A Stray Cat Saved Me From Depression
How a cat taught me to appreciate life more.
During the end of 2019, my mental health was at its worst. I had been isolating myself for several months due to my extreme social anxiety, and I mostly spent my time reading. Unfortunately, I happened to read Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and the effect it had on me was instant. It was the first time that I had seen death described so grimly, and the fact that no one cares if you die. So death became my next obsession. I began asking questions about life, and where we would go after death. A few weeks later, I realized that not only was I afraid of death, but that our lives didn’t have any meaning. This revelation caused me to become even more reclusive instead of finding a cure for my anxiety.
Why even try, I thought, when I will die one day and my whole existence will go up in a puff of smoke?
So I became lethargic, and like a depressed mouse, I didn’t want to do anything. I only stayed in one corner (literally in my room), and tried to survive. I became deeply pessimistic, and thought that until I found the meaning of life, and what happens to us after death, life would be useless.
Then one morning, I heard soft meowing coming from our courtyard. I went to check it out, and found out three kittens sleeping beside a ginger cat on our small garden. She had given birth in our house. We live in Pakistan, and although people do keep pets, the majority of the population don’t like cats and dogs because of the supposed mess they make. Despite that, my family was pretty alright with the kittens capering around the house for a few weeks while their mother went in search of food. Two of the kittens were females while one was male. Two were grey, sprinkled with some black, while another was ginger just like the mother cat. Sadly, this latter one was blind and would die soon. After a few weeks, the mother cat took her kittens out on our rooftop, and the blind one kept running around and tumbling from the edge of the roof onto our courtyard. I kept climbing onto the rooftop and placing it beside its siblings, but one day, he disappeared. It might have dropped on the street and the neighborhood kids might have taken it somewhere. The only male kitten also died of an illness, which left only one kitten.
So I decided that I wouldn’t let this one perish and help protect it: I started filling a bowl with water, and sometimes milk, and placing it on the roof everyday; despite the family’s remarks that I shouldn’t "waste my time and resources on the cat," I snuck food from the kitchen to feed it; though I was broke, I spent all the money I had on canned tuna, and lastly, I spent hours playing it with it. Every evening, the mama cat would also bring her something to eat, and since I would be assured that the kitten wouldn’t be harmed by other cats with her present there, I would climb down and go inside. One time, the mama cat failed to show up for three days in a row, and every night, I could hear the kitten calling out for her. I thought that she had left her baby and would never come back. "Maybe she has been hit by a car and is dead," I thought.
I was worried about the kitten because just recently, I had an argument with my mother. She had told me to not waste any more money buying food for the kitten. "Her mother would bring her something to eat," she said, "you don’t need to become her guardian." I couldn’t fight back against her indignant comment because first of all, we are not rich. Secondly, I was unemployed, so I couldn’t say that I was feeding the kitten out of my own pocket.
Still, I secretly took some food for the kitten. A week passed since mama cat’s disappearance, and I began to panic. "The kitten isn’t old enough to hunt and steal like other stray cats," I thought. "What if it died of starvation without her mother?" That night, as I was thinking about this matter, I heard meowing coming from the courtyard. The kitten had somehow climbed down from the rooftop. It seemed as if she also thought that her mother would never come back, and she took refuge in my care.
At that moment, I felt a surge of energy pass through me. I forgot about my social anxiety, my fear of death, and my family’s disapproval for caring for the kitten. I decided that I would adopt the kitten and take care of it forever. Even if my family kicked me out, I would never leave its side. I was ready to go out to find a job right there.
Mind you, a few weeks ago, I didn’t have enough motivation to live. But the mama cat did return, and she took her kitten to a new spot (to a neighbor’s roof). Slowly, as I understood that the kitten’s life wasn’t in danger anymore, my will power and motivation dwindled.
Regardless, I wasn’t depressed and afraid of death anymore, because I learned two lessons:
1: If you want to live a meaningful life, do something for others.
There is an incredible feeling which cannot be described merely in words whenever you help someone or something in need. Just think about the time when you helped a homeless man or a beggar. You felt your limbs become numb, and your mind free from worries, because for once you did something for others.
For me, the kitten’s wellbeing was enough to forget my own petty struggles with life, and every little thing I did for it bore a much bigger meaning. Fredrich Nietzsche once said:
"A man with a why, can always bear any how."
The second lesson was:
2: Living close to nature is good for our mental health.
We weren’t made to seclude ourselves and spend our whole days staring at a screen. We were made to be "out there" in nature. That’s why, when we can’t feel and enjoy the basic things nature has provided for us (human interaction, intimacy with the opposite sex, adventures, etc.,) we become depressed. When the two kittens died, I realized how normal death was, and the more I interacted with the last surviving kitten, the more I was fascinated with animals and life in general. (Nature is cruel and terrifying, but most of the times, it is filled with beauty. Interacting with nature has a soothing effect which cannot be described with mere words only.) Afterwards, I honestly believed that it wouldn’t be too bad if we turned into cats after death. In short, I started appreciating life more: I wondered how it would feel if we became clouds and looked at the vast seas, oceans, and mountain from the sky; I was baffled thinking that if I became some type of a tree that survived for centuries, I would witness whole generations pass by me, with all their trends, cultures, and technologies. For me, everything suddenly became alive, even the tiny pebble on the side of the street.
So, next time you get depressed and feel afraid of death, find out how you can help other people, and get in touch with nature: go hiking, or hug a tree or something.
P.S: The kitten has grown up, and often comes to our courtyard to pay a visit.