Well Hello There!
I have good news! I have a new kitten, who is currently trying to distract me from writing. Pretty successfully too.
He’s from a local rescue that was holding adoption events to help find homes for the many kittens they get in spades this time of year.
But he wasn’t really a spur of the moment decision. Sure, we decided pretty quickly to go to the adoption event, and decided pretty quickly at the event on which kitten wanted to come home with us, but I’ve wanted a cat for years now, basically ever since having to leave my previous cat with my parents and her tight-bonded sibling when I left for college. I’m hoping Jasper will grow up to be on the cuddly side, certainly he has been so far, but it’s okay if he doesn’t.
More than just because I really believe that our pets are going to be themselves, and not necessarily what we want them to be, I’m okay with whatever his personality turns into because I got him as another connection.
Let me explain.
Having PTSD, at least for me, means managing a lot of complicated interactions between stress and pretty much everything else. What I want and what I need are often very different things.
For instance, I have to actively manage my stress and how much I work. It’s not a matter of just having a bad day or a bad week, or even month, if I get too stressed it interferes with my ability to think, to work, and to make good decisions for myself and the people around me.
Worst case scenarios are total shut-downs that can take hours or days to resolve, during which time I might need reminders to eat, to bathe, to do something to distract myself. Work, even work I enjoy, isn’t possible during those times.
Except. Taking care of a cat is always possible for me. It doesn’t matter how bad things are, or how upset I am, if there is a cat that needs food, water, or petting, I can do that. I can make that happen for that animal.
Maybe this key to doing something even when I’m under extreme stress comes from having been raised with cats. I don’t remember a time I didn’t have cats. Usually I had a cat that was mine, and a cat that was my mom’s.
Jasper is more even than that to me. Yes, having a cat is important to managing my worst symptoms. Having a cat in the room helps immensely. But we have other cats, other animals in the house I can go to for that unique comfort than comes from our furry companions.
Jasper is a connection, a link, another string in the dream catcher of my social support network. Jasper needs me. He needs me as much or more than I need him. Already we are showing signs of the tight-bonding that occurs between some people and their closest pets.
You may be wondering if pets can be included in your network of social supports like that. I argue that yes, yes they can. The relationship between animal and human may not be the same as the relationship between two people, but it is still a strong bond.
More, animal companions can be there when people cannot. When my partner is at work, Jasper is still home. When I need to vent or reach out and can’t, whatever the reason, I can cuddle or play with Jasper. I can talk to him to order my thoughts, I can watch him to lift my mood, I can trust that he will be here at home when I need emotional support.
In exchange I can’t offer him the things I would offer a friend. But I can give him all the love in my heart. I can make sure he has healthy food and plenty of clean fresh water. I can get him toys and play with him. I can hold him and make sure he is warm and safe, and take him to the vet to make sure he’s healthy.
I can make sure he’s as happy as any house pet can be.
We rely on each other. It’s a deep and meaningful two-way connection that brings value to us both.
That’s a huge part of managing PTSD. At least I think so. I don’t have a ton of friends. I don’t need them. I cultivate the few, deep, meaningful connections I need. I set the expectation for myself to be of benefit to the people who benefit me. To offer them the support and care they give me.
I manage it carefully. I can’t always do it, and neither can they. These sorts of bonds take lots of work, knowing when to take a step back, and when your friend needs you there even if they aren’t able to deal with the things bothering them.
It’s knowing when you need a break.
Jasper is quickly becoming my break space. He’s also a major motivation. Because he needs me he needs me to make good choices. He needs me to work toward being my best self.
His presence relaxes me. I can give myself permission to take a minute, to take a breath. Plus, he sometimes demands my total attention, trying to steal taco meat from my salad, curling up on my lap, licking my face, and purring like a motorcycle with all his tiny self.
And yes, being my best self means following my dreams too. My best self is someone with big goals. I don’t always have the confidence to get there, but I can give myself the additional motivation to make that happen.
Jasper, right now, lives for cuddles and toys. We’ll introduce him to catnip and treats and new toys soon, but for now, in our room, he lives for the fun of the space and the love from me.
He needs me. I need him. He keeps me going, and I’ll show him all the joys of cat life.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty great friendship to me. A pretty great support. A pretty great tool in my mental health toolbox.