For my 19th birthday, I asked for a lizard.
This was not a spur of the moment decision. Pets should never be spur of the moment decisions, and lizards most of all, because they are VERY DIFFICULT TO CARE FOR. But that’s what I wanted.
I had been working at a pet shop for several months, and for quite a while we had had a veiled chameleon in stock, from the time she was tiny, and I was obsessed. For weeks I spammed my mom with pictures of her while I was at work, before I ever summed up the courage to broach the subject of buying her. I had pages of information, I did hours of research. I wanted her more than I’d ever wanted anything.
And when I opened my birthday card, a photo that my mom had printed off her phone fell out, and there she was, one of the dozens I had sent my mom.
She was mine.
I named her Mystique, because what else do you name a chameleon? (although, interestingly, chameleons do NOT change to blend in with their environment)
Unfortunately, I didn’t have her for long, because a complication of lizard puberty took her away within a matter of months, but for those few months, she taught me a valuable lesson.
A bit of important backstory
My birthday is in February (the third, if you want to spoil me) and that January I went on anti-depressants for the first time. I’d been on anxiety pills off and on for years, but this was the first hard-core anti-depressant. I hadn’t begun to notice a difference yet, but I was word vomiting to everyone that I was going on medication. I wanted them to know I was seeking help, that I was getting better. I needed people to tell me “yeah, you seem better!”
Of course, the usual responce was more along the lines of “I didn’t know you were depressed.”
The joys of invisible illness.
So here I was, slugging along, trying to convince myself that the medication was going to work, and that I wouldn’t scream about how I’d rather be dead ever again.
Back to the lizard
When I was researching my lizard, I became super obsessed with a site called Chameleon Forums. Which is exactly what it sounds like. A blog about chameleons. And I decided that my baby had to have a fully planted bioactive vivarium (read: functioning ecosystem). I got an old TV cabinet for $10 on craigslist, drug it home, and got to work waterproofing the interior. Here’s the thread about what exactly I was planning to do, because it’s too long and complicated to bother with here.
But in order to have that set up, I needed plants. Lots of plants. So I went to the store.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Walmart, but they have a terrible plant selection.
So I thought about it, and I went to Lowes, who had a marginally better plant selection. The thing about chameleons, is they have very specific requirements (why you shouldn’t get one on a whim) and there are very few plants they can have in their enclosure. Most of which are either ugly, or not easy to get your hands on.
And that’s the story of how my mom came home one day to this:
Not terribly impressive, right?
You see, when I was younger, I LOVED playing in the dirt. I helped in the garden, I chased bugs (I had a tent worm circus once, don’t ask). But since my depression had set in, I hadn’t done any of those things. I didn’t miss them, I didn’t understand why I had once done them. I didn’t even think about the fact that I had stopped doing them.
And here I was, having gone to the store all by myself, bought seeds and soil, come home, and planted them. All without help. I didn’t think twice at the time, but looking back, there was a time when even the thought of picking seeds without help (ignoring going to the store alone, or dealing with my debit card), would have sent me into a tailspin.
This was still February of 2017. The 22nd, if my post on Chameleon forums is correct, and I’d been on Anti-Depressants just under two months.
This isn’t about the outdoors
People who say that “the real antidepressant is nature” and that “going on a walk cured my depression” are either knowingly full of shit, or they thought they had depression when they were just sad or hormonal.
This is about how I started anti-depressants and that gave me the power to go outside. Once I went outside, yes, that helped me, yes, it was a huge step, but the real change was the medication.
But for me, the biggest change was having something worth doing. I had a goal. I needed that perfect set up for my baby. I needed to spoil her. I needed her to thrive.
In Loving Memory
As I mentioned previously, Mystique the Veiled Chameleon is sadly no longer with us. But she still changed my life. I drove halfway across Knoxville, by myself, to buy seeds for her. I may never have planted her vivarium like I intended, but I did have so many plants on my deck that it looked like a small jungle.
But the biggest difference?
Mystique passed away during finals, the second semester of Freshman year. You would think that would cause a total melt down. It probably should have.
But somehow – medication, therapy, stubborn attitude – I got through.