Dave the hammo: How a pet has helped me to manage OCD


Let me begin. My physical and mental health deteriorated at the beginning of the year. I was seldom well enough to leave my home at the time and my dogs became a staple for my sanity, so, on a never-ending quest for peace and contentment, I decided I wanted to extend the brood. In March I found a cute little hamster pup at a local breeder. I went to visit him and his littermates and he was the shy one in the corner. He was fluffy, nervous, and VERY (and I cannot stress this next part enough) CHONKY. As soon as I saw him I knew he was a Dave. He was born to be a Dave. I was just facilitating his ability to live out his truth. I brought Baby Dave home in a box and put him in his (v.pimpy) cage to settle in. 

Over the next few days it became apparent that Dave was fucking shitscared of me. I only had to whisper to him softly and he’d scream with great gusto from his tunnel or his nest. I’ve never had a living creature be terrified of me and it really hit me in the feels. I NEEDED TO MAKE THIS CHONKY BOI FEEL SAFE AND LOVED.

It took consistent taming three times a day between March and June for Dave to warm to me fully. It also took a lot of gentle patience and snacks (for him, but also definitely for me…) I’ve never had to gain an animal’s trust before and to say it turned out to be rewarding is an understatement. Once Big Dave was tame and comfortable, he and I grew exceptionally close. I’d had hamsters as pets during my childhood, but Dave is different. The most I can remember from my childhood hamsters is a lot of scurrying and quite a few nips (of the teeth kind, not the chest kind). I suppose Dave senses that I’m an adult with an instinct for nurturing, as opposed to clumsy 10 year old me lumbering around with not one nurturing bone in my tiny freckled body (I told my big sister her goldfish was dead by wafting it under her nose to wake her up lol forever soz about that one Jess, that was absolutely my bad).

I hadn’t realised that it was possible to feel this much love for a hammo. I also didn’t realise what huge personalities they have. Dave knows exactly what he wants and he communicates things to me in such an intelligent way. He climbs up the bars by the cage door when he wants to come out for a play. He climbs up onto my lap if he wants a scritch. Dave has never once bitten me – which is amazing considering how scared he was when he first arrived home. The stronger our bond became, the more I began to realise that Dave was helping me as much as I was helping him. 

Three things I am terrible at dealing with due to OCD:

  1. Dirt
  2. Germs 
  3. Responsibility and guilt

These are probably the three main areas that I struggle with most in terms of OCD obsessions and compulsions. I mentally obsess over them, which has led to many compulsive behaviours such as constant checking, repetitive hand-washing, and reassurance-seeking from family, friends, and Google. (Google is now a toxic ex-boyfriend to me – we no longer speak but he still tries to worm his way in.)

I’m terrible at dirt being near or on me, which I’ve been exposed to everyday since March when I pick up Dave’s poops and when I shovel the pee out of his litter tray. EXPOSURE STRIKE 1 OCD YA LIL BISH.

I’m terrified of germs because they could make me or my loved ones sick. Dave happens to be a very sickly hamster. He has always had issues with his respiratory system and so gets ill and needs antibiotics and pain meds etc. Nursing a hamster with gooey eyes and germy snot has accidentally worked wonders for the OCD. I feel a tad guilty for managing to find a silver lining in my furry son’s poor health but dats just how it be sometimes y’know? (STRIKE 2 imagine Dave drop-kicking the OCD cus that’s what’s bloody happening here.)

And then there’s the guilt. Ohhhh the guilt. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that OCD has caused me to feel disproportionate levels of responsibility when it comes to the wellbeing of humans and animals that I care about. This feeling of responsibility was condensed for a long while into an intense fear that I would accidentally hurt/kill my dogs. I would obsessively check whether they had water, I’d check taps and plugs repeatedly before I left the house so that I didn’t burn them alive, and I would have minor meltdowns within half an hour of fussing them incase I’d accidentally and unknowingly caused them physical harm. This feeling didn’t just stop at my dogs – I felt responsible for the lives of absolutely anybody I loved. Intense guilt always always followed the feelings of being responsible for everyone and everything, even if I’d done absolutely nothing to affect them. OCD was setting me up for failure every time. It had convinced me that I was incapable of keeping an animal safe. Enter Big Dave.

Having Dave around has shown me that I’m a fucking SICK hamster mama, a SICK doggo mama, and just generally a dependable bird all round. STRIKE 3 OCD, YOU FOOLISH PIECE OF SHIT.

Having Dave around has disproved the rhetoric that OCD was feeding me; that coming into contact with germs and dirt will have devastating consequences, and that I’m likely to cause harm to helpless living animals. Much bigger than this, Dave has taught me that I’m not responsible for the survival of the adult humans around me – I’m only responsible for my little fur babies. All the big grown human fuckers are more than capable of fending for themselves (love you guys), they certainly don’t need a tiny 5’4″ elf with a plethora of psychological ailments interfering all the goddamn time.

I had absolutely no idea that a miniature ball of fluff (-that’s Dave by the way) would help me as much as he has, and I’m noticing more and more the ‘accidental exposures’ that everyday life throws my way. It’s nice to take a step back and see how far I’ve come outside of structured CBT therapy.

In conclusion, I guess I’ll just have to keep increasing my fur baby pack until the OCD is entirely defeated… tough life.

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