A woman with lupus holds her comfort pet bird on her hand. Both of their eyes are in the shape of hearts.

The Difference a Pet Makes When You Have a Chronic Illness

My budgie, Koopa, turned 7 this year. We have been through some tough and amazing times together. She is little but her love is mighty and it’s helped carry me through my years of illness.

Lupus community advocate, Ava Meena's comfort pet, a yellow and green birdKoopa became a member of our family in 2013 when my husband (at the time he was my fiancé) finally accepted my tremendous love of birds. The 3 of us quickly became a tight-knit family. Koopa joined us on our honeymoon, brought us so much joy in our first home, and was a constant, encouraging companion when I lost my first job. She is the best coping mechanism I’ve ever had.

Taking my pet abroad

In 2015, Koopa traveled with us to Germany, where we spent a year as expats. Shortly after our move, my battle with severe chronic pain and illness began. I felt alone in a foreign country, with a body that was betraying me, but I had my bird.

I would spend most of my days in bed, and she would sit on my nightstand or my pillow, chattering and carrying on with silly behavior that would make me laugh. I don’t know what I would’ve done without my little bird’s emotional support.

Despite my poor health, we traveled as much as possible during our time in Germany and Koopa was there for it. She may be one of the most well-traveled budgies in the world. I’d play games with her on road trips and it would help me cope with the pain of sitting up for so long.

Having comfort from her during my worst suffering

In 2017, a few months after we moved back to the USA, I was diagnosed with lupus. I finally had an explanation for all my symptoms as well as treatment options. However, I was alone for long hours while my husband was at work, too sick to go out and do things by myself, and I was miserable.

But my bird was my rock. Every morning around 8 a.m. she’d start singing from her cage. It was the only thing that got me out of bed. I’d sit up, my achy joints protesting, and go get her. We would start our day together. She was a stream of positivity that got me through those tough days.

When I was suffering from pain, fatigue, loneliness, and the fear that accompanied my new diagnosis. Koopa wouldn’t leave my side. When I cried, she would quickly come over, scoop up my tears, and preen my eyelashes to make them as good as new. In the bird world, preening is an extremely loving act done within families.

Having a pet forced me to be at least a little active every day. I’d have to give her fresh food and water, clean her cage, and of course, give her lots of attention (that’s especially important if you choose to have a single bird instead of a flock).

Going through life changes together

When I became pregnant, Koopa would sit on my belly, perplexed at the movement under her feet. I knew that Koopa would need a new friend when so much of my attention was diverted to the baby, so we added a second budgie to our family.

When my son was 6 weeks old, Koopa became grievously ill overnight; my husband had to rush her to an emergency vet for treatment. It took us the better part of a year to figure out what was wrong – Koopa had ovarian cancer.

I took Koopa, and my infant, to the vet every other week for treatments from June 2018 to March 2019. This was devastatingly hard on me as a new mom with lupus. I could barely stand to watch Koopa suffer. But she would still overwhelm me with her sweetness – no matter how bad she felt, she always tried to make me feel better. I felt that, in a way, I was giving back to her – taking care of her in her illness as she had done for me.

Thankfully, Koopa was able to have surgery to remove the cancerous cysts (an extremely risky procedure for such a small bird, with only a 50 percent survival rate). Today, Koopa is a thriving, mischievous, wonderful bird. She loves playing with my toddler and sticks to me like glue when I have alone time. She’s perched on my computer as I type, and I’m brimming over with love simply because she’s with me.

I’m so grateful for her love

The emotional support of my beloved bird was crucial to my mental health during the hardest years of my life. I can’t imagine what it will be like when she is no longer part of my daily life, but I know that her unconditional love for me is one of the greatest things I’ve ever experienced.

Many people with a chronic condition, like lupus, have benefited from the incredible impact of a loving pet. It’s never an easy commitment to care for a pet when you have lupus, but the rewards can make all the difference in the world.

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