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How My Rescue Rabbit Has Helped My Physical and Mental Health

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Eighty-seven days ago I had a hospital appointment.

I have been in and out of hospital all of my 23 years. When I was 8 years old, I developed a mysterious stomach condition that a doctor called “stomach migraines.” When I was 10 years old, I developed myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), which now gets worse every year, rendering me bed-bound 90 percent of the time. I’ve been hospitalized with the severity of my depression and been suicidal often. Then this year, I was diagnosed with acute heart failure, earning a place on the transplant list.

And so, this hospital appointment 87 days ago was nothing out of the ordinary. It was the results of a lump they had found on my liver back in February. It was benign, a result of scar tissue. It was the first time since January we all breathed normally. Although I still had the path of diagnosing my polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) to walk, the time of the “critical heart failure and the mysterious liver condition” was over. Or, at least, under control.

And so I pounced at the advantage of my dad feeling a little emotional, ever the opportunist. I had wanted a rabbit all my life, but something that day, from the moment I had woken up, had told me to persist today.

“Let’s just look at the rabbits,” I suggested. “Let’s just get a feel of it.”

The baby bunnies, or kits as I learned later, were all very sweet; what baby animal isn’t? But they would all find homes. Everyone wanted a kit.

That was when the assistant suggested adopting one of their rescue rabbits. She pointed to a small, fluffy black bundle asleep in a very small glass cage, by himself. “He’s called Matt,” she said. “He’s 2 and a half. We don’t know his history.”

I knelt down to see him and he scurried into his hiding house. The assistant climbed into the cage after him, and in a cloud of sawdust, passed him to me. I held him close, his little heart thumping while he stayed completely still. It took a second for me to know, to just know, in every fibre of my being, I needed to take him home.

We were kindred spirits; both unsure of the world around us, suspicious of people who try to get close, wanting to stay buried in our sanctuary, but both ultimately wanting love – however scary that may be. I grew terrified that I wouldn’t be able to bring him home, or what would happen if someone else adopted him. I was certain no one could love, or understand him, the way I would. He deserved the world.

The writer betting her rabbit.

After the begging and pleading to my parents, he was tucked into a box and on his way to his new forever home, under the new name of Nelson, “after Nelson Mandela!” My dad had suggested the name, and somehow, bizarrely, it stuck.

He would hide all the time. He ran away the minute anyone came near. Picking him up and holding him frightened him so much I refused to do so. Everyone kept telling me that he’ll get used to it, he’ll learn to like cuddles – all I could think of was how abusers say the same thing in defense of their actions. No, I would do it differently. I will wait patiently for the day he comes to me.

There were days that I cried in fear I wasn’t doing the best I could. Weeks were spent talking to my therapist about how I wasn’t good enough for him, how he didn’t love me. My health was taking a battering, and some days it was excruciating to bend down and feed him. But for the first time in my life, I did not pass the responsibility over to my parents. I did not give in. Nelson needed me, not my parents. He needed a once in a life time kind of love and I was determined, with a kind of determination I have never felt, to give that to him.

Weeks passed. Steps were taken forward, leaps were taken back. We played and we laughed just as much as I cried and he thumped his back legs in anger. He bonded with all my other animals, except our ginger tom cat, Elmo, who although thrice the size and strength of Nelson, was utterly terrified of him. Nelson enjoyed this feeling of superiority and would often sneak up on Elmo to spook him.

Then suddenly, I lost my cat Luna, a beautiful, loving 2-year-old huntress; she was hit by a car outside my house.

My heart was broken. I cried into her cold body, apologizing repeatedly and frantically.

She was so, so young. I should of saved her. I should of been there.

My only counsel was to sit under the dining room table with Nelson who sat quietly at the other end, watching me sob. There was a deep understanding in him, but knowing how to comfort a human was beyond him. Even though we sat apart, he got me through something I never thought I would get through. He finally saw I was vulnerable, too. It was after that that our bond became unwaveringly unbreakable.

Eighty-seven days later, he’s the first one I say good morning to, and my first smile of the day as he hops towards me in greeting. He lets me scratch his back and purrs in happiness. On my worst days when I can barely stand, I lie flat on the floor and he hops around me, nudging my face and feet, chewing a little on my hair. He plays chase with our kitten, Bailey. He allows our golden retriever Hugo to give him a sniff, and he sniffs Hugo in return. He still teases Elmo. When bunnies feel safe and relaxed in your presence, they do a very dramatic flop on their side to go to sleep, which he now does regularly next to me.

He still doesn’t climb onto me for cuddles, but that’s OK. Not all rabbits are “lap rabbits.”

Together we have learned to love again. Together we pushed through some of our darkest days. Together we learnt the beauty of trust, of bonding, of friendship. We overcame our communication barrier and learned to understand one another.

He has made the worst year of my life – the heart failure, the PCOS, the severe depression and anxiety and loneliness, the deteriorating 13-year-old ME and the unrelenting pain and exhaustion that comes with it, the worry of a liver lump that had the “C” word dangling above it that no one dared to mention – all worth it.

He proved to me that a true love doesn’t have to be in the form of a human. He taught me to never give up, not for a second. He showed me that there is always hope, and there is always light.

But the best part? This little rescue rabbit has no idea that he actually saved me from myself. He has no idea that he is my very own Christmas miracle.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

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Originally published: January 4, 2018
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