Thanks to colder temperatures and shorter days, I get depressed every winter. Luckily my cats are there to demand my attention, cheer me up, and remind me to be grateful — and they do so simply by being cats. Here are five ways my kitties make seasonal depression a little less, well, depressing.
When I get depressed, I forget to take pleasure in the little things. I don’t notice the murder of crows roosting in the trees, the pleasant glow of holiday lights, or the smell and warmth of the 20 ounces of coffee I chug every morning. I slide into autopilot without even knowing it, and my only goal is to get through the day.
My cats are the opposite. They are total hedonists who take ridiculous amounts of pleasure in everything they do. Bubba Lee Kinsey frequently stretches out for luxurious naps in front of the heater, rolling onto his side so his entire fluffy, spotted belly is bathed in warmth. Phoenix revels in the scoop of wet food she gets each afternoon, licking her lips until the last bit of flavor is gone. And when they climb on top of me for snuggles and headbutts? I have never seen anyone enjoy anything as much as Bubba enjoys chin scratches or Fifi enjoys a warm lap. They remind me to break down the complexity of life’s whole and pay attention to its infinitely strange, fascinating, and beautiful parts.
Depression also causes me to become self-centered. I feel as though my own personal drama is at the center of a universe that is perpetually collapsing in on itself. There is no escape! Everything sucks now, so everything is going to suck forever! All hope is lost!
But then Bubba will meow and place his front paws on the side of my mattress, so I will lift him into bed with me (he’s an old man, and jumping has gotten harder for him). He forces me to look outside my own head, and I’m reminded how fully and deeply he trusts me. I feel honored and extremely lucky that my brief time on this earth has intersected with his. Every creature has its own plight — and when it comes down to it, Bubba, Phoenix, and I have got it pretty good.
Every Sunday morning, I volunteer as a cat socializer at a local animal shelter. During this time I interact with kitty after kitty, each of whom has his or her own special needs and challenges. I might need to entertain a bored kitten with a feather toy, brush a long-haired calico, coax a shy and fearful former stray out of a corner, or give shoulder rides to a friendly fellow who is just dying for attention.
These interactions are not even a little bit about me or what I need, want, or expect out of these cats. Instead, I give each cat my full attention, and I take note of body language and verbal cues to understand what they need to be most comfortable. During this time, I don’t check my phone. I don’t look at Facebook. I don’t even think about my crappy first-world problems, because my attention is directed fully on the cat in front of me. When I leave, I’m usually exhausted in a good way, because I’ve used all of my emotional resources comforting others instead of dwelling on my own issues.
One of the ways I deal with depression is to clean. It helps me feel more in control of my surroundings and subsequently more able to manage my emotions. Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix give me many reasons to clean. Maybe Fifi will knock over one of my potted plants, or Bubba will vomit on the rug. Maybe they’ll track kitty litter all over the kitchen and stamp an adorable series of pawprints across my glass tabletop. Without a doubt they will shed almost everywhere, even unlikely places like the bathtub and the closet.
I’m not cool with kitty litter sticking to the bottoms of my feet as I walk across the kitchen or mounds of vomit sitting out so long that they get eaten again (gross but true). I’m thankful for my messy kitties because they force me to get off my ass and clean, and I almost always feel better after I do.
Purring is just about the most amazing thing that any animal can do. A few weeks ago I was having a particularly rough day, and the first thing I did when I got home was sit on the kitchen floor and eat a pumpkin muffin. Within moments Bubba and Fifi were all up in my grill, demanding their share of my snack.
Because I cannot resist those big round eyes and whiskers OMG, I tore off little chunks of muffin for each of them and watched them dig in with absolute laser-like focus and delight. They weren’t stressing about going back to work tomorrow or missing the gym again. They were enjoying a delicious treat — that’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Simple.
Afterward, Fifi curled up purring in my lap, and I folded her in a hug, and she purred louder, and the healing vibrations seemed to surge through my chest and rattle my ribcage. I felt happy for the first time all day.
Photo Credits: Top cat in box photo via Shutterstock; all others by Angela.