How Cats Help Treat My Depression

My father didn’t believe our neighbor when he told us that our dog Ace was “taking care of a cat” in his insulated dog house outside, which was located a short distance from an almost five-foot tall woodpile in our back yard. One cold, April morning in 2003, Dad went out to get some wood for a fire and found 5 newborn kittens huddled together tightly under the tarp, and Ace stared from his dog house, on guard, protecting those kittens with the glare he gave my father and the mother cat at his side. After waiting about 8-10 weeks, we humanely trapped the kittens, took them to the vet for shots and general health care, passed on 3 of them to good homes and kept the two we had fallen in love with. While Tipper passed away young, his brother Gabe is currently the oldest cat in the house (and the best hunter in the neighborhood). The experience was exciting, but at the time I had no idea how important my relationship with cats would be in the future.

In 2012, we somehow convinced my mother to rescue a cat from a dairy barn about an hour away from our house. We ended up picking our now 4-year old buddy Merlin, who is a Maine Coon mix that enjoys playing fetch and hanging out with our dogs. Around the time we adopted Merlin, I started experiencing more severe symptoms of what we thought was depression and anxiety. Merlin was a great comfort to me during this depression, and I believe in some cases, he saved my life. If I wasn’t having any of my own life, I had to keep pushing for Merlin. I had to get out of bed for Merlin. I needed to do my homework and go to school for Merlin. It sounds sort of silly now, but back then was my only sort of motivation. In 2014, that motivation grew to “I need to get out of the hospital and get better for Merlin.”

Fast forwarding to the fall of 2015, I attended my first year of college at Binghamton University. I loved every ounce of it, but had trouble adjusting to the routine that was required of me to be successful due to the lack of stability I had in my new environment. It was my Resident Director, Lauren, who suggested I apply for an Emotional Support Animal through the Office of Students with Disabilities. Upon being accepted, I adopted a 4-month old kitten named Pabu (Pah-boo) who came to live with me in my dorm room.

Pabu was the perfect addition in every way possible to my routine at Binghamton. On the days I felt well, or even hypomanic/manic, it was nice to have a cat as roommate to hang out with. On the days I felt low, I had a cuddle buddy. On the days I didn’t think I was going to get to class, he was the reason I at least got out of bed. I loved that cat so much, that I put his needs way before my own and that was motivation enough to get moving. “I need to get out of bed to feed Pabu or he will be upset.” “I need to get out of bed to clean Pabu’s litter box or he will be upset.” “Pabu is getting restlessness, I need to get out of bed to play with him.” Those little motivators were enough for me to get out and stay out of bed for the day. It wasn’t only about pulling myself together and functioning, however, because overtime the care required for Pabu created a solid routine that kept my mood swings to a minimum. The responsibility he required, along with his love and purrs helped me achieve a 3.8 overall GPA my first year and has become completely vital to my treatment plan for Bipolar I.

Pabu came home with me for the summer and I was away for a class when curiosity (almost) killed the cat. While exploring in the middle of the night, he was hit on the head, causing neurological damage and brain swelling. Over the past two months, Pabu hasn’t regained his full ability to walk (and he probably won’t) due to neurological issues affecting his front legs, but has gone from not being able to hold himself up in the litterbox and almost being put down to being fully functional, moving up and down the steps and around the house, jumping, and eating, all while not having any pain. His recovery has been miraculous and his adaptive nature, inspiring.

Pabu’s disability has made me love him even more. This little warrior fought against all odds to get to where he is, and watching him recover has taught me to fight my own battles with that kind of strength — Adapt to the worst of situations, fight, rest, love and be loved, and just keep moving. Because of these lessons, and because of the absolute love I have for my little pal, Pabu and I will take on sophomore year at Binghamton University together with more courage, heart, strength, and stability than either of us could have ever imagined. 

Read more from Lauryn at her personal blog, or see the rest of her posts for IBPF here

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