Written by Christina Lopez.
Graphic by Peyton Cabaniss.
Last October, I brought home a blue betta fish named Fitz. I flooded my social media accounts with pictures of him swimming and hiding in his aquarium plants. I was so proud that he was mine, and I was ready to take on the big responsibility of having his little life depend on me. A few weeks after I adopted him, I started to worry about how long he would survive. All of my previous experiences with fish ended with me crying over the toilet bowl after only a couple of weeks. One night, out of the blue, I started sobbing while on the phone with my mom because I was so worried about Fitz dying. My mom wondered aloud if it was just about the fish. I insisted it was.
Last October, my mental health reached its lowest point in my college experience. My life had seen several changes in the past few months, and I was ignoring them in an attempt to stay comfortable. I reached my breaking point when I had a falling out with a significant person in my life. Afterwards, the effects from all of the other changes began to weigh heavy on me. I began to worry about the future, too: my senior year and whatever was beyond that. The sadness, uncertainty, and anxiety struck with an urgency that overwhelmed me.
On the surface, everything seemed fine. I was still getting good grades, working two jobs, involved in a few on campus organizations, making time for my friends, and calling home every night. The routine of my life, however, wasn’t enough to make me feel steady. I didn’t think I could ask for help. Buying my blue betta fish finally gave me something that I felt I had control of.
I read articles on how to care for betta fish, obsessed over feeding him the perfect amount every day, and drew on his tank in dry-erase marker to keep him entertained and active. Then, one day, I forgot to feed him and spent the day in a panic. I ran to his tank as soon as I got home nearly in tears, but, to my relief, he was alive. He even survived the trip to El Paso and back for winter break in my car’s cup holder. Looking back, it seems silly that I cared so much about maintaining a fish, but I needed to find consistency in something.
As time went by, however, I began to worry less about my fish dying. He was staying active and growing every day. Though worry never completely went away, it did lessen. I started to see that even if I did everything right, he could still die at random. Similarly, I realized that the consistency in my life is as fragile as my fish’s life. I could be doing everything possible to keep a hold on it, but it could still change without warning. I had to learn to be okay with that.
Time has helped me process the life changes I underwent in a much healthier way. I had to allow myself to feel the hurt that I held back when everything was actually happening. If it hadn’t been for Fitz, I don’t know when, or if, that would’ve happened. If it wasn’t for Fitz, I wouldn’t have felt the sense of control needed for me to realize that the problem was my feeling a lack thereof. I was able to realize that it wasn’t just about the fish and finally asked for help.
Ultimately, the point is that, despite how difficult it can be, focusing on what I can’t directly influence is never productive: my family’s problems, changing relationships, friends graduating, and even where I’ll be in five years. At the very least, what I can focus on is my perspective. Some days are better than others. I still feel pride when I see Fitz camouflaging into his aquarium plant or waiting for his food in the morning. I still worry a little when he isn’t swimming around, but I no longer see it as a reflection of my care for him. I’m doing my best, and I hope he knows that. Because in the end, all we can really do is do the best for ourselves, and it doesn’t have to take adopting a fish to realize that.