Two weeks ago, I had an episode. I had been struggling with overwhelming waves of depression and anxiety, and when I experienced a particularly crushing torrent on Monday morning two weeks back, I called Dr. Shrink.
I was lucky because his empathic assistant scheduled me for a visit that afternoon.
But I had to make it to that afternoon.
I was scheduled for my Volunteer Monday – Kitten Rescue in the morning and tutoring at 826LA that afternoon – and while a 3:30pm appointment with Dr. Shrink meant canceling my shift at 826LA, I briefly considered calling off Kitten Rescue too.
I felt shaky, panicky, terrified, desperate, crushed… getting off my couch seemed challenge enough; I didn’t know how I was going to handle being out somewhere.
However, that Jiminy Cricket we all know and loathe piped up pretty fast: go to Kitten Rescue, he whispered. It will be good for you.
Damn Jiminy. I knew he was right. A snuggle with Charlie would definitely help, but I thought about all the physical exertion that goes into cleaning up after almost 100 cats… and the feelings of fulfillment and pride that come with the hard work and knowing it helps both the cats and the shelter’s staff… and snuggles with lots and lots of cats. Snuggles. With cats.
It didn’t take much more convincing from Jiminy for me to get my shaky, panicky, terrified butt off my couch and into Kitten Rescue.
And can I express how completely, totally, utterly, wholeheartedly, for truly, passionately, tempestuously, desperately, and all-encompassingly glad I am I listened to Jiminy that morning? Because I was spot on: the physical labor of cleaning out litter boxes and scrubbing floors tired me out, and the exhaustion calmed my thrumming nerves. The focus of clean, scrub, sweep, lift, move, lug, pour, scrub, sweep some more, and dump channeled my thoughts and my energy. I didn’t think about anything but the tasks in front of me (kinda hard not to do that when you’re breathing more noxious fumes from cat excrement than oxygen), which lifted the stones of anxiety sitting on my chest.
But most helpful of all were the cat snuggles. Feeling a cat’s purr against your hand, and the press of their face and head against your arms and shoulders is a slice of heaven. Nothing soothes aches and worries like a cat’s affection…. Although Charlie hugs and snuggles are pretty gosh-danged close.
So combining physical exertion, focused labor, and cat snuggles into a few hours was the perfect remedy for bone-squeezing anxiety. By the time I made it to Dr. Shrink’s office that afternoon, I felt almost normal again. And from that day forward – all two weeks of it – I have had a deeper love and appreciation for Kitten Rescue. And for working with animals.
I head into the shelter twice a week these days, and each time I arrive, I feel like something soft and quiet touches my heart. I feel peaceful, serene, content… even though I’m scooping up cat poop and scrubbing away hairballs. And when I have those moments where I can sit quietly, a cat nestled on my lap, rumbles vibrating from his chest, and head pressed into the nook of my elbow, I close my eyes and fall deep into that moment. Just me, the cat, and the constant thrum of purrs….
I am proof positive that animal therapy is a real thing. And it works.
I also find that I am thinking more and more about animals, and how I can spend more time with them. I think about the cats at Kitten Rescue, about the wolves getting slaughtered in the Midwest and Canada, and about all the wildlife sanctuaries I follow on social media. I am still not ready to move on from my job at the museum, but I feel a desire forming, a dream’s cloudy haze clearing, and a goal becoming tangible. I want a next step in my life to involve working with animals. I don’t think I can give up education, since I love it so much, but I think about all the wildlife advocacy I am increasingly involved in…. and I can easily picture myself as an outreach coordinator or programs coordinator for an organization like World Wildlife Fund or Defenders of Wildlife. It would be a dream come true to work in that capacity.
In fact, I think a job like that would finally pull together all the pieces of my heart. I am fulfilled in my job now, and in the volunteer work I do, but I still feel like there is one more step I need to take. One more change. And then everything will fall into place. Maybe I’m crazy – okay, drop the “maybe” part – but it feels good to dream. It feels good to love something so wholeheartedly and to want to devote even more of your life to it.
And as they always say – the ubiquitous “they” – life is about pursuing your dreams. About finding your passion and making it the focus of your time. I’m lucky because I care about so many things, but what has touched me deep down in my core? What has settled in the depths of my heart since that anxiety-ridden day two weeks ago?
I’m starting to find the answers.