was told there was no hope for me at that point and that I needed to give up in order to reevaluate my life. It was just assumed that I didn’t like college or at least this specific college. It was assumed that the only thing causing my distress what college itself, which couldn’t be further from the truth. By the summer of 2016, a week before I was to move into my on-campus apartment, I was told that I was kicked out of school because of my grades. However, I had spent the entire summer appealing failed classes with the help of an off-campus counselor and one appeal went through, allowing me to go back to college. However, since I live so far away and had nowhere to live near campus since I lost my apartment, I had to take a year off.

Long story short, I fought long and hard with the war raging in my head. I traveled 5 hours every week to attend therapy in order to make sure I was ready for the next time I attended classes. Even though I lost all of my loans and financial aid, I started back at the same university for the 2017-2018 school year and made the President’s list. I was put in the local newspaper back home and earned my loans back. I worked hard and went from a freshman to a junior in 365 days. I joined clubs, got a part-time job, made friends and seemed like a normal kid. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have off days. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still feel the effects of mental health issues in my academics and my daily life.

All in all, if I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that it’s possible to make a comeback. I’ve learned that mental health issues are more common in college students than anyone would like to admit. I’ve learned how to overcome and how to share my story for those in a similar position. While it wasn’t the experience I planned for or wanted, I wouldn’t change it for anything.