• MJ

5 Things My Cat Has Taught Me About Self-Care

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

Those of you who know me will know I love cats. What you might not know is that I LOVE cats. As an autistic person, I tend to experience intense interests in certain topics. Some of them last days, some weeks or months, and some have lasted my whole life. One interest that falls into the latter category is cats, and over the years I have fostered, adopted, cared for and learned about a great many of them. However, I’ve recently realized that they’ve taught me more than just facts and figures. I’ve also learned a whole way of life that has had a remarkable positive impact on my health and well-being. This may sounds a little excessive, but I promise you it’s true. To illustrate this, here are 5 things my cats have taught me about self-care, success, and living my best life.

Worship yourself, and others will follow suit.

There’s a meme that often floats around on the internet, featuring a statue of the Egyptian goddess Bastet and a quote from one of my favourite authors; “in ancient times, cats were worshipped as god(desse)s; they have not forgotten this” (Terry Pratchett). Anyone who has lived with a cat can attest that they are naturally majestic creatures, who are completely convinced of their own importance at any given point. And anyone who has observed a cat caregiver will note that they tend to follow their cat’s lead on this. For thousands of years, they have effortlessly commanded our devotion. Despite their small stature, fickle natures and largely untameable demeanours, they have consistently featured in our pantheons, our art, our idioms, our cinemas and our homes. There is no obvious reason for their particular dominance across our collective consciousness; they are not as obedient as dogs, as industrious as horses, or as low-maintenance as rabbits. And yet, there seems to be an unspoken agreement between human and feline that we will serve their every whim whilst expecting little in return. Cats are, in my mind, the perfect example of self-manifestation; they believe they are worthy of worship, they affirm this through their behaviour, and this draws people to them who want to worship to them. This is a powerful metaphor for the power of positive thinking and self-care. I have found that, since I started to believe in myself even a fraction of the amount my cat believes in himself, I have attracted the people who believe in me too.

A black statue of the Egyptian cat-god Bast

There is never a bad time to ask for what you need.

Cat parents will relate to this with ease. It’s 4am. I’m in bed, fast asleep, when I am roused by something cold, moist and slightly slimy pressing into my cheek. Suddenly there is a weight on my back, coupled up with insistent, prodding, kneading feet. The odd claw nicks my skin. Just when I think death has found me, a soft and pitiful mewn reaches my ears. It’s my cat. And he’s hungry. There’s always a brief moment of frustration, but it never lasts. I can’t bring myself to be angry with him. Yes, I was asleep and comfortable, and will now be tired and a bit chilly. But I know that from his perspective, I am the one with opposable thumbs and therefore the obvious answer to his problem. He has a need. I am the solution. Why wait and make himself uncomfortable when he could wake me up and ask for breakfast?

I’ve mulled this over a lot, and I came to the realisation a while back that perhaps I need to channel this a bit more in my own life. As a disabled person I often need more than is provided. And all too often, I sit there suffering in silence rather than voicing my discomfort and asking for what I need. I’ve often done this through fear of feeling like a burden or of angering those around me, but my cat has taught me that this may well be unfounded, and not the consideration I need to focus on. If I can tolerate being woken at all hours of the morning by him to squeeze slimy cat food out of a packet, and still worship the ground he walks on, perhaps it’s okay for me to expect people to afford me access and still treat me with respect. And, much like my cat, if they brush me off when I ask for what I need, perhaps I should just go ask the next person instead of feeling guilty for being honest.

It’s perfectly okay to “have a moment”, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation

Something you may not have experienced if you haven’t lived with a cat is a phenomenon known as “The Zoomies”. At least once a day, every day, a strange mood descends over my house. These days, I can almost sense it coming, as the excitement and playfulness builds. There’s a sudden thundering of feet across the landing. Claws skitter across the laminate. Books fly as the cat collides with the bookshelf in the hallway. He doesn’t skip a beat as he recovers from his skid and careers through the living room at top speed. I blink, and he’s already in the kitchen. He stops. Motionless. Listening. There’s a lash of the tail, and then a thundering on the landing. I didn’t even see him leave. This repeats in a haphazard fashion for the next half hour. The first time you see it, it’s quite bemusing and you’re not quite sure what’s wrong, but you quickly get used to it. These days, I simply carry on going about my day, unless there’s an obvious reason I need to intervene. This is another courtesy my cat has taught me to expect. Whether it’s because you’re stressed, due to a disability, or in my cat’s case simply because you used the litter tray and feel a few pounds lighter, sometimes you just need to let yourself go a bit and let it all out. And that’s okay.

It’s okay to ask “what’s in this for me?”

There are two poses in which it seems my cat spends 90% of his waking time. The first is his signature sleeping pose – back end curled like a half-eaten donut, with his front legs straight out in front and his chin flat on the floor. The second is the long stretch he does with every step when he really can’t be bothered to get up and move around. Some things make him get up very quickly and come running (see: opening a packet of treats, tin can ring pulls, the sound of untainted litter being put into the tray ready to be christened…). However, most things have precisely zero effect unless there is a guaranteed reward in it for him. He learned at the age of about six months that my getting out of bed and going downstairs does not necessarily mean he will be fed. These days, he will wait on the bed looking mildly curious until he hears the sound of scoop on kibble. Only then will he arise and make his way down the stairs, stretching a back leg out with each step and yawning all the way. There is something we can all learn from my cat in these moments. It’s okay to be selective about where we spend our energy, and to ask ourselves if what we’re about to do is a productive use of our time. You don’t have to do everything selflessly, and it’s okay to say no to opportunities that don’t serve you.

A Bengal cat stretches, with its front paws out in front.

Enjoy the little things

Summer is my cat’s favourite time of year. Like a poorly-planned sundial he follows the sunbeams across the room, stretching out all four limbs in the warmth and looking every bit the literal embodiment of contentedness. He lies on the windowsill and watches butterflies. When I take him out on his lead, he rolls in the grass and flicks his tail lazily. In winter, he tucks up under the duvet or lays atop the patch of landing where you can feel the warmth of the hot water pipes. Whatever environment or season he finds himself in, he seeks out a little snippet of joy – a sunbeam, or a warm comfy blanket – and is happy just enjoying the moment. There’s no fancy metaphor here. This one is really quite simple. Channel your inner cat. Pay attention to the little opportunities for comfort and happiness around you, and take them.

A tabby cat lays on a soft cream blanket, looking relaxed.

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