Annie’s inner light is shining through. It’s taken a long time for all those layers of anxiety and fear to fade, let go of the hold they had on her when she first arrived. After three decades in biomedical research, any of us would have difficulty seeing the world through a different lens.
When Annie first arrived, she often had anxiety attacks during which she would throw herself on the ground, flail about and scream. Sometimes it was seemingly an over-stimulated response to a high arousal situation, or a misunderstanding with one of the other chimps. Sometimes it was often difficult to tell what, if anything outside of her own mind, precipitated her distress. These events still occur from time to time, but much less frequently.
And until the last year or so, Annie never left her best friend, Missy’s, side. She became extremely anxious if Missy happened to go off to explore the hill, or decided to engage in a play session with any of the other chimps. The first year that the chimps had access to Young’s Hill, Missy would bound outside to explore while Annie watched anxiously from the greenhouse, rocking back and forth in the doorway until Missy returned. Heartbreaking doesn’t adequately describe what it felt like to watch her in distress in these moments. To be unable to reassure her, knowing she had to find her peace and calm in her own way and time, was difficult to say the least. But as the chimpanzees continually show us, provided with a caring, respectful and loving environment in which to heal, they are capable of finding their way back to themselves. One step at a time, one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time.
It was around this time last year that our hearts swelled with joy over finding Annie peacefully sleeping in the greenhouse on her own. Now it’s an increasingly regular occurrence. Just a few days ago Annie was alarmed by something she saw outside and led the way out onto Young’s Hill, her hair standing on end and swaggering bi-pedally. She rushed out without hesitation or thought of who might serve as back-up as she courageously went to protect her home. And the others followed her lead! And just today during lunch when Jody, who holds a more dominant position in the group than Annie, attempted to take some of Annie’s lunch (as is normal chimpanzee hierarchical behavior) Annie turned her back to Jody and held fast to what she wanted, despite Jody’s displeasure.
Yep, Annie is shining through all that darkness of the past, brighter, steadier and stronger with each passing day. And what a beautiful gift it is to witness.