I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember, but I realized there was a name for the condition only in my 30s. One day at the library I found a book called Overcoming Anxiety for Dummies. It was as if the author described all the quirkiest components of what I previously thought was simply my personality. It turns out that, in fact, generalized anxiety disorder is so common that it is a diagnosis shared by millions. If misery loves company, then I suppose the knowledge that I am not alone in my mental illness provides some twisted sense of relief.
When I got involved in animal rescue, I soon discovered that cats, and later dogs, would provide me with a type of anxiety alleviation that I hadn’t experienced in my younger years via substance abuse or unstable relationships with similarly afflicted men. Perhaps the greatest gift from my cats is their calm, unconditional love. I hadn’t understood this phenomenon before, and once I discovered it, I found it far superior to any substance I had used to mask my lifelong struggle with angst.
My cats don’t eliminate my anxiety. But, as with many other people, they do help relieve it. Let me share with you the ways.
My mind is a busy entity that has trouble slowing itself down. I often think of it as a turbocharged engine that won’t stop, and I publicly refer to my brain as having a mind of its own (as if such a thing were possible). As a creative type, sometimes my ideas flow so fast and furious that it’s hard to record them during the busy life I live. I find that it’s at the beginning and end of days that I can sit peacefully with one or more of my cats on my lap and simply enjoy the moment.
I sometimes get painfully lonely, especially when my kids are gone. I don’t have a large human family, and those who I do have are one state away, in Oregon. Most of my closest friends are also there; it’s where I am originally from. But my cats help me feel more connected to the world at large. Of course, I feel a connection with each of my felines, but I also feel connected to the animal rescue community, which means a lot to me.
Like so many others, I am constantly overwhelmed with the number of homeless cats in the world. I’d be lying if I said the issue of pet overpopulation didn’t profoundly disturb me. But I am comforted by the fact that providing safe housing, high-quality meals, and love to my rescue cats is act of service that I don’t need to leave my house to be a part of.
This is the most special part of being a cat person. I’ve heard people complain that they feel their cats are indifferent to them, but I have never sensed such coldness from any of my own. Some are more independent than others, sure, but I know all of them love me. I am genuinely flattered when a feline chooses to perch near me on my bed or couch. I know this means they feel affection for me. And even the most hardened and weary of us need to feel loved.
Compared with the average middle class American, my life has been a bit rough around the edges. I grew up poor, and while I no longer live in poverty, I still struggle to make ends meet. I often feel as though my heart is larger than my pocketbook. I’d like to be able to do more for my kids, my cats, my dogs, and my community than I can do with the resources I have. But I know lots of people face much more difficult challenges. Relatively speaking, I am quite blessed. I love hearing stories of people who overcome challenges to become better people and inspire to write them myself. My cats help me stay focused on my goals, which include eventually writing a memoir about the healing power that cats have brought to my life. Having tangible goals relieves stress and also makes me feel like an integral part of the larger world we all inhabit.
When I adopted my first cat, I didn’t know that act would help with my anxiety. Fortunately, I have learned that the healing power of a cat sitting on my chest is at least as powerful as my daily dose of Prozac. And for that I am grateful.
How about you? Do your cats help you with anxiety? How? Let us know in the comments!
About Kezia Willingham: Also known as the Breadwinning Laundry Queen, Kezia works for an urban Head Start program and is a regular contributor to Catster and Dogster. She lives with her family, which includes a pack of rescued cats and dogs, in Seattle. You can follow her on Twitter.