Sometimes the best lessons in life come from cats. Sometimes the best therapy in life is petting or playing with a cat. Sometimes life requires a bit more. As many of you who read this blog know, I have an anxiety disorder as well as a depressive disorder. I have been in therapy for some time now, trying to overcome my obstacles and make myself stronger. Having real life examples, being able to relate my own fears and progress with anxiety to the cats I have rescued is amazing. Having examples of how fear really does hold you back, how exposure therapy really does work, is just what I need. I can create my own little metaphors for life, which is just what I need to get through the day sometimes. Below are some of the lessons I have learned from the cats I have rescued or who have come in to my life.
Lesson 1: Embrace yourself. Be proud of who you are and what you can do for the world. I have been thinking about life and cats and why things happen quite a bit lately. When I took Marius to the vet a few weeks back, I told them “Looks like I have a new project.” The receptionist told me that is how everyone at the clinic had acquired their own cats, little strays who wandered into their lives, their homes and their hearts. I told her I didn’t have the money, the time or the energy to work with him. “I can’t afford another cat!” I said, “I wouldn’t be half as broke if I didn’t have to care for so many cats.” “But I bet you wouldn’t have it any other way” she replied. She was right. As utterly frustrating as it can be, as much as it breaks my spirit and my bank account, I simply wouldn’t have it any other way. I had to remind myself of this last week when Marius plateaued with his progress. I complained to myself. “Why?” I thought. “Why must the cats always find me? Why can’t I just ignore the cats I see? Why can’t I be like everyone else and just not care so much?” Even as I thought it I knew I didn’t want to be like everyone else, I am proud of my dedication to the animals and of how many lives I have saved or improved with my work. Unfortunately, I know if I don’t do the work, don’t step up to help the animals, there are very few others who will. I know I cannot take on rescuing all the animals, but I can do my part, however small, to make a difference in the lives of a handful of cats. I don’t want to feel like caring and rescuing cats is an obligation. I do feel it is a second job, a money sucking job, but emotionally rewarding and spiritually grounding job. There is nothing like the feeling of knowing you saved a life.
Lesson 2: Every decision requires sacrifice. Still, there are times, especially when I am fostering or socializing cats, as I am now, that it gets to be so exhausting. Emotionally, physically, there is just not enough to give. I spend time with Marius, I sacrifice the time with Muffin and Crash. Time actually spent working with him means time not spent writing (which is bad), time not spent checking e-mail or catching up on television shows (this could be troublesome but could be good) and time not spent on social media (a blessing actually). I spend time with my kitties, I sacrifice working with Marius and the progress I have made with him. It is a little trickier with him that it has been with past litters of kittens. There were multiple kittens so they both learned from the braver kitten(s) and had each other for company. Being kittens they also understood toys and playing, something Marius does. So he spends most of his days stretched out in his cage. He doesn’t play with the toys or use his scratching post. He only comes out to play when I pull out the Cat Charmer or when he hears Muffin in the hallway. It breaks my heart to think of him alone in here all day. I just remind myself he is happier now. He is safe, warm, dry and well fed. He has a comfortable bed and is on the road to a better life. He wouldn’t be doing anything but sitting alone if he were still outside.
Lesson 3: Change is scary. Change, and scary, can be good. I am grateful that Marius has finally made some huge breakthroughs. There were a few days, as there always are, where I was frustrated beyond belief that he wouldn’t come out to play, wouldn’t let me touch him or generally wouldn’t make any progress. I wanted to tell him “Don’t you know I am making your life better? Yes, change is scary but everything is going to be ok in the end; you just have to come out and face the scary new room. Just come out and get over your fear and life will be so much better.” As I was saying these things to Marius, I realized these were the same things my therapist has been telling me, (along with just about every self-help book and fancy inspirational picture on Facebook). Change is terrifying for me. Last summer when I was working with my litter of kittens for Chicago Cat Rescue, my therapist compared the exposure therapy she wants me to do with socializing shy kittens. It was the first time that things REALLY REALLY clicked in my head. It clicked again when I was talking to Marius, trying to explain to him that everything would be alright. Yes things are scary now, but they will get better. They won’t get better if you don’t relax and embrace them, but if you learn to work with change and the situation you are in, things will get better! You can’t always understand what life has in store for you, what the universe or a higher power has planned (in Marius’ case that higher power is yours truly) but you have to let go of your fear and accept life as it comes if you are ever going to change, grow and have a better life.
Lesson 4. Everything happens for a reason. When I talked to Hope Black of Making the Connection, she told me that Little Black and Mama were put in my life for a reason. I can live life in fear like Mama or I can be bold and brave like Little Black. I think of this frequently, especially the past few days when working with Marius. After it clicked that Marius was exhibiting the same behaviors I wish I could display in the face of change (and sometimes I do), I remembered the lessons Little Black and Mama can teach me. I don’t want to live like Mama. She is terrified of her own shadow and never leaves her house, because she knows our yard is safe. Mama and I both need to expand our safety nets. Marius is working on expanding his and will soon have a much more wonderful life than he did just a few weeks ago.