Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

Bougie Dogs and Why Our Culture Isn’t Designed for Mental Health


The author Jackie Schuld sits next to her dog, Egon
My Bougie Dog, Egon, and I

I adopted my first dog, Egon, in September of last year. His presence in my life ushered in multiple conversations about dogs, training, proper care, and more.


I’ve heard multiple people make fun of how Americans spoil and overcare for their dogs - from complex diet plans to a life that revolves around their dogs. I’ve also seen it made fun of in movies. People typically contrast this to other countries where dogs run around in the streets and fend for themselves.


I’d love for Egon to be able to run around outside, but I live in an apartment without a yard. If I let him wander the city streets, he’d probably be hit by a car or taken to the pound, which is where I got him.


Dogs are predators - they need to be able to move. Since he cannot move freely, I have to take him on walks multiple times a day and to the dog park. I have altered my daily schedule to fit these physical activities in.


I tried to feed him simple dog food from the grocery store, but he had diarrhea for months and wouldn’t stop scratching himself. After much experimentation, I feed him a raw diet and he no no longer has digestive problems.


I have no idea what breed Egon is. He looks like part sheep dog, poodle, terrier, and who the hell knows what else. His fluffy white coat is not ideal for the desert climate, and so I take him to the groomer every 6 weeks for a deshedding treatment and haircut.


When I had difficulty with his behavior (separation anxiety, barking at strangers, etc.), I paid to have trainers help me.


In short, I am the walking epitome of a bougie dog owner.


I did not intentionally choose to be. I am a natural byproduct of our current society: the design of our cities and homes, the amount of community and support, work schedules and demands, the quality of food, and more.


In the wild, Egon could meet his own needs (hunt, exercise, socialization, etc.). In our society, he has no opportunity to do that, and so I have to construct it for him.


I think it’s similar for humans. The things we need to survive and thrive are no longer readily available: food, community, natural exercise, mental stimulation, rest, etc.


In previous times, we were able to live in close knit communities with access to natural resources to meet our needs for survival (food, shelter, etc.). We had to do physical labor for those things, and that work naturally met our needs for movement, stimulation, connection, feelings of purpose, etc.


Today, we are the bougie dogs. Even if we wanted to go run wild, we cannot (unless you have an immense amount of privilege that affords you the time, money, and resources to own land and live from it).


Our natural needs for connection, community, purpose, food, and shelter are not met how they used to be. We now have to work for money so that we can pay to meet our needs - our food, our homes, our bills, etc. Our work fills the majority of our days, limiting our time with family, friends, and community. We have to carefully construct plans to ensure our children and ourselves are getting proper social time, physical activity, and more.


We’ve become the bougie dogs, except it’s not “bougie” at all. It’s extremely demanding, exhausting, and barely enough. Terms like “depression” and “anxiety” no longer seem like abnormal mental health conditions - they seem like the norm.


That’s because they are the byproduct of our society and the difficulty of trying to meet our needs in an incredibly challenging system. Our “mental health crisis” is due to how our society functions now.


Many people have noted the deleterious impacts of our oppressive systems and have called for change. Many more organizations and people are working toward that change. There are no easy, quick solutions; it will take time.


As we work toward change, one thing we can remove is self-blame. Many people feel there’s something wrong with them that they’re depressed or anxious. They feel guilty that they just can’t be happy. They look around at the material abundance of our culture and wonder, “What’s wrong with me that I can’t be happy with all of this?”


We can stop shaming ourselves and place the blame where it truly lies. We can see how demanding our society is and offer ourselves self-compassion. We can then start to make personal choices (you can read about how I did that in this essay) that address the actual problems - instead of thinking that problem is actually ourselves.

 

I'm an art therapist who helps individuals who experience

overwhelming thoughts and emotions.


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