Having grown up surrounded by animals and as someone with anxiety and depression, I briefly thought about getting a therapy cat before moving away to college to help me manage my mental health. But with my mental health being in a good place at that time, I never really pushed it. It wasn't until my sophomore year of college that I changed my mind. After being forced to live with and be surrounded by negative people for an entire semester, my depression and anxiety worsened. To escape the toxic environment, I signed a lease for an off-campus studio apartment.
Knowing that living alone is linked to poorer mental health and that I was already having trouble managing my mental health conditions, I made the decision to adopt a cat. After visiting several local animal shelters, I stumbled upon Lexa. The moment I set my eyes on her, I knew she was the one. Her wild, leopard-like appearance, feisty yet affectionate personality, high energy level, excessive vocalness, and curiosity captivated me. I could see so many different personality traits and characteristics of myself in her.
After expressing interest in adopting her, I learned that she had tested positive for feline leukemia; therefore, she wasn't available for adoption. However, the rescuers hoped and believed she yielded a false positive, so they planned on retesting her. After waiting about a month for Lexa to be retested, it was revealed that it was indeed a false positive and she didn't have leukemia. Unfortunately, at this point, she had become sick with a respiratory infection, prohibiting her from being spayed. After being on medicine for two weeks, she was finally healthy enough to be spayed and adopted. Although it was a long process to bring Lexa home, it only reassured me she was the right cat. After all, nothing in my life ever goes as planned or is easy.
Before I got my sassy furball, I would watch TV, journal, and read as coping mechanisms when I was anxious. Although I still do those activities, the pleasure of snuggling up to a furry friend while doing these things has provided an abundance of mental health benefits. For example, adopting a cat has offered me continuous companionship by providing me a safe, calming constant in my life. Having experienced so many negative relationships in my life, I now struggle to form close emotional or physical relationships. But knowing that no matter what happens in my life, Lexa will always be there waiting for me at home has helped me lessen my fear of abandonment. My fear of intimacy has also led me to avoid physical contact. But being able to constantly pet and hold Lexa as well as be consistently showered with head boops, purrs, and lap naps has slowly opened me up to more physical comfort. Having always struggled to accept myself, having something, even a cat, love me for who I am has also helped me to feel more secure.
Lexa has helped relieve my stress and anxiety, too. Although I am happiest when I am busy, being busy 24/7 also constantly puts me in stressful situations. Because of this, it's often challenging to turn off my brain, but playing with Lexa helps me relax. Simply always having a cat near me also soothes my anxiety. Every night, for hours, I lie awake as my brain races with anxiety, worried about everything from not having enough money to pay rent to something I had said earlier to someone being taken the wrong way. But then I feel a warm, furry body cozy up next to me, and all my worries and fears melt away. It's my cat's comforting presence that helps anchor me to reality and allows my anxious thoughts to turn to empowering beliefs.
The sense of routine and responsibility of taking care of Lexa creates purpose where there sometimes seems to be none as well. Some days, my depression is so bad that all I want to do is sleep. Fortunately, Lexa's loud meowing and persistence for food force me to get up every morning, since if I didn't, she wouldn't have fresh water, clean litter, or food. There's something exhilarating about having something depend on me completely. It fuels me.
I always knew living with a pet comes with many health benefits. But I didn't know until I adopted one myself how helpful and life-changing cats can be in helping people who struggle with mental illness. While a cat shouldn't substitute professional medical advice or treatment, there's no denying the mind-boosting power of cats. Just by being themselves, cats can help people's mental health with their constant companionship, love, and affection. They have the ability to alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression and ease loneliness — which is what I needed.