On this World Mental Health day, I thought I would talk about the relationship with my cat, and how he has helped my general mental health. I was never a fan of cats, my mum told me the story of a cat trying to smother me as I lay in my pram as a baby, she’d went to answer the phone as she was coming home with me, and came out to the scene.
I wouldn’t say I hated cats or was afraid of them, I just heard one tried to kill me and took my mother’s word as verbatim. Fast forward to when I started going out with my better half, he had a cat, a very sick cat, before they adopted him he was physically abused by his owner, and he never really took to strangers but he seemed to take a liking to me sitting on my chest the first time I met him; maybe he knew we had something in common.
This was really the first interaction I ever had with a cat, he had jaw problems and would drool all over you, but he was very sweet natured despite his hard life. He was nothing like my mother has stated cats where, through him, I saw what a Cats true nature was, and began to see that these animals were not what I thought.
My first breakdown was a big one, it came after me and my partner moved in, I had the trauma from my abusive ex but I’d never really broken down until then. A good friend of mine, no a best friend of mine, started making rumours up about me for honest to God no reason, well no reason I could think of at the time anyway.
My entire friend group believed her, I mean my entire friend group, I was now the one who was stared at and spoken about anytime I went to my local pub. I tried to put a brave face on it, tried to move past it, but it broke me in a way that no fist ever could. I now had no one besides the one who stood by me, and some of you may wonder why I call him my better half?
I had ended up staying indoors, we lived across the road from a shop and I couldn’t even go there. I got out once every two weeks for therapy (after a bipolar diagnosis which turned out to be wrong), my mental health nurse (remember them?) would also come to visit me every week to check in on me, and I hid away from life. That Christmas my better half did some research about pet therapy, his old cat (well it was really his Dads) had died about a year earlier from cancer.
He knew before I did that I didn’t have Bipolar, he did a ton of mental health research and stumbled across Anxiety. There was plenty of evidence to show that I had it, and he focused his pet research on it. Before Christmas he took me to an animal shelter, we went in to see all the cats which were in quarantine due to a stomach virus.
Every single cat started meowing, every single one except the one we went there to see, who sat quietly in his little cage just starting at us as we approached. He looked striking like my partner’s old cat beside his face, similar markings, and the exact same fur colour. When the adoption lady put him into my partner’s arms, I will never forget the face he had when he held him for the first time and he snuggled up into his jacket, it was the moment I knew that cat was ours.
I’d never had a pet before so it took a little while for me to get used to him, I also felt like I would be a failure as an adopted owner but always got reassurance when I brought this up, as the cat came from an abandoned home he took a while to trust us. He would hide behind the couch a lot, he’d only come out at night, and if you came to visit us you wouldn’t even know he was there.
But one evening he came out from behind the couch, I got a chance to play with his toys and he chased the little fish on a string around the house, it was the first time we really bonded with each other. From then on whenever I’ve needed him he’s been right next to me, he lay snuggled into me in bed when I was in so much physical and mental pain after my second miscarriage.
He has been perking me up ever since, with his personality, his spoiledness, his caring nature, he’s brought me out of a panic attack by just purring, and woken me up during a terrible nightmare. He’s looked after me in such a simple way, but my cat really does help my mental health, its like he’s telling me to breathe to his rhythm by purring, and just being there for me.
After we got him he began to help my mental health, I started going outside more, and I stopped feeling so afraid. He brought me out of my first breakdown, armed with the knowledge that friends don’t hurt other friends that way, how to form a trusting relationship with another creature helped my social skills, and I began to bring friends back into my life again.
Pet therapy has helped me more than I could ever repay my pet.