If you’ve never been a pet owner you might not completely understand the deep unconditional love we attach to our beloved pets. Maybe you have experience of what a pet can mean when we are living with mental illness, especially if you live alone, as I do.
I watched my two cats being born fourteen years ago. There were only two in the litter. ‘Mother-Elsie’ was a stray I took pity on, one cold winter’s night. She was the first cat I had ever known.
My world was very different back then. I had a good job that I loved. Life was busy and comfortable. There was no awareness of mental illness, as I know it now. In many ways, a stray cat with two kittens was not really on the agenda, but something felt right, even though it cost me a small fortune.
It can be amazing to think of how certain situations can occur in our lives that prepare us, or maybe give us the tools, to get through that next leg of our journey. I could never have guessed what was waiting just around the corner.
I have had my fair share of heartache and trauma. It would be impossible for me to begin writing about it here. You could say that I have always been at odds with the world. Through all the confusion and unhappiness, no matter what life threw at me, I always possessed an ability to bounce back. It never occurred to me that one day I might wear the spring out.
One day in 2000, when my adorable kittens were only 6 weeks old, a horrific experience from the past came back to haunt me. It hit me like a bolt of lightning; quite literally blew me off my feet. I seemed to experience a delayed PTSD response and my very first mental breakdown ensued. I tried so hard, but could not bounce back. Life would never be the same.
It was utter madness. I will never forget some of the spine chilling psychotic episodes, the hallucinations, a constant babble of voices and the disturbing noises that will stay with me forever. There were also a couple of suicide attempts. When I woke next morning, I remember weeping because I was still alive. The one thing that always made me smile were the antics of the little fluffy kittens.
I cut off contact from friends, family, and work colleagues. Clearing my flat of everything from the past, I disconnected phones, unplugged the doorbell, and even sealed-up the letterbox. The only time I left home was to do the monthly shopping. Weeks turned into months and then years.
Family were the easiest to lose contact with. At first, they tried phoning but quickly took offence when I didn’t answer. Our entire relationship was always dependent on me doing all the running. Of course, they tried reaching out, but then tired easily when I did not respond. Who could blame them? I certainly didn’t and was only too glad to have them out of my life.
All I wanted to do was sleep or die. There were days when I barely left my bed, only to spend time playing and feeding the kittens. I named them Missy & Oscar. They were animals, but became my only contact with any kind of life form. At least their love was unconditional and safe. I like to think they kept me alive.
I’ve travelled a tough road over those fourteen years. More often than not, I was not even aware of being on any kind of healing journey. Some weeks I was barely surviving. I can honestly say that my two beautiful cats helped me through some of the deepest and darkest hours. I know that sounds crazy, but hey, welcome to my life!
Since 2000, I have been battling with my mental health – PTSD, Recurrent Depressive Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder Up until twelve months ago, I barely left home in thirteen years. Bizarrely, I didn’t even recognise anything was wrong – I was sane, everyone else was crazy-crackers.
Missy was always an outdoor cat. Oscar was entirely different. He was timid and preferred to be constantly by my side. Everywhere I went, he would follow like a loyal dog. He was one of my closest friends. In the darkest moments of despair, he would nuzzle my head and ears, while pawing me out of trance like states.
The memories of last Friday, the 22nd November 2013 are tattooed on my mind forever. It was the toughest decision I have ever had to make. As I stood with the Vet in surgery, it quickly became apparent that we had hit a brick wall. I didn’t expect this, we were meant to be going home together. It was the last kindest act I could do for my dear friend. As I nuzzled my little Oscar’s head and ears, he slipped away peacefully. It was difficult to comprehend that fourteen years have passed between us. Life would never be the same.
It is heart breaking, but if I’ve learned anything in recent months, it’s that sometimes we need to be prepared to walk through the darkness. Recently, I have been reading and blogging a lot about living in the present moment. For me, it holds the key to controlling the worst of the Borderline emotions. Unfortunately, sometimes living in the moment is not all about flowers and fluffy clouds; often it involves embracing our pain and heartache.
From birth to death, I will cherish my memories with Oscar forever. Goodbye my “baby boy”.