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5 Things I’ve Learned from My Cats: a Reflection on 2016

I started the year newly single, with only my cats to remind me about play, self-love and flexibility.

Angie Bailey  |  Dec 28th 2016


While perusing my social media feeds, it appears that many people are ready to bid farewell to 2016, calling it “the worst year ever.” Surely, there have been many deaths of beloved celebrities and significant world events that might feed into that belief. There have been times when I’ve felt, “Whoa — the hits just keep on coming.” However, 2016, for me, was significant for other reasons.

I left a 25-year marriage and moved into my own apartment on Jan. 1, 2016. I intentionally chose that date because I wanted to mark a brand new year with my independence. Cosmo, my soul cat, and I were ready for a fresh start. I’m not going to lie and say the transition was easy. I think I spent the first week crying more than smiling, and wondering whether I would — or could — make it on my own. But like Mary Richards of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, another Minneapolis single lady who struck out on her own, I was ready to give it my all, even if there was doubt curled up in the corner of my mind.

Cosmo and I have grown together, and he has helped me embrace my independence. Who’s better at demonstrating independence than a cat, right? In June, my other cat Phoebe joined us, and we were a little family of three. My two kitties have taught me more than the art of independence. They’ve unknowingly dispersed quite a few pearls of wisdom that have helped me grow into self-reliance while learning to relax and have enjoy my newfound single lady-ness. Here are six of them.

1. Go with the flow

Ear flipped inside out? No worries.

Ear flipped inside out? No worries.

I’ve always been someone who likes routine and finds comfort in knowing what to expect. In fact, when my plans go off track, I can feel rather anxious, and sometimes the fear of the unknown is quite paralyzing. Suddenly being on my own, I had to handle these situations independently. I no longer had a partner to help me calm down and refocus. This required a lot of self-love and self-care.

My cats continue to show me that going with the flow isn’t as difficult as I think it is. Sure, if I move their sleeping bodies from one location to another, they might be a little disgruntled, but then they relax and seem to quickly forget about the move. They close their eyes and fall asleep in the new location. Change helps me learn to be flexible, and sometimes I miss incredible opportunities and experiences when I stick to a rigid routine and plan.

2. Take time to rest

Cosmo demonstrates the value of rest.

Cosmo demonstrates the value of rest.

My naturally go-go-go personality has been known to affect my mental and physical health. When I found myself living alone with no one to encourage me to slow down and rest, I sometimes pushed myself too far and felt the uncomfortable consequences.

My cats, expert loungers, reminded me it’s okay to take breaks and even indulge in a nap if my body asks for it. When I take the time to recharge, I feel more energized and refreshed … plus there’s the added benefit of kitty snuggles.

3. Try new things

Look what I can do!

Look what I can do!

Part of my “new life” goals were to try new things. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to try, and of course there was always the fear of “What if I’m not good at it?” or “What if it’s a total time-waster?” I had to get over that if I wanted any chance to savor fresh experiences. My cats usually don’t have much trepidation when it comes to trying something new. They explored the various corners of the new apartment with endless curiosity, and Phoebe took no time jumping on the countertops and sniffing everything new and interesting.

I decided I’d learn the ukulele. I’d never played a musical instrument, and I had convinced myself my musical talent is zilch, but guess what? I practiced — mostly with an audience of my kitties — and I got better. I can also sorta-kinda sing. Still working on that one.

4. Play

My boyfriend and share a love of live music.

My boyfriend and I share a love of live music.

During the first few weeks of living alone, I stayed holed up in my apartment. I didn’t much feel like doing anything fun, and thought perhaps I should be in a state of grief for a bit — grief is important, and I experienced it. Cosmo, on the other hand, continued to bat his toys and engage me in playful activity. Why couldn’t I get out there and play? I didn’t have to throw a giant party or go clubbing, after all. I had a sinking feeling that if I didn’t do something, my depression and fear would grow.

On my apartment building’s Facebook page, I asked whether anyone wanted to get together and play Scrabble. More than a few neighbors responded favorably and, a week later, I was throwing down tiles with people who I still consider friends. And through them, I met more neighbors. Fast-forward six months, and I met my now boyfriend, who is the absolute best company. We talk endlessly, and we laugh until our guts ache. Although I still enjoy my alone time, I feel incredibly fulfilled in my social life.

6. Don’t be too hard on yourself

Love of self is most important.

Love of self is most important.

It’s sometimes been tough to avoid the “negative self-talk” monster. Starting all over again isn’t always a smooth road. The bumps were sometimes jabs in my vulnerable self-confidence. It’s funny — cats seem to bounce back easily from mishaps like falling off the edge of the sofa or batting a treat underneath the fridge. In moments, they’ve already forgotten the incidents even happened. I’m still working on that one. I’ve definitely gotten better with leaving the past in the past and focusing on the present, and every day I feel stronger, more self-reliant, and more in love with my true self. Mostly what I feel is gratitude for how far I’ve come in a year, and for what’s ahead in my life. I know one thing for sure: My little kitty teachers will be right by my side.

Have your cats taught you valuable lessons? Tell us about them in the comments.