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There are all sorts of cutesy, comforting and inspiring videos, blogs or essays on the Internet about how life can be amazing even with depression. I used to scroll through these obsessively, hoping that maybe one would connect. They rarely did.
I suspected for years that I suffered from mental health issues, but many factors kept me from seeking treatment, the foremost one being a deep, visceral sense of shame.
I was so worried about people thinking I was crazy or broken or being afraid of me that I preferred to suffer in silence. I was worried people would think I had a messed-up childhood. I didn’t; my parents are amazing people and my little brother is my best friend.
I wish I could say there was one blindingly brilliant moment of clarity that inspired me to get treatment. That I marched into the therapist’s office determined to work on all my flaws and jacked up brain chemistry until I was perfectly whole again.
That didn’t happen, though.
The truth is I was a walking miasma of self-pity, sadness and anger kept hidden under a very good happy front. It was exhausting to keep that front up all the time, but it was at least familiar.
I was struggling to cope with faulty brain chemistry and unhealthy thought patterns. Sometimes that made me a pain in the ass. Luckily I had people in my life who were willing to love me when I wasn’t very lovable.
Friends brought up treatment a lot, but usually I lacked the energy to even try to care. If I did have energy, I was angry at whoever brought it up. Every once in a while, I’d consider treatment briefly before I got sucked backed down into sadness. It was a vicious cycle.
After years of running what felt like an emotional low grade fever, I finally hit a breaking point. I truly believe my therapist saved my life. I naively thought that things couldn’t get worse, which is why I agreed to treatment in the first place. I was wrong.
There were some days where I left feeling worse than when I entered, but it was strangely cathartic. I was in a safe environment that allowed me to work through all the hard stuff that I had been putting off dealing with. I was officially diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
At first I thought a couple of months of talk session therapy would make it go away and never, ever come back. My therapist informed me that while this was a possibility, it was far more likely I’d relapse. In fact, given all the factors, I had close to a 90 percent chance of relapsing.
These relapses would most likely occur off and on for the rest of my life. I couldn’t hide my disappointment or anger, but she assured me with that with work we could create a skill set that would lessen the effects of my mental illnesses.
While she suggested medication, I ultimately decided not to go on it. I’m aware that medication can help; that it has for many people; however I decided that wasn’t the route for me. To be clear this is not a judgment call on those who do utilize medication. We all find our own paths and that simply wasn’t mine.
My decision to not use medications means I’ve tried a lot of coping skills. It’s forced to me to recognize the warning signs of when a relapse may occur. I’ve learn about myself, like what my triggers are. I’ve gotten better at narrowing down preventative strategies. Sometimes, though, my arsenal doesn’t work and I need to adapt.
Depression can make it hard to find motivation or purpose, because it steals all your energy. When I found myself having a major relapse even though my life was going well, I knew I had to do something to try and at least stop a full meltdown, and none of my usual tricks were working.
I follow the humane society on Facebook. When they posted a plea to help foster kittens, I read it quickly before scrolling along. Later that night, though, I started to consider the possibility of fostering. The next morning, I filled out the application.
A day later, I had a cat carrier filled with four mewing, terrified tiny kittens.
Charlie, Minx, Oreo and little Albus are my foster kittens. These four little black-and-white long-haired cuddly holy terrors of cuteness are slated to melt my heart for the next month or so until they put on enough weight to become adoptable.
They’ve added a new routine to my life. Every morning, I let them out of the bathroom so I can sweep, clean the litterbox, change the water and feed them. After that, it’s snuggle time, during which they also get their medications.
This routine alone has helped tremendously. Routines are critical for me in combating my depression and anxiety. They're also one the first things to slide when I’m relapsing. Being responsible for other creatures keeps me focused. It’s also really hard to be upset when you have four little fur bundles looking for love.
My depression and anxiety can cause me to focus inward. They distort my thinking and my self-worth and rob my energy. My foster kittens depend on me, though. They don’t care if I want to lie on the couch and Netflix-binge all day because I’m tired. They have needs that have to be taken care of right away. If they think I’m taking too long, their plaintive cries are enough to motivate me to move a little faster.
They have such distinct personalities. Little Minx, the only girl, is constantly competing with Charlie for the naughtiest kitten award. She’s a cuddler, but only on her terms. She makes up for it by having the loudest purr imaginable and striking blue eyes.
Charlie has decided that I’m his human. His spunky little kitten self is never far from me. I think he’s trying to compensate for being named last. He’s also very likely found his permanent home with me; I don’t think I can give him back.
His brother Oreo could be a twin to him. His purr is quiet, and this affectionate little guy loves to climb everything. He also likes to try to eat my roommate’s bunny’s hay if I’m not looking. He’s been known to climb on the bunny’s cage to try and make friends, a trick that he taught all of his siblings. Our bunny is not interested in friendship and thumps to show his displeasure at the intrusion.
The smallest, littlest one is named Albus after Albus Dumbledore. He’s the best behaved out of the four. He loves our fuzzy teal blanket and is content to just cuddle with me or my roommate. He’s also getting over a kitten cold, poor little guy. His sneezing fits are so funny, though, that we can’t help but laugh.
All four have unanimously decided that my chest and shoulders are the safest, most comfortable places in the world to relax. My lap simply won’t do. Occasionally the cute little monsters get caught in my hair, and I’m left trying to wrestle a snagged paw off the back of my head while trying to not hurt them.
The humane society I’m fostering from has been incredibly supportive. Any questions I have, they answer promptly. They are the largest shelter in my state, so they get all the animals that no one really wants, mostly "bully breed" dogs and cats. They really care about their animals.
I’m happy to contribute in any way I can. By socializing little Minx, Charlie, Oreo and Albus, they will be happier and healthier kittens when they go out on the adoption floor. This increases their chances of finding a forever home.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned about living with mental illness is you have to take an active part in the healing process. Inspirational Internet messages never really helped me battle my depression, but they were right about one thing. Life really can be amazing, even with mental health issues.
Life can be filled with warmth and laughter. Especially when it comes in the form of a two-pound kitten purring on my chest.