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After growing up among animals and as someone with anxiety and depression, I thought briefly about getting a therapy cat before going to college to improve my sanity. But since my sanity was in a good place at the time, I never really pushed it forward. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I changed my mind. After being forced to live with and be surrounded by negative people for a full semester, my depression and anxiety worsened. To escape the toxic environment, I signed a lease for an off-campus studio apartment.
Knowing that living alone was associated with poorer mental health and that I was already having trouble managing my mental illness, I made the decision to adopt a cat. I came across Lexa after visiting several local animal shelters. The moment I fixed my eyes on her, I knew she was the one. Her wild, leopard-like appearance, her lively yet loving personality, her high energy level, her excessive vocal power and her curiosity fascinated me. I could see so many different personality traits and traits of myself in her.
After expressing interest in adoption, I learned that she had tested positive for feline leukemia. Therefore, she was not available for adoption. However, the rescuers hoped and believed that it gave a false positive, so they planned to test it again. After waiting about a month for Lexa to re-examine it, it turned out it was indeed a false positive and she did not have leukemia. Unfortunately at that time she was suffering from a respiratory infection, which prevented her from being neutered. After two weeks of medication, she was finally healthy enough to be neutered and adopted. Although it was a long process getting Lexa home, it only reassured me that she was the right cat. After all, nothing in my life goes as planned or is easy.
Before I got my naughty furball, I watched TV, wrote a journal, and read as a coping mechanism when I was scared. Although I still do these activities, the pleasure of snuggling up to a furry friend while I do these things has brought a plethora of mental health benefits. For example, adopting a cat has provided me with ongoing companionship by providing me with a safe, comforting constant in my life. After experiencing so many negative relationships in my life, I am now struggling to establish close emotional or physical relationships. But knowing that no matter what happens in my life Lexa will always be there to wait for me at home has helped me reduce my fear of leaving. My fear of intimacy has also led me to avoid physical contact. But the ability to constantly stroke and hold Lexa, and be constantly showered with headrests, purring, and napping has slowly opened me up to greater physical comfort. After always struggling to accept myself, to have something, even a cat, to love me for who I am, it has also helped me feel more secure.
Lexa also helped reduce my stress and anxiety. While I’m happiest when I’m busy, being busy around the clock also constantly puts me in stressful situations. Because of this, it is often difficult to turn my brain off, but playing with Lexa helps me relax. Just having a cat close by at all times also relieves my anxiety. I lie awake for hours every night with my brain racing with fear. I worry about everything because I don’t have enough money to pay rent for something I said earlier that someone was misunderstood. But then I feel a warm, furry body next to me and all my worries and fears disappear. It is the calming presence of my cat that helps me anchor myself in reality and allows my fearful thoughts to focus on beliefs.
The feeling of routine and responsibility of taking care of Lexa creates a purpose where sometimes it doesn’t seem to exist either. Some days my depression is so bad that I just want to sleep. Fortunately, Lexa’s loud meowing and persistence to eat forces me to get up every morning because if I didn’t, she would not have fresh water, clean trash, or food. There is something exciting when something completely depends on me. It drives me.
I always knew that living with a pet had many health benefits. But until I adopted one myself, I didn’t know how helpful and life changing cats can be in helping people struggling with mental illness. While a cat should not be a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment, the energizing power of cats cannot be denied. Just because they are themselves, cats with their constant companionship, love, and affection can help people’s mental health. They have the ability to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression, and relieve loneliness – which is what I needed.
Image source: Jenna Wirth