Scratch scratch. Knock knock knock. Meow. Scratch. Meow. Knock knock.
I grabbed my phone off my bedside table and had a look at the time. 5:46am. I rolled over, pulled a pillow over my head and closed my eyes, desperate to get back to sleep.
Meow. Meow. Meeeooooowwww! Argh.
Scratch scratch scraaaatch. Knock knock. Scratch. Meeeooooowwww!
I hauled myself upright, threw my legs over the side of the bed and stood up, unsteadily. Then I stumbled over to my bedroom door and opened it slightly. The cat sprinted past me, brushing against my leg, before it jumped into my bed.
“Ok cat, but you need to let me sleep.”
I moved to the other side of the bed, where the cat was not, and closed my eyes.
Within thirty seconds the cat had positioned itself on my head, covering my nose and mouth, and was happily purring. Unable to breathe (or sleep), I pushed it off and encouraged it to lie next to me. It climbed back onto my head. I pushed it off again and it seemed to settle. I felt its fur gently rubbing against my cheek as it continued to breathe and purr as loudly as a Harley Davidson. I felt myself drift off again. Just as I started to fall into a dream, a paw with extended claws, swatted my face. I sat upright.
“Ouch! What did you do that for?”
The cat stared at me and purred some more. Running out of options, I reached out my hand to pat it on the head, in an attempt to pat it to sleep. It bit me.
“Alright, you win,” I told the cat, as I got out of bed, pulled on my slippers and dressing gown and headed down the passage. The cat followed me excitedly. When it realised I was headed into the kitchen, it flew past me, narrowly missing getting caught under my feet. Then it hurled itself at the tray holding its food and water, spilling the leftovers all over the floor.
“You’re a pain cat,” I grumbled, as I grabbed paper towels and began cleaning the mess on the floor. It meowed, as it watched me cleaning; watched me not filling up its food bowl with immediacy. Eventually, I filled its food bowl with sachets of foul smelling food. As I squeezed out the contents, the cat rubbed its head against my hand with newfound gratitude and appreciation. Then it sat down and stared at me.
“Eat your food cat,” I told it. “You got me up, now you need to eat.” It continued to stare at me, unmoved. Exasperated, I threw my hands in the air and walked out of the kitchen.
A few Christmases ago, I took on looking after my friend’s cat while she was away with her family. It was my chance to understand what it would be like to have a furry friend in my flat. I was convinced that I was a cat-owner-to-be, waiting for my perfect match. But what I’d forgotten was that cats don’t have owners and I wasn’t yet ready to serve a feline ruler. The cat and I had a tumultuous month together. There were nights it didn’t let me sleep. There were days it turned my flat into utter chaos. It left some awful scents behind it. It woke me up early every single morning. It was inconsiderate. Selfish. And in the moments I hated it most, it would turn on its big eyes and would plop onto my lap with much affection. It messed with my mind. Pure psychological warfare.
As I think about how I've been living alongside my anxiety over these months, in our global pandemic world – I think about that cat. I dislike my anxiety with my whole being and yet it lives with me. Some days it climbs onto my pillow and keeps me up all night. On others it wakes me up early in the morning for a variety of reasons that it really doesn’t need at that hour. It suffocates me. It shows me sides of myself that I don’t like. And the worst thing about it is, I can’t shut it out. It refuses stay on the other side of the door. Like the cat, when it comes knocking, the longer I ignore it, the more fuss it makes.
Over the years I’ve learnt that the only way to deal with my anxiety is to acknowledge it and spend time with it. I’ve got to know it and understand it – I’ve even given it a name. When it starts to grow I immediately look for support to help me remember that I can manage it, I can get it calm and purring – it doesn’t have to become my ruler. I know that on some days it may be overwhelming and all-consuming, but it won’t be like that all days.
As we move through times that are naturally scary, I’ve chatted to many people who just want to get rid of their feelings of fear and worry. I completely understand that view – I feel the same. But the anxiety we’re experiencing is a normal reaction to uncertain times. It can’t be shut out. Our brains have a built-in fight or flight anxiety mode, designed to protect us from danger. Anxiety tells us to be cautious, to look after ourselves, to be prepared for difficulty. But it can overwhelm us. I’d suggest that if we let it in, get to know it and find ways to live alongside it, we might find ways to appreciate it as a part of us that needs nurture and care, rather than as a part of us that we need to destroy.