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Welcome to my hamster wheel

by Leah Morgan, CCAP

When I was 11, I got an albino rat. I named her Hamster. I loved that rat with all my heart. I let her crawl around all over my shoulders and I would smother her with kisses on the regular. I thought she was the cutest thing I’d ever seen. I made a special house for her in a cedar chest aside from her regular rat cage. It was her vacation home. That chest still sits at the foot of my bed. Now, it serves as a toy box for my granddaughter, but that is where Hamster used to spend her weekends and holidays.

The summer between grade 5 & 6 I went away to Japan for a month for an International Children’s camp. While I was away, Hamster had a seizure and died. I was devastated. This was my first real brush with death. I decided that I needed to get another rat right away to ease my pain but much to my dismay, there were no rats at the pet store when I went in search of Hamster’s replacement.

There were however, actual hamsters, so rather than leaving the store empty handed, I decided to try my luck with an albino hamster. I named him Angus.

Feeling elated at the arrival of my new pet, I got home and handed him off to my sister to hold while I prepared his new home. He proceeded to bite her. Hard. She screamed, quickly dropped him into the cage and that was the end of my love for Angus.

Poor Angus, he lived the rest of his life in that cage running around on his hamster wheel, with me his sole caregiver despising him for even existing. He bit my sister and I hated him for it. I never forgave him. I just judged him and showed him zero empathy.

My Mom was much better in the empathy department. She felt so bad for Angus, she tried to convince me to forgive him, to play with him but I just wouldn't have it.

It was either winter or early spring when Angus finally died. I honestly don’t remember how many months or years he spent running around on that squeaky hamster wheel. I do remember that the ground was frozen when he died and mom was adamant that we at least give him a proper burial. With the ground being as frozen as it was, she decided we needed to wait until spring, and wrapped poor, dead Angus in a paper towel and put him in a box in the freezer.

The ground thawed but Angus was long forgotten. Fast forward a decade or two… My mom and I had long moved out of that house when mom got a call from the woman who still lived there saying she had found a hamster in the freezer.

I still think about Angus and how poorly I treated him. How I got stuck in my own perception of him. He was a bad hamster because of that one action that he most likely just did out of fear. If I was able to get off my own wheel, I might have realized that he was just scared and I might have shown him some compassion. But, I was stuck in my own judgemental tracks. Zero forgiveness, zero empathy.

This concept came up years later in therapy when my therapist asked me if I tended to get stuck in my own thought patterns. “Like being stuck in a hamster wheel” she said. “The same thoughts just going round and round.”

Sometimes I still struggle to figure out how to break free from those patterns. I’m trying to notice when I get stuck in judgement, which is almost always a gateway to lack of empathy. This is one of my greatest lessons. I’m trying my best to change those old patterns, for myself and for Angus.

If you struggle with this too, try this simple recipe of German chamomile, ginger & rose to warm the heart and calm the nervous system.

Blend all the oils together and put in a roller bottle.

Apply to pressure points as needed.

Yours in love & aromatics

Leah Morgan, CCAP

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