Okay, just as a disclaimer, my fish didn't actually cure my depression. But, he certainly helped in easing the intensity of it.
For the past four years, I've struggled with falling into and pulling myself out of major depressive episodes. My college experience has not particularly helped with this, either. The one thing no one prepares you for in college, or adult life in general, is the loneliness. Although spending time alone to get to know yourself can be a positive thing, too much of it can be detrimental to your mental health. In this sense, college is a recipe for disaster. Especially for someone who lives alone, like me.
My apartment often felt desolate. It was just me, which I enjoyed, but as the hours and days passed, it got quite lonely. Also a recipe for disaster for a person with depression.
After yet another random spell of depression, I was fed up. I was done being sad and lonely, and I wanted to try something new – other than school – to keep me occupied. I made the spontaneous decision to buy a fish.
My first dose of reality came from the PetsMart worker. I never realized how much maintenance went into keeping a fish tank, even for a little Betta fish like Hades (my amazing fish, featured below).
After taking all of this in – the filters, heaters, water de-chlorinators, cleaning contraptions, food, decorations, gravel – I still felt like it was a good decision for me, even if it was more than I anticipated.
I felt like an anxious mother-to-be. I stayed up late browsing different fish forums. How do you properly care for a Betta? How much do they eat? When should they eat? Do fish sleep? Do I need to keep the water at a certain temperature? How often should I change the water? Are they okay when left alone for a few days?
I was initially overwhelmed. But once I went back to PetsMart and picked out Hades, I knew I had made the right decision. Walking up to the Betta section and seeing half of them dead and the other half staring off into space, I picked the little guy whose fins wouldn't stop flapping once I walked by.
After letting him get settled in his tank and watching him swim around, exploring his new home, I felt so content. I felt like I had rescued something in a way. Hades went from the depressing life of a Betta in a pet store, contained in a plastic cup, completely isolated – to a totally decorated and personalized tank, in his forever home, with me.
I feel completely cheesy writing about a fish in this way. But people tend to gloss over the fact that fish are just as much a pet like a dog or a cat. They are living, breathing animals that need our help to survive and flourish. Knowing that I have something that relies on me to take care of them has made a complete turn-around for my mental health. Watching him swim around, or even greeting me at the front of his tank when I walk past, has lifted my spirits from the low places they have been in lately.I used to think nothing of coming home after a long day. But now, I open my door and see the glow of his tank from the corner, and it brings me peace.