This year has started off with a lesson in resilience and adaptability which has actually come from my cat and observing how she responds to trauma.
At the end of 2019, my beautiful cat Missy went blind. She is 17 years old and I love her to bits. The vet checked Missy’s blood pressure which was high and had made her retinas detach due to the pressure on her eyes and one of her eyes was filled with blood as it had haemorrhaged. The vet said due to her age it was highly unlikely she would regain her sight. I was heartbroken. Missy was also diagnosed with kidney issues so is now on a special renal diet along with having to take blood pressure medication every day. When we got home from the vet, Missy jumped up onto her armchair and went to sleep.
Seeing how Missy has adapted so quickly to being blind has been astonishing. I am in awe of my cat and how she has taken this traumatic event and got on with her life. Of course I can’t find out how this has affected her mentally as we can’t talk about it. But she is carrying on as before when she could see. The only difference is that we speak to her a lot more now so she knows we are nearby so she doesn’t get spooked. As soon as we stroke her we get loud purrs. What’s even more amazing, is that two weeks on from Missy’s diagnosis she has gained a little bit of her eyesight back.
Observing Missy has made me think about human needs and behaviour. Are we able to adapt and bounce back so quickly after such a traumatic event? Speaking from my own experience, I certainly haven’t. Is this because we don’t always act on or trust our instincts? We often complicate our lives by overthinking things. We hold on to some emotions from past events for far too long that it ends up damaging us. Of course I can’t compare my life experiences to what Missy has gone through as I haven’t gone blind and she has never had her heart broken from a relationship, although she has probably broken a few of the local boy cats hearts by spurning their attempts to get to know her. She smashes them up ninja kitteh stylee – that’s my girl! Looking after Missy has made me think about our ability to deal with life’s setbacks, how we process it and bounce back.
I studied Sociology and Economics at college, unfortunately I never got to finish my A levels as I became homeless after the first year and had to drop out of studying (I will save those stories for another time as that has also contributed to my mental health issues). However it hasn’t stopped my interest in human behaviour, social economics and its impact on what motivates us.
A great example of human motivation is explained in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Abraham Maslow wrote a paper in 1943 on ‘A theory of motivation’ and developed a classification system which reflected the universal needs of society. At the very base level are physiological needs such as food, warmth, water and sleep. As we move up the pyramid we progress into safety, belonging, esteem and end with self actualisation.
I look back at my life and can see very clear patterns where my needs have been severely impacted that it has resulted in periods of mental illness. My anxiety started as a child, I didn’t know what it was then. All I knew was that I was always fearful, I worried a lot, had regular stomach aches and my chest would hurt so much at times it felt like my heart would explode.
One important thing to remember is that anxiety is a natural response from our body to stress. It’s ‘normal’ for us to feel anxious when we are going on a job interview, a first date, speaking in front of an audience etc. It’s part of our fight or flight response and it’s our body’s safety mechanism to alert us to potential danger. We don’t need to run away from sabre toothed tigers anymore, but we may need to run away from dangerous situations or people.
Anxiety is a key part of other disorders such as phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder, separation anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s also known for people who have anxiety to also suffer with depression, they can occur separately but the two are closely linked. Anxiety can be a symptom of depression or depression can be triggered by an anxiety disorder – thanks guys, talk about the bromance from hell.
What can we do to minimise our anxiety symptoms? I have various self care techniques that includes journaling, meditating, breathing exercises, yoga, massages, mental health apps (I use Aura and Mindshift) and aromatherapy. One of my must haves is Bachs rescue remedy.
One of the hardest parts of acknowledging my recent anxiety disorder was accepting the fact that I need medication and also therapy. I have never been a fan of Western medication, but my anxiety symptoms have been so bad that all my self care techniques have not been enough to keep the anxiety under control. When it comes to mental illness and medication, there is something known as ‘pill shaming’ when someone disapproves of you taking medication as in their opinion it makes you weak and they think it’s something you should be able to just snap out of. I also have to be truthful to myself and acknowledge that I felt a bit ashamed of needing medication. I was judging myself and ignoring my need to accept help in whatever form it may take.
Some people say I am too open talking about mental health. To those people, I am not asking for your judgement. I am asking you to listen, to allow us to be heard as that is an important part of our healing journey. Please don’t shame us into suffering in silence.
If you would like some resources on anxiety you can go to: