While taking her cat to the vet, my housemate met a 6-month-old kitten who was in need of a home. She was initially said to be feral, but her friendly nature ruled out that possibility. She was scrawny and malnourished. Her long fur was matted. She was intrigued by humans, but very anxious.
My housemate sent me a few pictures of the kitten. I’d been considering getting a cat for a while, and my heart melted as soon as I saw her. I arranged to adopt her, and soon, she was in my arms. I called her Pandora.
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She took a long time to get used to me. For the first two weeks, she practically lived under my bed. She once ran out and got stuck in the bushes for two days. During that time, I felt like it was a failure on my part. It was then that I fully realized that a living thing – an actual feeling, living thing – was dependent on me. To survive, she needed me. For the first time, my existence was crucial for someone else’s survival.
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I realized that I needed to be okay for her – I needed to function for her sake, if not mine. No matter how bad I feel, I know I have to get up in the morning and feed her. I have to work to make sure I can take care of her. I have to clean my room to make sure she doesn’t break or misplace anything. When I feel like doing nothing for myself or others, I remember that I have to protect her. For some reason, that’s the most motivating factor ever.
I realized that if any of my suicide attempts were successful, I wouldn’t have been able to rescue and protect her. Without me, she might still be an anxious ball of matted fur. This realization was something that made me grateful for my life, despite the difficulties I endured. When I’m in a lot of pain, I remind myself of this. How many more cats do I have to carry on living for? What about friends who have yet to enter my life? What about future lovers or children? More importantly, how much joy will I miss out on if I check out of life now?
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When Pandora gained enough courage to leave my bedroom and explore the house, her curiosity comforted me. She approached the world with childlike wonder and found joy in small things. It was impossible for me to not smile at her antics, and it was nearly impossible for me to feel miserable when she was so clearly enamored with the world around her.
Everybody tells depressed people to see a therapist, but nobody tells us how hard it is. Nobody tells us that therapy can be traumatic if we’re paired with the wrong counselors. Nobody tells us that we often have to fork out thousands before we find any sort of result.
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Over the past 9 years, I’ve gone through my fair share of therapists. I’ve had some good counselors who cared about me deeply, and some others who did not.
I stuck with counseling for a long time, and I learnt a lot from it. But I eventually came to the conclusion that therapy was costing me too much money, time and emotional energy, so I decided to take a break from it.
Amazingly, Pandora gave me something years of therapy never did: a reason to live. Therapists can talk you down and help you work through complex feelings, but they can’t give you love, which is what I needed all along. From a completely objective standpoint, adopting a cat was the best decision I ever made for my mental health. From the perspective of a young writer struggling to make ends meet, she was – strangely – the cheapest and most effective therapy method I’ve ever encountered.
I’m not saying therapy or medication is useless—far from it. In fact, therapy and medication has saved my life many times. Rather, I’m saying that healing can come from the most unexpected of places.
Nothing can match the unconditional love of a pet. Even when I think I’m the worst person in the world, my purring fluffball will always nuzzle my neck and playfully chew my fingers. She doesn’t need my constant attention, but she still needs me, and I need her.
With or without a pet, we’re always worthy of love. We deserve validation and compassion always. But the gentle presence of our pets can remind us of this fact when we’re struggling to remember it.