It took me thirty minutes to put away the groceries this morning. Thirty minutes to complete a simple task that should have taken five, maybe ten minutes at most. Unless you have a cat with an anxiety disorder.
Yes, I said a cat with an anxiety disorder. Our Muggsy, who paces from the kitchen, through the living room, to the door of the bedroom where my husband is trying to sleep in preparation for a long holiday weekend working the night shift. A cat who emits loud, plaintive mewls in the ear of my no longer sleeping spouse, causing me to pause in the grocery unloading to remove him (cat, not husband) from the bedroom. Closing the bedroom door does more harm than good as the neurotic cat sits wailing in front of the door cursing his lack of opposable thumbs, so I leave the door open and repeat this scenario four times, abandoning the foods that need to be refrigerated or frozen as I tend to my four-legged baby.
I pick up my unsettled darling boy and cradle him against my chest. I whisper calm reassurances of safety and love as I press my face to his forehead. I shower tiny kisses on him and rub his ears until his heart stops racing and a steady purr begins to rumble. I carry him to the bedroom where he curls up in the crook of my husband’s arm, calm and untroubled for now.
This scene, or one like it, plays out often in our home. Muggsy began exhibiting signs of separation anxiety two years ago after we lost Molly, our older cat. She was there for the first fifteen years of his life, a nurturing big sister who was always within reach. After her passing we debated on bringing a new companion into the home, but we ruled it out. Based on his advanced age of seventeen, his small stature (he weighs in at a mighty five pounds), and his nervous personality we decided it would be too invasive to bring another cat into the home.
Our anxious boy requires a ton of attention. He can be calm for long periods of time, and then he will of a sudden be overwhelmed by his need for us. He wakes us up several times during the night, meowing a panicky series of crescendoing meows until one of us reaches out to stroke his head and gently shush him. He takes effort, and he takes work, but he is worth every bit of exertion. Even when he is on nervous overdrive he is the sweetest, gentlest little soul, and he has gifted us with nearly two decades of love. In return, I vow to give him as much of my time as he needs.
Something amazing happens when you care for a pet with an anxiety disorder. You discover a bit about yourself and your capacity as a caregiver. You are presented with the opportunity to grow and become a better person. You take what you have learned from this little animal who depends on you for comfort and you rethink the way you look at people.
I have come to realize that I have an ample supply of patience, and if that runs out I have a store of reserve forbearance. I have learned to pay attention to the signs that people put out and to recognize when someone is in distress. I no longer feel the need to snap if a person seems hesitant, frightened, or unsure of himself. I understand now that some people have internal struggles that are beyond their control. I find that I want to be a port in their storm, the same calming, soothing presence that I am for my Muggsy. I hope that I can offer one small gesture of kindness and understanding that may in some way provide the slightest bit of reassurance or relief.
I am not well-versed in the struggles that come along with mental illness. I am fortunate in that other than rare, stress-induced panic attacks I have not been directly touched by it as many others have. Likewise, I have not had firsthand experience in caring for a loved one with a disability. I do know, though, that thanks to my sweet Muggsy I will take care to be aware and empathetic of those who fight their own battles each day. I vow that I will give you as much time as you need.
Now if you will excuse me I have a fretful four-legged little dude who needs my attention.