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“When you feel someone else’s pain and joy as powerfully as if it were your own; then you know you really love them.”

Ann Brashares

*This post features a Mammy’s Biscuits product: the ‘Birthday Girl’ bandana – you can browse & purchase their other designs here*

 I honestly don’t care how stereotypical this sounds; but I literally and genuinely cannot believe that I’m writing this blog post to celebrate my little maine coon/ragdoll mix kitten – Ruby – turning one year old! Now, if you’ve read, I’m NOT Disordered for even just a little while, you’ll likely know that I have pets and that I absolutely love them to pieces, and they help my mental health immensely. Because I’ve had quite a few (three who have passed and the three I have now) over the almost ten years since I’ve been in my own home, and I know I’ve written numerous blog posts at various stages of their lives, I wasn’t sure if there’d be an angle (also due to the fact I’ve actually already published a post in connection with Ruby’s Birthday, you can read it here) left to cover in writing this 1st Birthday post for Ruby! But, fortunately, the first one I thought of – a post about the reality of life with pets and mental health – hadn’t been done before so, I decided to tackle it…

Making the decision to get a pet can be a hugely important and 100% necessary process for absolutely anyone and everyone – whether they have mental health difficulties or not – who is considering adding a furry friend to their life. It’s so essential that a great deal of thought and preparation goes into the decision of getting a pet so as to provide a higher chance of stability in being capable of continuing to take care of the pet rather than having it for a few weeks before discovering you’re unable to take on all the relevant responsibilities that come with a pet.

The most likely consideration though, is typically around shift patterns and a person’s employment in deciding whether you’re home often enough to spend ample amount of time with the pet and to have plenty opportunity to engage in necessary acts of maintenance e.g. taking a dog for walks or cleaning out a rabbit hutch! However, when you have a mental illness, this act of thinking through getting a pet can look a great deal different with there being two large areas for consideration:

1.       Is your decision to get the pet impulsive?

2.       Are your safety levels stable enough to be responsible for an additional life?

These were two massively important elements to getting Ruby because my mental health was pretty much in the toilet at the time! But this actually became one of the largest reasons to get her… My calico rescue cat, Emmy had been put to sleep October 2022, and when her best friend; my mini-Lionhead bunny; Luna, started behaving differently, the Vet recommended getting her a friend and explained that it would be much easier to introduce her to another bunny rather than a new cat. So, in January 2023, I got my second mini-Lionhead, Gracie! Whilst it was so lovely to see them bond almost immediately and to see that Luna was so much happier now that she had a new furry companion; almost every time I was home, they two of them would be in another room together washing each other or just cuddled up together. And so, I began to feel really lonely; and this only worsened when I got home from being sectioned under the 1983 Mental Health Act in February 2023 and found the two of them even more obsessed with each other!

Getting another cat seemed like the instant fix to my loneliness, and I felt confident that in doing this, my mental health would improve too. I knew, however, that this conviction was likely something that only I would be sure of and out of concern that others – particularly my loved ones – might question and doubt whether this would happen, I didn’t tell anyone when I found Ruby and paid the deposit for her. To be honest, I was so scared that telling someone and them disagreeing that I should get her, would cause an argument and would leave me feeling completely dismissed and unsupported.

Not long before I was due to pick Ruby up though, the Crisis Team had asked me if I had anything to look forward to and I was so excited at that point that I just blurted out: “well, I’m getting a kitten in a few days!” Then they ended up mentioning it to my Mum when they were on the phone with her, and I was pleasantly surprised when she told me that she trusted me to be making the right decision in getting Ruby and this was such a hugely helpful gesture that really solidified my confidence in going to pick Ruby up.

From the very beginning of my mental health deteriorating – when I was first sectioned after attempting suicide as a result of struggling with hallucinations for around ten days – I discovered that your childhood is often the first area of your life professionals look into for a reason for your mental ill health. I appreciate that this is typically because what happens when you’re young can be massively influential as you grow older, but initially it was actually a question I wanted to really avoid so I definitely didn’t appreciate being asked it. When I finally reported the abuse to my abuser’s boss, I was named a manipulative liar and completely dismissed, which meant that I had absolutely no drive to tell anyone else. So, it actually wasn’t until my second psychiatric hospital admission, that I finally reported it and from doing so, I found myself finally able to answer questions about my childhood…

Over the years, I’ve explained numerous times that my childhood was idyllic because it was so full of love, support, laughter, happiness, and innocence. And I think that last bit became the most important element because it meant that when the abuse started, I was totally thrown off-guard. I mean, I hadn’t known such terrible people existed; there wasn’t a whole lot in the media about rape and abuse, and my sex education at school had pretty much just revolved around putting a condom on a banana! So, I didn’t even know the name for what was happening to me, the only reason I knew it was wrong was purely because it felt so wrong. And so, this has made me think a lot over the years about my thoughts on being so innocent in my childhood and I’ve come to the conclusion that there needs to be a balance in it. That all children should have some sense of innocence so that nothing really matters the way it inevitably will as they grow older, but that children should also have some education in difficult topics like abuse and mental health so that they have a healthy understanding of what they should do if they’re in some sort of situation that is relevant to these things.

So – it might sound stupid and a bit ‘much…’ but my thoughts on innocence have definitely shaped how I bring up my pets. I mean, of course I get that they’re not exactly my children, but they certainly feel like it! I feel 100% responsible for all three of them and I feel that they completely rely on me. I also think there’s a lot more talk about the fact that pets and, actually, animals in general, are so much cleverer than a lot of people give them credit for and that they are very often totally in tune with the thoughts and feelings of their humans. I have this one video of Ruby from not long after I first got her, and I was sat on my bed crying and she came up and sat in front of me and just stared into my eyes so lovingly and then every so often she kept putting a paw onto my chest above my heart as though trying to heal it! Ironically, I was so touched that she made me cry even more! And I was honestly so glad I thought to try and film it when she first came up because I don’t know if anyone would have believed me without the evidence! And I think one big reason for it to have been a bit unbelievable, is the fact that I hadn’t had her too long, so it was kind of… strange? But I think it’s a huge illustration of our immediate bond and the very deep, heart-felt, connection that has surrounded us since the moment I first held her.

Another reason for me crying more when Ruby did this though, was that I felt a sense of guilt and disappointment in myself that she was seeing and hearing me crying. I had wanted for her to see nothing but good, wholesome, happy, and productive things. I didn’t want her to develop any even awareness of upset, pain, and negativity. I wanted to protect her from the reality of mental illness, and I wanted to feel that it didn’t play any part in shaping her, her personality, and her behaviours. When my first cat; Dolly, was just a kitten, due to a massive miscommunication the Police caved my door in, and she was home alone. After it, she became so aggressive and hostile towards any visitors that it got to the point where my Support Workers couldn’t come into my home because she had scratched one of them and drawn blood. My reassurance though, was that she was absolutely lovely to me; but then she clawed my face, and I rang the Vets in tears, and they said it was either trying a mild sedative medication daily or put her to sleep because she couldn’t be rehoused when she was that aggressive. Obviously, I opted for the medication and after almost a year on it, she seemed calmer and more friendly, so we slowly weaned her off it… But I was always so focused on the impact my mental health had on her, and I very obviously don’t want that to ever happen again.

When you think about it, it’s just like with humans – we can be shaped and changed by things that happen in our life just as understandably as Dolly was. I mean, in mental illness and particularly in making suicide attempts or self-harming, regret is talked about a lot… Whilst there’s a massively long list of things which I wish hadn’t happened, I do still recognise that I wouldn’t be where I am – or who I am – today, if it weren’t for all of those things. I mean, if I’d never been abused, I might not have developed mental health problems. And if I hadn’t developed them, then I might not have had a reason to start blogging. And if I hadn’t started, I’m NOT Disordered, would I have ever experienced the incredible notion of feeling that I’ve found a purpose in my life? Would I have had all the amazing opportunities and experiences that I’ve had as a direct result of the popularity and success of my blogging career? Would I have had the sense of achievement I’ve felt in every milestone of and in any sort of monumental moment for I’m NOT Disordered?

So, with Ruby, if I’ve tried my best to contain any difficult moments and coping mechanisms in the bathroom with the door shut so that she can’t get in and see. I’m quite a dramatic crier though, so I’m totally aware that she might be able to hear that, but I’m really reassured by the thought that she’s never seen me actually hurting myself. It makes me feel like less of a failure and a better Mum for shielding her from that.

Fortunately, despite there being many instances for this to not happen, I haven’t been sectioned since getting Ruby in May 2023, so I’ve not had a single lengthy hospital admission. I have had my fair share of overnight ones though, and boy; have they been difficult?! I’d like to think of myself as very much a ‘look-on-the-bright-side’ type of person, so the way I’ve tried to put a positive spin on just how upset I get being away from Ruby when I’m having to stay in hospital overnight for any length of considerable time, is that at least she gives me the motivation to avoid it happening as much as I can. Wanting to stay at home with her and be snuggled up to her at night and not in a hospital bed hooked up to a drip, is the best drive and determination that encourages my recovery and resolution to work harder at keeping myself safe.

It's actually something I’ve spoken a lot about recently with the Crisis Team and my Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) – the fact that when I used to live with my Mum, I never really had any drive or care about being in hospital and how long I was in for. I mean, for at least the first few months or so in the specialist psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from home, I didn’t get homesick at all! Of course, I missed my Mum and seeing her; but having to basically live in one bedroom (with an en-suite) all that distance away, didn’t really phase me or upset me. I didn’t see getting to go home as inspiration or influence to be more eager and easily willing to cooperate and engage with staff, the medication they were prescribing, and the therapy they said I needed. Now, of course, some of this lack of motivation or care might have been attributed to just how poor my mental health was and how much I was struggling to stay safe, but I do feel like part of it was just not feeling like my Mum’s was my ‘home.’ I mean, I was spending so much time in hospitals that it almost felt like it was just a bit of a stopgap sort of place to stay in between admissions!

Moving into my own home though, on my discharge from hospital (December 1st, 2014), I started to feel settled and when I brought my first cat home a week later, I finally got the sense that I was ‘at home’ too. It feels nice having a sort of ‘base’ and somewhere that I can be which makes me feel grounded and somewhat safe and peaceful. I say ‘somewhat safe’ because obviously I have hurt myself in my home (in the bathroom as I talked about earlier), but when I’ve done so; I’ve always still felt some sort of a sense of comfort that I haven’t experienced when I’ve self-harmed or made a suicide attempt anywhere else. But I don’t think it’s about the home as a place – it’s about who I share it with… When I’m in hospital now, I massively miss having my pets around me. I miss hearing their little paws running across the wooden floors. I miss hearing Ruby meowing for attention. I miss seeing the bunnies washing each other. I miss knowing that – if they aren’t snuggled into me – I can just go into another room and spend time with a loved one. And that feels so much more powerful and helpful than having professionals – even those who are trained and educated in helping and supporting people with mental health problems – around me 24/7.  

So, for me, aside from missing them, the largest difficulty that comes when I think about my pets after I have been hospitalised, has been the sense of failure and feelings of disappointment that I’ve had to battle with whilst there. In all honesty, I find it pretty easy to view anything I do as a failure or to feel that as a result of something I’ve done, I’ve let down at least one person (usually my Mum or one of my best-friends). And I think that almost natural ability to turn things into being about disappointing someone, is equally as difficult to cope with when I look on a situation as a perfect illustration of letting my pets down. And I think that this is not only because my pets been so much to me, but also because I feel that each of them has helped my mental health in so many different ways, and I almost feel like I’m being ungrateful or undeserving if, regardless of their love and the joy they bring me, I self-harm.

The fact that believing I’m a disappointment to people and to my pets is such a common thought process or mindset, means that I’ve almost been forced to learn a number of ways to cope with this in a safe and healthy way that doesn’t involve me feeling I had to punish myself and self-harm in some way. The coping strategy I’ve found to be the most beneficial for this difficulty, has been really recognising and fully accepting that I can’t change the things I have done and to use that acceptance as reason to move forward. To realise that all I can do now is try my hardest for these things to not happen again so that my pets weren’t left alone for me to go into hospital. And I think that so long as I know and ensure that I’m doing all that I can to better myself and my mental health, then I can live with myself and feel confident and reassured that I truly am trying to be the best Mum I can be.

I think that one of the saddest elements about getting a pet is that you really need to be in a stable and good financial situation. Now, to me, money shouldn’t matter – of course, I know that it does and why it does! – all that should matter is that your pet is loved. And I genuinely think it’s wrong that you need to have money before you can do that! However, everything seems to be about money these days and I’d say that I’ve actually genuinely struggled in that respect of taking care of my pets…

I think that my largest flaw in regard to the financial aspect of having a pet, is my inability to budget money towards any Vet emergency costs, and it’s kind of frustrating because this is certainly something I’ve learnt – numerous times – would be really really really helpful! I mean, Dolly was in and out of the Vets for about a week before she was finally put to sleep, so her final bill came to over £1,000 and fortunately, the veterinary practice we were with at the time let me do a payment plan to repay the amount gradually.

The other pet death that taught me about money was when I lost my first bunny; Pixie in 2021 because I also struggled to be able to afford to pay the cost to have put to sleep and this new veterinary practice refused to euthanise her until the payment had gone through! I remember thinking ‘you’re saying this is the best thing for her, but you want money before you’ll do it?!’ It left me massively torn between the outrage that they were in the wrong job if their priority was money over putting a pet out of their misery, and the shame and embarrassment that came with thinking I was totally inadequate and useless for having to borrow money from others to pay the vet fee. It left me feeling totally irresponsible and thinking I was an absolute failure for not being able or properly prepared to care for my own pets.

I think I’ve definitely improved since then though, because before getting Ruby I really budgeted and ensured I had enough to purchase her, to buy all the bits and pieces she needed, to cover the costs of her first injections at the Vets, and to be able to afford the things she’d continue to need e.g. food and litter etc. Unfortunately, there was still a potentially large cost I hadn’t thought about… getting her spayed. I think that I just naively thought that since I’d be keeping her as an indoor cat then there was no real need or justification to put her through the surgery that would stop her getting pregnant when there was really no chance of that happening anyway!

These past few weeks, however, Ruby has started to come into season or ‘heat’ and whilst I’m fully aware she isn’t in pain, her cries and seeing her so unsettled and frustrated isn’t nice to see/head. Especially when I know there’s something I can do to help her.

So, I looked into the prices of getting her spayed at her usual vets and it was around £90 – which I actually don’t think is too bad considering it’s a surgical procedure – but then I found out they have a scheme in partnership with Cats Protection (who I actually collaborated with on a series of posts in Ruby’s first month) for those in receipt of state benefits. All you have to do is take in proof of your benefit entitlement and complete a form/voucher and then all you have to pay is £10!

Now, of course this is an amazing price reduction (so, if you’re thinking of getting your own cat spayed or neutered and are claiming benefits, it’s definitely worth making enquiries at your local veterinary practice to see if they offer the same or a similar scheme), but it did make me feel a bit awful that I hadn’t done it sooner. Again though, it was about acceptance and recognising that if I had known about it when I got Ruby then I’d have obviously done it a lot sooner.

I’ve often voiced my opinion that my pets (past and present) have saved me – each in their own special and incredible way. I mean, my first cat Dolly really helped me settle into my home and adjust to life outside the psychiatric hospital I’d been in for over two years. Then my first bunny, Pixie, helped me to differentiate between the rabbit hallucinations I was experiencing and her very real and soft fur that I could stroke. My second cat, Emmy, gave me the massive boost I needed to safely cope with and come through the traumatic loss of Dolly. One of the bunnies who I have now, Luna, really saved me and helped me to bounce back when Pixie was put to sleep. Gracie, the youngest bunny I have now, really worked her magic on my mental health and safety levels after the loss of Emmy and I loved seeing Luna have someone to play with and to cuddle up to.

Finally, Ruby!

I really don’t want this to sound like any sort of diss against my other pets – I’d like to think I’ve made it pretty clear in this post just how much I love them and how much they mean to me – but I’ve never experienced a sense of connection with any of them that is in any way similar to that which I feel I have with Ruby. She genuinely gives me ‘soulmate’ vibes! Like, it’s ridiculous the number of times I’ve actually said out loud to her “where have you been all my life?!” I mean, I honestly can’t believe I ever lived without her, and I definitely could never imagine my life without her… And it is this, which is one of the largest consequences I struggle with because of the feeling that my pets have saved me.

In fairness, I think that it’s only natural that if you find something or someone helpful – particularly when it’s helpful to a degree of it meaning ensuring your actual, literal, safety is secure and your -mental wellbeing is healthy and stable – you can very easily (and, like I said; understandably) find yourself feeling somewhat reliant upon it/them. As though you almost subconsciously develop a belief that you wouldn’t have made it this far and that the sole responsibility and credit for that goes to this other thing or person. When really… Well, it’s like in mental health help, support, and care services where the notion that is really widely accepted is that professionals can throw all these tools and tips at you on how to cope better and be safer, they can offer you a ton of medication to brighten your mood or calm you down, and they can refer you to all the therapies under the sun(!); but if you don’t engage or cooperate then all those things will fall flat on their face and be rendered useless and completely pointless! So, it’s important to recognise a balance in being grateful for those who have provided help, support, and motivation, whilst also really acknowledging your own effort, dedication, determination, and the passion that you’ve put in to make everything successful and worthwhile.

Due to putting – or at least feeling as though you’re putting – a huge reliance on someone/something that you deem to be saving you can really leave you in a state of panic at the thought of them becoming poorly or dying. However, even though this can often mean a lot of anxiety, for me; that worry has ended up being a positive thing with my pets. Firstly, because it has meant that if the slightest thing happens then I’m in full-on protective Mama mode and getting them straight to the Vets. Something I actually pride myself on with my pets is that I have developed a real knack for having a feeling when something is seriously wrong, and I feel that this is largely due to the importance of my relationship with each of them. It’s like we have this connection that keeps me completely in-tune with their health. I mean, when Pixie got poorly, I said from the beginning that I had a bad feeling about it and sadly, I was right. And when Emmy developed a sore on her face and the veterinary practice, she was with were trying to dismiss it, I knew there was more to it and took her to be seen at another practice where they immediately said she could have lost one of her eyes had it got any worse. Now, whilst these are very obviously sad situations, I have felt somewhat reassured that I’m a good Mum because of them and the fact they have proven I have good instincts with my pets.

The other benefit to my concern that I’ll lose one of my pets is that I feel it actually really helps me to cherish and appreciate the time I have with them because I recognise it won’t last forever.



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