Amanda liked to call it seasonal depression, but it had lasted all year. This was more semi-permanent than a funk – this was a rut. She used to be so upbeat, lively, and playful; now she was boring, tired, and miserly. The outside world was a hotbed of anxiety, with over-caffeinated assholes who used their cars as weapons and their voices as knives. Even moving to the South didn’t help her mood swings, but she cringed at the thought of living in the Northeast again. She’d lose her mind.
So she started writing. Amanda most certainly was not a writer – she couldn’t spell if her life depended on it – but she was willing to try anything. She needed an outlet for the chaos in her head. Journaling, they called it. Maybe mindfulness next, but let’s not get too crazy. She wasn’t patient enough for meditation nor social enough for hot yoga. Or cold yoga. Just yoga pants. And baths. She could do baths.
The writing slowly helped her anxiety and racing mind. She woke up less bitter about the day when she remembered to journal the night before. Sometimes she forced herself to make a gratitude list, which temporarily calmed her fears.
She added chamomile and lavender oils to her baths, and upped her high intensity workouts in order to ride the effects of a good sweat. But something was still missing. She had been in enough failed relationships to know that forcing a boyfriend would NOT be the missing link. She needed to learn to love herself again first, as corny as that sounded. Looking for love was an inevitable letdown.
Amanda started walking every day. Slow, short walks at first – a half-mile here, a mile there. At first she would just look at her feet, wondering if her step turned inward as she walked. She would watch the back side of her upper arms wiggle. After a week or two she started looking up. Around. The movement of her body began to feel less judgmental, less internalized and shaming. The physical benefits of working out and walking lessened the jiggle, but it was becoming more than that. She stopped being as hard on herself as she focused instead on her surroundings.
Amanda would do things like count leaves on tree branches and wonder if the veins on each leaf told a story about its life. She picked flowers and brought them home, placing them in a bright blue vase next to her new sitting area in the bedroom by the window. From the chair by the flowers she could see the wind, the rain, the sun, and the grass.
She was amazed one day when she looked at her walking app on her phone and was tracking five miles. She had walked all the way downtown. She never noticed how quaint and wonderful the town was, with its boutique stores ideal for window shopping. She wondered what it would be like to own her own shop. How did people get the courage to break from a consistent, safe world of biweekly paychecks to take a risk like that? She envied that type of confidence and tenacity.
After leaving downtown she took a country road back to her townhouse so she could see the horses up on the hillside. Her heart smiled. It had been a couple months since she had incorporated these small changes to pull her out of the dark ditch of depression, and she felt good. Scared, but good. Still, something was missing.
Amanda walked downtown as she always did on the weekends when she noticed a young woman, about her age, sitting on a bench with an adorable pup lying at her feet. The dog was a miraculous collage of browns and whites, and its fur was all over the place, like 80’s rock hair. It was the cutest thing she had ever seen. The owner had her head in her hands, weeping.
“Are you okay?” Amanda asked.
“Oh, oh my god, how embarrassing,” the woman said, trying to compose herself.
“Your dog is adorable,” Amanda replied.
“Thanks. This is Chestnut. I call her Chessie.”
“I love it. That’s the best name. Hi there, Chessie.”
Chestnut took to Amanda instantly. He rubbed up against her leg like a cat, licking her hand as she reached down to pet him. The woman began to cry again.
“I’m so sorry. I’ll leave you alone,” Amanda said.
“No, sit, please. I need someone to talk to. I know that’s weird to ask.”
“It’s not weird, I get it. I’m Amanda.”
“So what’s up, Jessica?” Amanda queried, surprised at how social and upbeat she was becoming. Talking to a stranger was not her thing, and helping someone meant having to get out of her own shit to concentrate long enough on being a helpful ear. She felt guilty at how selfish she had been to the world around her. She sat down on the bench next to Jessica.
“I have to move back home, overseas, and I can’t bring Chestnut. I’ve tried everything, and I can’t bring him. He’s like my child. I can’t leave him. I know that’s stupid, but he’s become the most amazing part of my life. I used to be so depressed and anxious, and Chessie changed all that.”
“I hear ya on the depression and anxiety,” Amanda agreed. “I’ve struggled with it for years. I’m going through the tail end of a long streak right now. I’m trying to exercise and be thankful. It’s tough. My brain just wants to bring me back to that place, you know?”
Jessica perked up. “Exactly! You totally get it. And why is it so goddamn hard to talk about, like we’re the only ones who go through this shit?”
Amanda laughed in agreement. Jessica loosened up and laughed, too.
“So why can’t you bring this cute little fluffball?” Amanda asked, leaning down to stroke his 80’s hair.
“They would put him in 6 months mandatory quarantine, and some of them don’t even make it back to their owners. I can’t do that to him, or me.”
“Do you have anyone you can leave him with?”
“My family is all overseas, and the few friends I have here can’t take him in.”
Chessie, fresh from a short snooze on the cold sidewalk under the bench, jumped up on Amanda. He outstretched a paw onto her hand, and placed his head in her lap.
“Wow, I see what you mean. Chessie is amazing,” Amanda said.
Amanda felt whole for a moment. Content, free, warm, whole. She pictured life with a dog by her side. “Look, this is going to sound crazy, but if you need someone to take him, I mean…”
“Wait, are you serious?” Jessica reacted.
“I know you don’t know me, but you could come look at my townhouse and see I’m not some wacko you’d be leaving your dog with…and you could call and check in on him…”
“Amanda that would be incredible. You’d do that for me? I mean, is this happening right now?”
“I don’t know it’s just feels right. I mean, look at him,” Amanda said.
Jessica and Amanda gave each other a big hug. To the passerby it looked like they had been friends for years.
Chessie proved to be the missing link. Jessica was spot on when she described a loved dog as like your own child. The therapy part of having Chestnut was remarkable. He knew when she was upset and cuddled close to her. He protected her, and loved her unequivocally. True to her word, Amanda provided updates to Jessica, even over FaceTime or Skype to show Jess how much Chessie had grown. It was the least she could do – Jessica had given her the gift of healing and companionship.
Amanda and Chestnut owned downtown. They strutted their stuff past the shops and spent time with dog lovers and store owners. It was like a whole new world opened up. Things were happening naturally because she had faith that everything was going to turn out all right. All she had to do was get out of the way of her emotions.
Early one Sunday morning, Amanda awoke and could not fall back asleep. Chestnut whined playfully in his cage to let Amanda know he was ready for an adventure. She decided they would head downtown and see what the area looked like before all of the shops opened. Chessie was raring to go and hustled his little legs down Main Street. Amanda tried to rein him in, but he was relentless. She accidentally let go of his leash and Chessie tore down the sidewalk like a fawn rabbit. She hurried after him, fear flowing back like old habits.
Chestnut took a sharp right turn into a doorway and disappeared. By the time Amanda reached the doorway, she realized it was an empty storefront. The door was slightly ajar, and Chessie’s momentum must have pushed it open just enough to wiggle his fur through. There he was, smack dab in the middle of the empty store, surrounded by sawdust.
It was the look he gave her. Or maybe it was the spiritual rush that overpowered her and almost knocked her down. Right then and there, without even thinking about it, she knew. She just knew.
Amanda pictured it as if it was coming to life in front of her eyes, pouring from her head onto the walls, the floor, the ceiling. This was her calling.
Amanda leased the storefront with a loan from a local bank who believed in her vision and her mission. She filled the store with triumphant victories over fear and anxiety, now illuminated in hope and abundant life. She separated the store into unique sections:
- Walk Tall. This section was about the benefits of starting small by incorporating mindful exercises and healthy baby steps. No more of this 6-minute abs or marathons or fad diets…this was about celebrating the small stuff that can lead to big change.
- Dog Love. This corner was dedicated to the proven magic healing abilities of dogs, where you can find them, and how you can save each other.
- You’re Not Alone. This section was where people could share their fears, anxieties, and personal struggles through a variety of outlets, including wall graffiti, magnetic poetry, journaling, and a commonplace to share feelings in a safe space over good tea.
- Flower Power. This corner featured a Bouquet of the Day arrangement to add life and breath to your hyperventilating home space.
Amanda also had colorful, fun decorations for each holiday that rotated throughout the year. She called the store Seasonal Impressions. This hybrid store was a way of lassoing the tornado – taking back your life by letting go. It was just what the community needed. The place was always packed, but never felt cramped or claustrophobic. The vibe was genuine and the people shared the same crap, so it was safe. It wasn’t long before Amanda built a strong alliance of people who believed what she believed. These local advocates got the word out to educate on anxiety and fear, and it all came back to this magical little store.
Chestnut was a regular at Seasonal Impressions. He sat on his throne by the cash register, licking everyone’s hands and welcoming belly rubs from anyone who would give them to him. Amanda and Chestnut were living their best lives, free from the grip of the outside world.