I’m only a little embarrassed to say that I think my cat may have been partially responsible for saving my life.
I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder for a long time–almost ten years now that I look back on it–but I’ve always been able to find my way back with some time, effort, and a lot of therapy. But last summer I fell into a depressive episode that was deeper, longer, and more debilitating than anything I’d ever experienced
For the first time my mood wasn’t the only thing affected by my mental illness. My body hurt, all the time, constantly. I was either sleeping for 14 hours a day or less than four. I’d go two weeks eating almost nothing and another two weeks eating almost anything. I could barely move but worse than any of that, I could barely think.
I’ve always felt smart, and I’ve liked using my brain. My job demands that as my primary function, but suddenly I found myself floundering. I was forgetting common words; losing them halfway through a sentence I’d already started. I developed a stutter and couldn’t think through tasks or projects, immediately overwhelmed by everything. I would write emails with the same care and attention that I normally would but people would write back saying I wasn’t making sense, that the sentences didn’t mean anything when put together.
I’d fallen into old habits of self-harm, and I was struggling with constant thoughts of suicide. And if I managed to drag myself into work on any given day, I’d be faced with coming home utterly exhausted to a lonely apartment in a new city, far from my friends and family.
I did a decent job keeping up the façade of being depressed but functioning…or at least that’s the only explanation that I can think of for why my friends decided it was time to redouble their push for me to adopt a cat.
I’d wanted a pet for as long as I could remember but it was not in the cards for me as a child. So, when I moved out on my own it was a top priority after getting settled. A dog probably couldn’t deal with my life as an individual who worked full time and sometimes took weekend trips to friend’s houses, so I settled on wanting a playful cat.
My plans got derailed when it felt like I could barely take care of myself but my friends were persistently sending me the posting of the local shelter and, against my better judgement at the time, I fell in love with one based just on the description and picture. She was a small, four-year-old black cat who had been at the shelter for almost seven months after being found on the streets, abused by her last family.
She had a broken tail that healed so the tip pointed in the wrong direction. She was apparently overwhelmed in the cat room of the shelter, so she spent her days in the office of one of the dog trainers but never got too close.
She loved to play and hunt but it took her a while to warm up to people. Her personality actually sounded exactly like me and after a half hour of meeting her and playing she was purring and rubbing against my legs and arms. The shelter staff said they’d never seen her warm up to someone so fast.
So I took Luna home. I gave her a warm bed (even though she prefers mine), and her own food with too many treats sprinkled in (she also prefers mine), and lots and lots of toys (she prefers my shoelaces).
On nights when I felt depressed and suicidal and like the minutes were dragging until the sun would rise so I could start my zombie-like day yet again, she would snuggle close and purr. I would tell her that I knew she’d had a hard life, but she was safe now; that I wasn’t going to leave her alone again.
I got worse before I got better, but Luna and her big, yellow eyes kept me company when I couldn’t sleep. She forced me to get out of bed to feed her and, while I was up, she convinced me to run around my apartment and play. And when I needed to go out to get more cat food for her it also made sense to pick up some fresh fruit and some human food from the grocery store. Cat litter and hair gets everywhere so I actually needed to start cleaning my apartment again and needed to do the dishes to avoid suspicious lick marks on my plates the next morning.
My cat certainly isn’t the reason that my depression finally abated (I have lots and lots of therapy and medication tweaking and family and friends to thank for that), but I do give her some credit. I actually don’t think I’m embarrassed to say that my cat may have played a part in saving my life because, even when I couldn’t convince myself of my worth and that my life was worth living, she was able to just by being excited for me to be home and coming running when I opened her food.
I just wish she could even remotely understand what her companionship has meant to me, but maybe I’ll just buy her some more toys in the meantime.