As I write this post, our tiny 9-week old kitten is snuggled between my body and the couch cushions. She has been there for the last hour, intermittently opening her amazing eyes and stretching, before dropping back off to sleep. This prolonged nap comes after a morning of zooming around our apartment, climbing behind my desk, getting stuck under the radiator and squeaking until she was released covered in dust, and ignoring all of her new toys in deference to the amazon package that arrived today and needed to be slain by her ferocious kitty paws. It’s been a busy day already.
I’ve been meaning to write a post for a while. I started CBT three weeks ago and have consequently drafted four or five blog posts about it, all of which I couldn’t finish. I knew that National Eating Disorder Awareness week was coming up (starts this week) and knew I wanted to write something about it. Once again, I drafted. Once again, I couldn’t finish. So I have been carrying around this feeling for about three weeks; the feeling of wanting to say something, but not quite being sure what it is I want to say.
And then we got the kitten.
We drove two hours on a Friday night across the sunset over the peak district with an empty cat carrier and then drove the 45 minutes back (minus peak-time traffic) with a tiny kitten curled up in a blanket and a woman having a panic attack in the driving seat. As my partner sat with the cat carrier on his lap, holding it tightly as we swerved over the winding roads of the hills, I was suddenly panicked about the enormity of what we had done. We had willingly entered into a situation where we were responsible for another living creature that we could not communicate with properly for an unspecified number of years. What if she got sick? What if she chewed through a cable and electrocuted herself? What if she shut herself in the washing machine and I turned it on? What if she fell in the toilet and drowned? What if, what if, what if?!?
As part of my CBT, I have been asked to track my anxious thoughts. At first, I just thought this was going to only further my anxiety, but it’s actually been weirdly revealing. Prior to picking up the cat, I had actually been using thoughts of the kitten as a tool to calm myself in anxious times. I was astonished by how quickly I could turn something positive into something that could stress me out. I wondered how many other times I had unwittingly let things that were intended for joy be manipulated by my brain into being products of anxiety.
Because this kitten is made of joy. She is a skinny, scrappy, wiry bundle of joy and love. She squeaks when she wants to know where we are, she runs up to us and snuggles next to us for cuddles. She is joyful to have in our lives. If I find anxiety in her, it is all coming from me. So I need to make a choice. Somewhere, in my unconscious babble of my brain, I need to introduce a way of choosing not to see anxiety in a situation that brings me joy, because I can get so much out of this joy, and it doesn’t end with the cat.
For example, for two consecutive weekends this month we have had visitors. Having visitors can be stressful for me. It can make me anxious from too much extrovert time and stressed from sharing my personal space. I can spiral inside my brain, and the presence of other people can make me afraid of vocalising it and not vocalising it is a trigger for only more anxiety. So we don’t do it often, and rarely two weekends in a row. So why did we?Because these visitors are visitors who always bring me joy. These women are the equivalent of sisters; women who bring with them safety and fun and a familiarity that wraps around me like a blanket and makes me happy but also gives me pain, because we are no longer in and out of each other’s lives on a day to day basis. They are best friends, they are the people you can’t wait to see, the friends with whom the dialogue is always going and even if years have passed the conversation just picks up again. So I found a way to make a choice – I’m not exactly sure how I did it, I definitely didn’t do it consciously – but I found a way to make the choice that the joy they would give me was worth more than anxiety the situation could possibly cause.
This might sound like basic common sense to most people, but for me, a person who makes a lot of choices in life based on an aversion to anxious situations, this is a big deal. This is the choice to risk anxiety for the possibility of joy. What we are talking about here is the tipping of my internal scales which for the longest time, have always weighted towards anxiety. It has always been the heaviest stone, the state with the most votes, the superdelegate of my internal decision making. Shirking anxious situations has always been inevitable. But now, I feel a tectonic shift inside. That perhaps the massive density of that anxiety weight is lightening somewhat, and that when faced with the fragile weight a little kitten (a mischevious, unpredictable, potentially anxiety-inducing kitten), incredibly the balance begins to tip in her favour.
So I’m cautiously trying. I’m trying CBT, which is not always a barrel of laughs. I’m opening my personal space up a little more, to kittens and people. I’m letting myself take little risks. Risks that scare me, risks that might provoke anxiety attacks, risks that hold inside them all the things I fear. But maybe the risks are worth it. Because maybe I might find joy.