Sometimes my cat can be a little selfish. She knows that all I want to do is hold her like a little fur baby and pet her when she’s trying to sleep, and I know that she’s having neither of those things. Her selfishness is undoubtedly part of her charm, it’s why those brief cuddle-sessions (on her terms, usually in the middle of the night) feel so rewarding. With a cat-lady for a mom, I was born into this life. And when I think about all the times my cat unknowingly got me through an anxiety attack, helped me sleep, kept me company when I was sick, sad, or just lonely. . . well, I feel a pang of guilt for putting her cute kitten body in Barbie clothes all those years ago. Although my cat doesn’t need to fend for herself, her instinctual nature has taught me a lot about my own survival.
My cat was there through my darkest moments. Diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in fifth grade, I learned to listen to my cat’s purr as a way to soothe myself to sleep. I still pet my cat when I get anxious – research has shown it releases “feel good” chemicals in the brain, like endorphins and dopamine, which decrease pain and stress. The steady rhythmic hand motions help ground me, and my cat isn’t complaining either. Our relationship is mutually beneficial; she gets food, play and unconditional love, and I have a constant source of comfort.
Anxiety is a fickle beast; when I’ve got a lot on my plate, it finds each and every possible vulnerability to concentrate on and stress over. When I’ve got next to nothing to do with my time, instead of taking the day off, my anxiety holds onto imaginary issues; creates them with its ability to assume the worst in every situation. It can be difficult to take care of yourself properly when your brain is more concerned with the sound of an ambulance outside (“Who’s in it? What happened? Is it someone I know and love? Will I get to say goodbye?”) and anxiety’s best frenemy—The Future—slinking around at all times (“Am I wasting my life? Where will I be in a few years? Will I be able to handle change?”). And while all of this swirls around inside my head, my cat sleeps peacefully on beside me.
I realized something about my cat’s life—it’s nothing like mine. It is largely instinctual; she eats when she’s hungry, sleeps when she’s sleepy, and chases things when she has energy to release. It’s also a life of trust; she trusts that my family and I will return after being out all day, that she will be fed, and kissed repeatedly on the face (she might dread this too—I’m still doing research).
I might not be able to live the life of a cat but I can take notes on how to live less inside of my own head and more in the present, to trust more willingly in the things I’ve come to know (just because my mom is late getting home doesn’t mean something bad has happened), and make my self-preservation a priority.
So today I am taking care of myself like a cat would. I will eat and sleep and drink enough water. I will be present and gentle with myself. I will play when I need a break from working and will not apologize for putting on my own figurative oxygen mask before attempting to help others with theirs. Change will come, but I’ll always have cat naps.
(Featured image via, add’l images via Celia Edell)