I have two cats, Serenity and Ripley. They are sisters, from the litter I fostered five years ago. These two cats have been with me since they were five weeks old. Their lives have been identical, but they are not.
They eat the same food, receive the same care and love, live in the same environment, and yet they are very different cats. We call Ripley “The Ambassador” because she loves to meet strangers and will gleefully walk up and introduce herself. Serenity, on the other hand, disappears when new people come around and can often be found hiding under a blanket or in a closet. Ripley cuddles infrequently and on her own terms. Serenity’s nickname is “The Parasite” because she needs constant physical contact with me. Serenity is highly agile and thin; Ripley is a little clumsy and thick. Etcetera, etcetera.
These two cats are both wonderful in their own unique way and one is not better than the other.
These two cats have helped me understand humans a little better and their differences are helping me come to terms with the fact that I need to be on medication for depression. How? Glad you asked.
Almost from the moment I started taking medication for depression and anxiety, my goal was to get off it. I was going to do the work, heal, and then get back to “normal”. At one point, I thought I was ready. I had stopped taking my anxiety meds, I felt mostly good, and under my doctor’s guidance I halved my dosage of citalopram for depression. Hooray! I was on my way!
And then I melted down in the middle of spin class and ended up a sobbing, anxious mess in my car in the parking lot.
Back onto the regular dose again. Back to the counselor.
But even that wasn’t cutting it. As I said, I felt “mostly” good, but I also carried a constant, cold, tummy-tightening ball of anxiety inside me that refused to leave. I used all my new tools, and nothing worked. It wasn’t debilitating anxiety, most of the time, but was ever-present and uncomfortable. It interfered with everything I did and sucked the enjoyment out of any happy moments.
Back to the doctor. This time, I increased my dose of anti-depressants. I tried to tell myself I wasn’t a failure. I was not convinced.
It has been several weeks since the increase and…sweet valley high, I feel better! The constant anxiety is a shadow of a shadow. The feeling of failure has been a different story though.
That’s where the cats come in.
Also, society and North American culture.
Time for a side story.
When I was twenty, I worked at a fitness center. The center had a small spa in it, with a tiny but mighty Austrian woman named Irmi who ran the show. As staff, I was allowed some free treatments to help me sell the spa to customers. This was the first time I’d had a professional massage, a facial, and reflexology—it was all AAAAAMAZING! This was when I also learned that other countries do things differently. In Austria, Irmi explained, six weeks vacation was standard and for at least one of those weeks many companies would send their employees to a spa to relax and rejuvenate. Spa time was not a luxury there, it was part of maintaining good mental and physical health.
I envied the Austrians.
The culture I grew up in was about work. Work, work, work! Hustle, make money, get rich or die trying! If you’re not working hard, you’re a leech, a loser, a drain on society. Be thankful for your two weeks off and if you work REALLY hard for decades then maybe you can have three or four weeks off per year. Relaxation must be earned, don’t forget that!
I drank that Kool-Aid for decades. The belief that I am only as good as my productivity and my finances seeped into the marrow of my bones like a cancer. Rest, healing, self-care, these are luxuries, and the goal should always be to get back to your hardest working, most productive self.
Naturally, in my current state, I see myself as weak, a leech, lazy, sub-standard. I need to get off these meds and back in the game! I mean, look at all these other hard working, successful, driven people. I should be like them, right?
Or maybe I’m just a different kind of cat?
I don’t pass moral judgements on my cats. I don’t think Ripley’s better because she’s social or Serenity’s better because she’s cuddly. I can clearly recognize that their differences are beautiful and interesting and, most importantly, not a choice. They are who they are. It’s not up to me to change them but to learn how to give them a life that meets their individual needs.
I’m a different cat. I’ve never been great at hustling. I love to work hard…but only at things I care about. I have always valued rest and relaxation, and the chance to let my brain run wild and create stories. It’s not my job to fit into what society says I should be, it’s my job to be me. I didn’t choose who I am any more than my cats chose to be who they are. The failing is not that I don’t live up to society’s standards, the failing is that society demands we conform to an ideal that few of us can, or even want, to achieve.
In the words of Ted Lasso, “All people are different people.”
I am a person who needs an antidepressant to get through life right now and in the foreseeable future. I take longer to process big changes and emotions than other people. Things that other people can shrug off, I can’t. What may seem minor to others can be traumatic to me. And I need to keep reminding myself that all this is just fine. Serenity isn’t hurting anyone when she seeks the shelter of a warm blanket to hide from newcomers, and I’m not hurting anyone by taking medication and moving through life a little more gently.
I have two cats I love dearly not despite their differences but because of them. I hope I can learn to love myself the same way.