Lessons on Mental Health from Cats
Poulomi believed that cats were evil and filthy, until she met her cat, Bilhu, who brought trust and tranquility during pandemic times.
India, Southern Asia
My rendezvous with cats started in October 2019, when I noticed four wriggly kittens in a grocery shop and could not help myself from playing with them. However, I could not bring myself to touch or lift them. It was odd for an adult in her late 20’s to be so petrified of teeny-weeny kittens. This ‘oddity’ can mainly be attributed to social taboos linked to cats that I heard in my childhood: “cats are evil,” “cats are unloving,” “cats cannot be trusted,” and so on. I was also told as a kid that strays are filthy, they bite, and I should not be touching them. Never did I ever imagine that one kitten would transform my life.
Billu, my cat, came into my life when I was going through a rough patch and found it difficult to trust people. My friendship with her began when I started feeding and playing with her at the grocery shop, which was her make-shift residence. Gradually I was able to touch her and then lift her. I used to be overwhelmed when she would run to me, staggering over piles of boxes as soon as I called her name. Eventually, I brought her home one evening and thereafter we became family. Over time we both learned to adjust to each other’s habits and annoyances. In the process, I learnt to trust again.
A few months after I adopted my cat, COVID-19 overshadowed our lives and starved most of us of human touch. In the lockdown, my cat was my only companion and consolation. A few pats and scratches here and there on my cat were enough for me to feel wanted. As per Newport Academy, “petting and playing with animals reduces stress-related hormones. And these benefits can occur after just five minutes of interacting with a pet.”
On days when I felt anxious, my cat’s mere presence was enough to bring tranquility to the commotion inside me. Language was never a barrier for us to express ourselves. Every day she would wait for me to return from the office and greet me with a loud “meow” as if to say, “Mom, I missed you.” Our relationship thrived on trust and mutual respect. I was beside my cat at all times for days after she was spayed. I realized that caring for her was a lifetime commitment and gradually built my routine around her, which further relieved my stress. With time, all the taboos I had associated with cats were shattered and our bond grew stronger.
Over the next few months in lockdown, I befriended a few stray cats and fed them during my evening strolls. These interactions brought out the caregiver in me and led me to another kitten whom I picked from the roadside, fostered and then got her adopted. Caregiving is a selfless act and I understood that not all those we care for may be capable of reciprocating the same. Not only could I save lives, but caregiving also brought a sense of responsibility and consciousness about animals in my surroundings.
Cats gave me the sense of belonging that I otherwise lacked in my life. They accepted me just as I was without a speck of doubt. Contrary to their reputation, cats are extremely forgiving. They can trust people even after being abused by their kind. If cats could give head butts to a stranger despite their everyday struggle, the least I could do was to love myself in spite of all my shortcomings.
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