The Christmas Cat That Worked Better Than Xanax

If you don't know where to start to make the next year better, I have one piece of advice. Get a cat.
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Publish date:
December 25, 2014
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cats, help, xanax

2014 can be labeled as "the year of..." many things. The year I spent recovering from a super-shitty depressive episode The year I successfully ate a clean diet for 40 days, and ran my first 5k. The year I wrote about my online dating failures and had several article go viral. The year my best friend's son suddenly died. But most importantly 2014 will be the year I took in my first, and most likely my only, cat.

That day as I drove through the streets of North Philly with a plastic cat carrier with the tags still on it, anyone who passed by me would think that I was insane. “We're almost to the place, Cat, just stop making noises,” I screamed trying to match the volume of the ear-piecing wails my new pet was making.

Within a span of 72 hours, I had agreed to accept the Christmas present from a friend, a four-month-old marmalade-colored kitten that a friend of a friend had found wandering around his apartment building.

“This is the thing you need. It will provide such comfort,” my well-meaning friend when she introduced me to my very much alive and active gift. As the cat and I eyed each other up for the first time, we were both skeptical of each other.

When we finally got to my apartment, I let her out to get a lay of the new land. She scurried to the drawer underneath my bed, where Cat stayed for several days. (Yes, originally the cat's name was Cat because she looked identical to the one in Breakfast at Tiffanys. Eventually I named her Annie because she was an orphan, and Cat became to annoying to explain to non Audrey Hepburn fans.)

Great. The cat that is supposed to make me feel less alone wants nothing to do with me. Initially I was certain becoming a cat owner was a mistake, and had begun looking for places to drop her off. I was such a hot mess myself, and this cat didn't even like me.

And then it happened. After work one night, about two weeks after bringing the fuzzball home, I began having an anxiety attack, which was becoming the norm at least twice a day. While closing my eyes waiting for it to pass, I felt a thump on my chest. For a split second, I swore my heart had finally beaten so rapidly that it had exploded and I was nearing death. Turns out the Annie had pounced on my chest, and was now staring at me.

So startled, I forgot about the wave of nerves overtaking my body. Like reaching for forbidden fruit , my fingers grazed over the soft fur on her head. As she began emit a purr and calming vibration, my breathing began to steady and the panic attack passed. Absentmindedly stroking her fur her ended the attack faster than Xanax or Valium ever had in the past several years.

Instead of popping a pill when my daily panic attacks kicked off the day, I petted the cat that had finally warmed up to me. It wasn't until mid-February while driving to work one morning that I went through my entire daily routine without hyperventilating.

Annie knew that most days I woke up at 7 am for work, meaning her breakfast is served at that time. Getting out of bed to feed my new sidekick, it gave me the extra push to head to the gym, or go to the local coffee shop to work on some writing projects. This began a more productive routine than making unfilled promises to myself that I would be productive after one more episode of "Scandal."

After long days of keeping my emotions together, it was soothing to have Annie curl up next to me providing the silent, non-judgmental company that I required as I worked on creating a better frame of mind during the early months of 2014. And if I am up later than usual working, she has no qualms about jumping up on the keyboard and headbutting me to unplug for the evening. She's a reminder to be still, and to step away from the distractions that occupy me during most of the day.

However, when deadlines call for a late night, she curls up on my chest and rests her head on my shoulder so that I can type while in bed. Writer's block tends not to be as agonizing when there is a soft animal sleeping contently on top of you.

When I was feeling a resemblance of my old self by late March, life decided to throw another curve ball. In a span of six days, my best friend's son died and she returned to her hometown hundreds of miles away. This could have been a moment where all my progress to feel mentally and physically healthier could have backslid. Somehow it did not, but I was forced to cope with a bunch of other shit that was not on the agenda for 2014.

During the insomniac nights and the moments where grief was almost intolerable, Annie, almost instinctively, knew when to snuggle with me, or to bring over a toy to distract me from my own head.

With less than a week of 2014 left, I am finishing the year off strong. My year-long writer's block is finally over. Through months of self-reflection and self-discovery, I made the decision to change jobs and return to healthcare marketing which has been fulfilling in many ways.

Through experimenting with cooking, making smarter food choices and proving to myself I could run a 5K, I began to feel healthier and more in control of my own body. With the support of a select of loyal yet understanding friends, weekly sessions with my incredible therapist, my antidepressant and gradual lifestyle changes (literally baby steps each day) I'm back to the world of living. Not just going through the motions, but actual enjoying myself. But all of it started because of the tabby cat that I kept me company as I went through the solidarity act of sorting through 24 years of repressed, emotional baggage on top of normal every day life.

After publishing my article about my bout of depression at the beginning of the year , the outpouring from readers encouraged me beyond words. Almost a year later, I continue to receive emails from readers just discovering the article that are filled with support and many times a personal experience of their own struggle. Each note reminds me why I became a writer -- to help others feel less alone. Sharing my personal experience motivated me to be able to continue to improve myself so that I could eventually share that there is a light to the end of the tunnel. Only because of that dark low point I was experiencing 365 days ago, am I now so acutely aware and appreciative of my current emotional wellbeing.

If 2014 was the worst year of your life, or even if it was just a shitty year, that is okay. 2015 is less than two weeks away. If you don't know where to start to make the next year better, I have one piece of advice. Get a cat. Pet therapy can be the catalyst of the progression of a better life .