When I Couldn’t Express Why I Felt So Bad, My Pet Rabbit Helped Me Talk


I always wanted a pet dog. Mom hates dogs because when she was 4 years old, a van pulled up at the park, and the driver let a load of Greyhounds out of the back that ran toward her and knocked her over. Needless to say, this became a phobia of dogs that I, as an animal-loving child, could not understand. I became frustrated that she didn’t listen to my constant begging for a dog.

When I was 15, things changed… well, a bit! Although a dog was still my number one pet choice, I compromised and got a rabbit. Well, two rabbits, but that’s a long story that doesn’t relate to this one. We named her Jenifer, which is a Welsh name meaning “white wave” — an apt name given her white stripe, which looked a bit like a wave. Jenifer came along at a time in my life when I felt things would never get better.

I was living with undiagnosed autism, Tourette syndrome (I was in denial!) and severe mental health problems including depression, OCD, agoraphobia and anxiety disorder. At school, I was routinely beaten up, spat on and called the R-word. It got to the point where I became suicidal as I was unable to communicate well about why I felt so bad. Jenifer changed everything. Whereas before I felt I had nothing to live for, I now had a little, fluffy life that depended on me.

We had intended to keep Jenifer outdoors, but she soon came into the house on a regular basis and became part of the family. She licked the tears off my face when I cried, nipped my hand when I was stroppy and flopped next to me when I was having a meltdown. She got lots of petting and cuddles in return. Even Mom, who had promised herself there was no way she would love this rabbit, began to love her!

Jenifer helped in a way that no one had expected. She helped me to talk. Yes, I was verbal before I had Jenifer, but I rarely expressed my feelings or emotions through words, mostly echoing lines from whichever TV show I was interested in at the time or rattling off the names and statistics of all 150 Pokémon (back when that was all there was). I could now start a conversation with someone about Jenifer, and as people often liked talking about pets, it was something that was seen as less “inappropriate” than my “Futurama” obsession.

Unfortunately, Jenifer passed away when I was 23 years old, but I am always thankful to her for keeping me alive through those difficult years. My life now is shared with two rabbits, Barney and Lorenne, and a hamster called Gandalf. Though they aren’t as affectionate as Jenifer was, are all lovable in their own ways! Before you all run off to buy your own “Jenifer,” remember that pets are a huge responsibility, and you may have to take over if your child (regardless of age) gets bored.

black and white rabbit

Follow this journey on A Lifetime of Labels.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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