Living with a mental illness such as depression is really tough. It can be very lonely at times. Friends don’t keep in touch as often because I’m not out socialising. There’s days when my only contact with another human being has been via text message. Days can seem very tedious, especially because I also suffer with fatigue since my Guillain-Barre diagnosis, so I have very little energy to keep myself busy around the house.
Pets can make really good companions when your mental or physical health isn’t as it best.
I have a cat named Tigger and he is absolutely adorable. He’s very affectionate and loves nothing more than to stay by my side all day observing what I’m doing and constantly nudging me for attention. He’s definitely a cat that loves human interaction! Below are my top 10 reasons why having Tigger around is really good for my mental health and has a hugely positive impact on my day.
1. He makes me feel loved.
Don’t get me wrong I’m really lucky to have a very loving and supportive family who I see very regularly. They definitely make me feel loved. It’s not quite the same though, as having my little furry friend there every day, reminding me just how happy he is to spend time with me. If I’ve been to work he’ll come bounding down the stairs the very second I’m through the front door. If I’m sat on the sofa he’ll always be right next to me cuddling up close and he’ll grumble when I have to move. He even rubs my cheek to give me a kiss when he’s feeling extra affectionate! It’s always nice to feel wanted.
2. He’s the perfect companion for nap time.
Being depressed and having chronic fatigue means I need to nap ALOT. Luckily Tigger loves to nap too, so he’s always more than happy to join me on the bed for a quick snooze. I don’t feel as guilty for going to bed at 3pm in the afternoon when it feels like a treat for Tigger. Not that I should feel guilty because I have an illness and need to rest, but I do feel that way sometimes, especially when I’ve lots of tasks that need completed and I feel like I should be doing something more productive.
3. He encourages me to enjoy the little things in life.
One of Tiggers favourite things to do is to look out of the window, particularly if there are birds in the trees or on the feeders outside. So I’ve found myself enjoying that too. I’ll throw scraps of old bread out for the birds and we’ll sit and wait for them arriving. I like to watch his reaction as the birds fly in and out of the garden. He’ll sit chattering away to them all afternoon!
4. He reminds me when it’s time to eat or drink.
I’m really neglectful when it comes to my own eating habits. I’m usually not feeling hungry or I’m too tired to make something for myself. I’m the exact opposite though when it comes to my cat. I’ll always make sure he eats and drinks regularly, so I’ve started to time my own eating and drinking habits around his. If I’m refilling his water bowl with fresh water I’ll make sure I grab a drink out of the fridge for myself. If it’s Tiggers breakfast time then it’s mine too! I used to skip breakfast until later in the day when I was feeling more hungry but then I’d forget about it. Now I’ll make sure we both get our breakfasts together (assuming Tigger hasn’t decided to wake me up super early for his!).
5. He encourages me to get outside in the summer.
Tiggers always been a housecat since he was born. He’s used to staying in his safe environment indoors, primarily because I’ve always lived on a busy road that wasn’t suitable for him to be outside. Since I’ve moved to a bigger house in a quiet area with a front and back garden I’ve tried to encourage him to stretch his legs outside, especially when it’s really warm and stuffy in the house. I think the change of activity and a bit of exercise will benefit us both so I’ll try to get him outside with me for a short while each day.
6. He builds up my feeling of self worth.
Since becoming ill both physically and mentally it’s been a huge blow to my self worth not being able to work full time or have those really productive days when you’ve been busy getting important things done. Seeing Tigger living a happy life and enjoying my company feels like a huge achievement. I don’t have any children so there is no one really relying on me for much. That might sound great to most people but it can have a hugely negative impact on your feeling of self worth when your health prevents you from being independant and you have to rely on others. My cat relies on me to keep him alive. Food, drink, a warm place to sleep, some affection. Everything in his life I’m responsible for. Seeing him happy makes me think I’ve done a great job at something important.
7. He’s a great listener.
I talk to my cat pretty much all the time. He loves listening to me because he knows I’m paying him attention. He might not know what I’m talking about but he doesn’t care. He’s just happy to be spoken to and have me interact with him. It’s great to be able to voice my feelings without any judgement or fear of upsetting someone. He’s learned to be very vocal in return and will always let me know when he wants something!
8. He gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Some mornings it’s really difficult to get out of bed. Either the fatigue is taking over and I could sleep for England or I’m just so depressed that I don’t see the point in getting up. Having a cat means even if I don’t want to get up and start my day the cat still needs to start his. Who else is going to make his breakfast? He’s far too cute to let him go hungry for the morning so breakfast it is!
9. He eases my loneliness.
Having an illness, physical or mental can leave you feeling lonely and isolated. Having my cat around is like having a best friend with me all the time. We can play together, nap together or just cuddle up in front of the TV. He’s great company for me now that I have to spend lots of my time indoors.
10. He provides structure and routine to my day.
I often find that left to my own devices I can become lethargic and unproductive. Especially given that my physical illness makes me incredibly fatigued. Having Tigger around helps to give me a routine to my day. There’s lots of small tasks or activities needing to be completed each day because I have him to look after. My current daily routine involves preparing his food, 10-15 minutes of play (he’s an old cat so isn’t very active), making sure the bird feeders in the garden are full because he loves to watch the birds, keeping his litter boxes clean and fresh and keeping a regular bedtime because he gets super excited about going up to bed! Having a dog would provide even more routine because they need outdoor exercise too.
So, if like me you’re struggling with your health either mental or physical, especially if you’re spending lots of time at home, I’d really recommend getting a pet. Do bear in mind of course that it’s a big commitment and one that you’re likely to have for many years to come, so it’s important to give it serious thought. There’s always other options too, like offering to look after a friends pet whilst they’re on holiday or perhaps volunteering at your local animal shelter. Whatever option is right for you, I’m sure having a pet in your life will bring you lots of happiness.