Amelia’s Corner #1 – Pets and Mental Health
I grew up in a house full of cats. And when I saw full I mean that at some point we had over twenty kittens walking around. Too many? Yes, for sure, way too many cats and we knew that at the time. But it wasn’t until I grew up, moved out and then adopted a cat of my own that I realized how something that seemed so trivial had helped me, my childhood and formed me as a person.
On my first post I told you I’d one day explain why the “Cat” on the blog’s name, why one only and not cats. Today is the day. If you don’t know that by now I must definitely be doing something wrong, but I am the proud cat-parent of a 2 years old lilac Siamese named Amelia. And since this baby girl has been so important in my life I decided to start this series called “Amelia’s Corner”, with out first post explaining how pets and mental health go together and how Amelia has helped me in my struggles.
That having a furry buddy can be calming and soothing we all know. How joyful it is, coming home to a little thing
that is stupidly happy to see you, about their unconditional love for you. And before you even try to disagree with me, cats also love us unconditionally, there is nothing in the world anyone can say to make me stop believing that. But there is more than that to having a pet, especially when you suffer from any mental illnesses, anxiety-related disorders and depression. Freud himself used to bring his pet Chow into some sessions, noticing the affect Jofi had on his patients. By the way, Jofi is a killer name for a dog, well done Siggy!
Psychologists are finally starting to notice that maybe it isn’t just about the cuteness of puppies, but interacting with a pet can help you produce endorphins, that lovely little thing that makes us feel good, happy. Even before Freud, psychologist Boris Levinson started paying attention to how his dog out interact with one of his autistic patients and how the pup seemed to reach the child in levels no humans could. Studies show today that having a pet can help you improve social skills, increase your sense of responsibility, move your body more and have the energy to exercise, and it gives people a sense of self-worth, to be taking care of a little life, a sense of achievement.
The number of certified Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) grows more and more every day. The existence of ESAs came to my attention through one of my favorite bloggers, Davida from The Healthy Maven. On this post, Davida explained what was an ESA, about how Bodhi, her puppers, came into her life and how she got him certified. Summing up, ESAs are animals that are determined by a medical professional as beneficial (if not vital) to a person with emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities. ESAs are known to decrease symptoms of certain disabilities and disorders such as PTSD, anxiety disorders, depression, GAD, agoraphobia and so much more. They’ve been “prescribed” to people within the autism spectrum or those diagnoses with bipolar disorders. You can read more on how they work and how to get them certified here.
Upon finding such information I started realizing that maybe Amelia was my uncertified ESA. I got her as a Christmas present after my brother found her and her three other little brother and sisters abandoned on the streets. When she first came to me, I was in the middle of my therapy treatment for my Binge Eating Disorder, battling many inner demons and fighting on and off with a depression I rarely ever mentioned to others. The first time I saw her I was frozen. I love, right away. I could get into how I believe our connection is spiritual, but I’ll leave that to another day. The point is, she came into my life when I most needed her and I didn’t even know it at the time.
The first few weeks were both a dream and a nightmare. Let me tell you, I am still sure this cat is the spawn of the Devil. But back then it was almost unbearable. She’d chew on everything, break my stuff, make a huge mess out of her litter box and wake me up in the middle of the night because she wanted to move in bed. One day I called my mom and I said I didn’t want Amelia anymore. I was going to take her back to my brother, or bring her to a shelter, any option there was. And when I came home, the minute I opened the door and she came running to me, doing that little “prrtt” sound cats do, I burst into tears. Ugly crying, sobbing loudly. Because I looked at her and she couldn’t care less that I had been mad, or that she didn’t understand what I was saying, that I was just a big, hairless cat to her. All I could see in her in that moment was me once more giving up on something. Tossing aside something I didn’t know how to deal with, something that made me work and put on effort all the time. I saw me, how many times I had given up on me and just swept my own problems under the rug. From that day on, Amelia became my priority in so many levels and I am so glad she did.
Taking care of her, sharing my days with Amelia has taught me so much. First and foremost that people are different. Sometimes they won’t understand you and you won’t understand them. Sometimes you grew up in different places, with different cultures and values. Sometimes you just don’t think the same or don’t know the same things, haven’t lived through the same experiences. And that’s okay. I’m human, I speak Portuguese and English. Amelia is a cat and she makes about 294830549 different sounds. And we still coexist, we get along, we’re buddies, yo. She taught me that sometimes you just need to listen. Just shut up, breathe and listen and you’ll understand what the other is telling you. She has taught me that no matter how lonely you think you are, there is always someone that counts on you and that has you back and that is it selfish to let yourself drown. That sometimes things that feel like huge sacrifices to us as not as bad as we believe and they can be so rewarding.
All of those things in just one tiny, energetic, impossible raccoon impersonator of a cat, can you imagine?
So many times she came licking my tears during crisis, she’d lay on top of me when I had panic attacks and she always, always curls up to me when I’m in pain. That right there, my friend, that is compassion. That is empathy. That is unconditional love.
Sometimes I just come home and I pick her up, I hold her against my chest for five seconds with my eyes closed, her purring vibrating on my skin, and I’m fine. I can say with absolute certainty today that adopting Amelia has sped up my therapy process in about five years, that choosing to keep her was what kept me from starting medication and that having her around has cut the chances of any breakdowns in half.
So, my fellow weirdo, if you love animals, if you have the chance or the space or the time and money, get yourself a pet. And if you only have some of those, go volunteer at an animal shelter. Animals are beautiful blessings of the gods, they’re pure and they have a lot of love to give.
Oh and please STOP being a bitch towards cats. Just stop it. People that hate cats, that say they’re mean, evil, yada yada are simply people that don’t think love can exist without complete submission. Felines rule, you suck.
Stay true, weirdo, stay PAWsome.
Jules and Amelia S.
PS: I hope you all enjoy the myriad of pictures of my cat sleeping in odd positions.