You’d think that by now, I’d have exhausted the topic of mental health and pets but when there’s something that you’re passionate about, you often can’t shut up about it! So, I’ve found room on my blog for more info and tips on all things mental health and pets! 

This post is in collaboration with Cats Protection and their new campaign: ‘More Than Just A Cat’ which talks a lot about how huge an impact cats can have on your life to illustrate to those who don’t understand, just how important our pets are. Being a mental health Blogger, I guess it’s obvious that I want to concentrate on the mental impact animals can have; because yes, they make good company but what does that company mean to you? Does it fight off feelings of loneliness? Does it keep you grounded? Does that stop you from self-harming? Does it encourage you to be more open with your support workers? 

For this reason, here’s five tips for all thing’s mental health and pets:

Before you get a pet, make sure your mental health is stable enough for you to be responsible for another life

Once upon a time, I wanted to work with Children, but I realized that if I couldn’t care for myself then how could I look after someone else?! It’s the same with pets. Having one, you’re becoming responsible for another life and if you can’t take care of your own then is it fair to attempt to care for another. Although, I do appreciate that you might hold the belief that getting a pet will help stabilize your mental health it’s important to stay realistic and be prepared to take such a risk. I think that it’s reasonable to be in the right place to get a pet and then find yourself struggling later on, but don’t go into it with that frame of mind.

Getting my first cat; Dolly, seemed to be the natural next step in my mental health recovery because I’d grown up with a cat and then being discharged from Hospital after two and a half years meant that I finally had the freedom to get my own cat. I also liked the idea of having some responsibility now that I was mentally capable to finally look after a life besides my own because it felt as though having a cat would prove my recovery and be evidence that I’d made some huge progress from the days when I couldn’t even be responsible for my own life.

Getting Pixie – my bunny – in 2017, was genuinely a hugely impulsive decision. I’d started hallucinating rabbits and for some reason, I decided that holding one in my local Pets At Home store, would be therapeutic and grounding. When I started crying whilst holding Pixie, I made the spur-of-the-moment decision that she needed to come home with me. The following day, I went back and bought her! Almost immediately after getting her home I thought ‘shit! What have I done?!’ I wouldn’t say I regretted getting Pixie – in fact, I’d never say that – but I would say, that I panicked. I panicked that I’d gotten a bunny without putting too much thought into it. I’d brought another little life into my home – become responsible for another little life – without really thinking it through. 

Emmy was a stabilizer. I adopted her from Willows Cat Adoption Centre after Dolly was put to sleep because I really believed that I wasn’t whole without a cat in my life. To some people, that might sound silly and I think that a lot of people – at the time – thought that I wasn’t whole because I missed Dolly and not because I didn’t have a cat. Of course, I missed Dolly! But it was also more generally about missing having another little life in my home. I was so convinced that getting Emmy was the next right move though that I pushed through everyone else’s uncertainty and got her because not having that life – not having a cat - made me feel unsteady and unstable.

It could be really hard to recognize when your mental health isn’t well enough to take care of a pet and there might be an aspect of you who’s so hung up on the idea of getting a pet that you are in denial about anything that could stop this from happening. But you have to think of that little life and whether it’d be fair on them to bring them into such an unstable home. Though I recognize that there’s times like there was with Emmy where you know that the pet will stabilize you and in those situations it’s important to talk the decision through with whatever mental health professionals or family and friends that you have around you.

Do your research before getting a pet to avoid overwhelming feelings of uselessness!

I guess I kind of half-mentioned this above when I talked about getting Pixie. I didn’t experience this with the cats – even with the first cat in my life; Saffy. I don’t remember ever worrying that I didn’t know what I was doing with her! Some people might argue that meant that having cats was more natural to me, but I think it was just different. In fact, maybe it means a little more that I got Pixie regardless of how little knowledge I had because I was so confident with the idea of getting her that I was prepared to learn.

But this can only be the case to a certain degree because beyond that, could be seen – by some people - as negligent. If you really are serious about getting a pet, then you need to understand as much as possible about them so that you know what you’re getting yourself into in taking one into your home. For me, my greatest motivation for recognizing this piece of advice is the feelings of utter hopelessness that I’m occasionally overwhelmed by when something comes up with Pixie. Personally, I don’t do well with feeling inadequate and useless, so I do wish that I’d done some research before getting her so that I had a better idea of what to expect and what not to do!

Having Pixie has been a huge learning curve and – don’t get me wrong – I love that but I’ve been very lucky that having such little knowledge has ended up impacting her care in a positive way in that I’ve been more neurotic with her! If the slightest thing has seemed ‘wrong’ or she even remotely seems poorly then I have straight at the Vets and most often it’s been a really good thing because there has actually been something wrong but occasionally, I’ve left the Vets feeling like I’ve completely wasted their time in taking her in for something that, if I’d done my research, I would’ve known was normal or ok.

If your pets are ever unsafe or uncared for because of your mental health call the RSPCA, your Vet, or tell a mental health professional

This was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through with my pets and it’s something I never really talk about because I’m so worried about the response I’ll get but at the same time I’m thinking ‘I wish more people spoke up about this.’ A lot of motivation in my blogging such personal aspects of my mental health and life in general is the thought that it will help others to feel less alone by reading that there’s a least one other person experiencing something similar to what they are. I think that finding the courage to speak up is the greatest way to get help; if you stay quiet… Well, how can someone support you with something they know nothing about?

So, *deep breath* here goes… 

Last Summer, I began hearing an auditory hallucination in the form of a man’s voice telling me to hurt others and my pets. I think that he was the most frightening hallucination I’ve ever experienced. Of course, if you’ve read, I’m NOT Disordered before then you’ll know that I’ve heard voices before, but they’ve always centered around hurting or killing myself. Having this new voice actually made me miss those ones because I believed that it was a much easier thing to do than to hurt others. I guess it helped a little that even without the voices, I believed that I deserved the pain and to die so really, I wasn’t going against my own ethics and beliefs in self-harming. To hurt someone or something else though? 

If you know me personally then I’d like to think you’d know that I’m quite a caring and thoughtful person. I’m someone who puts others first and who has a big heart that lets so many people in. So, to think of hurting another person and especially, to hurt my pets? Well I thought that’d be something that I’d find impossible, but this is the strength and power of mental health and hallucinations. You stop being yourself. You stop being the person who you are, and you become something else. I already knew this happens to me – my Mum always says that when I’m hearing voices and they’re telling me to self-harm it’s like I’m in a tunnel and nothing else matters.

But there’s also a deeper power in me and it was this power that allowed me to call the Vets and have one of their Vets come take Pixie and Dolly away to ensure their safety. It was such a hard decision to make in admitting that I needed help to keep my babies safe and well. I was so scared that saying it out loud would mean they’d be taken from me forever because how would people know when it was safe to give them back to me? But I had to put them first.

There’s also been more… simple difficulties like having to keep in mind that any hospitalizations would mean leaving my pets without a Mum who can feed them and give them fresh water!

Try and save a little bit of money a week for any pet emergencies

I once had someone say to me ‘why didn’t you just have her (my bunny) put to sleep instead of paying for loads of tests and medication?’

I no longer speak to that person!

Having a poorly pet can be heartbreaking and really detrimental to your mental health – sometimes not immediately because you’re too busy looking after them and putting them first – so it’s important that if you can make anything about the situation easier in some way then you do it.

I honestly believe that you can never really budget for keeping a pet. You can add up the food costs, cat litter, sawdust, hay, yearly injections… But unfortunately, sometimes our pets get poorly and that can’t always be predicted. I luckily have a very understanding Veterinary Surgery who appreciate that I often can’t pay in full for any emergency vet bills but their understanding doesn’t make it a whole lot less stressful!

For me, worrying about money in any situation and under any circumstances really gets to my mental health and if I’m already struggling with one of my beloved pets being poorly, then adding money worries into the mix is a bit of a recipe for disaster! I’m definitely one of those people I was talking about who puts the pet first and when they’re poorly I’ll just say to the Vet “do every test; I’ll worry about paying for them later!” Of course, this means that just when the pet is diagnosed and treat and it seems like you can relax, the Vet bill comes at you!

Just to be clear though; I never begrudge spending any amount of money on my pets, because - to me - they’re worth every penny and more and this part isn’t about complaining over Vet bills; it’s about giving a bit of advice around your pets that might also help your mental health.

And whilst I’m talking about money, don’t forget that your pet will probably be more excited by a FREE, empty cardboard box from your local supermarket than an expensive toy from the pet shop!

Never allow anyone to make you feel silly for caring about your pet so much

This part was inspired by the first bit of the above piece of advice; the comment that was made to me about my bunny.

I feel like out of the time I spend talking about my pets, half of it is spent saying ‘I know this sounds silly but…’ because I’m very aware of the people out there who aren’t really pet-people, and they therefore, don’t see why you would put so much importance into an animal. This is part of the reason I like to talk about the impact pets can have on your mental health; to try and illustrate to those people just how powerful a pet can be. I also hope that it encourages others to be honest about the impact their pets have on their lives and not to apologize or worry they sound ‘silly’ for doing so.

I’d partly attribute my mental health stability to my pets. The thought of finally having my own cat; Dolly, was a huge motivation to be discharged from my long-term psychiatric hospital admission. Having Dolly convinced me to get better because she was the one thing, I wanted more than anything and I couldn’t get her until I was out of hospital. Then, getting Pixie two years after Dolly, was helpful to my mental health because she helped me to differentiate between reality and the hallucinations. The touch of her fur and the way that she wasn’t as blurry as the hallucinations were, was reassuring when I felt that I was slipping away from the real world. When I got Emmy - two years after Pixie and within a week of losing Dolly - she helped to motivate me into staying well despite the heartache of losing Dolly. She taught me to focus on the positives and the good things in life rather than the overwhelmingly sad things.

I hope that this post has helped some of you and by the way, there’s going to be a big cat-themed collaboration announcement on October 22nd so be ready for that!
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