Firstly thanks for Mia Stegner sharing the story with Cléo.
When I met Cléo at our local cat cafe and fell in love, I knew bringing her into my life would be beneficial — I knew she would keep me company, and I knew the routine and responsibility of keeping her warm, clean, fed, and happy would be good for me. But even though I’d talked to my therapist about adopting a cat and my doctor was quick to agree to write an emotional support animal letter, I had no idea going into it just how much Cléo would do for me.
When I reflect on life since becoming a cat mom, I can identify six biggest areas where my cat has helped me — and they just might be ways a cat could help you, too.
Cléo keeps me in the moment. Not only does she lead by example, moving from one thing to the next with an almost divine sense of tranquil yet vivacious energy, but she also frequently interrupts me. Sure it can be annoying to stop what I’m doing to clean up a knocked-over plant, but it also keeps me grounded. I’ve come to develop a sense of appreciation for these little interruptions — at least some of the time.
Though it might seem a bit contradictory, Cléo also helps me not get too stuck in the moment. Everyone loses track of time occasionally, but for people with ADHD, it can be a particularly persistent and frustrating issue known as “time blindness,” which is essentially a skewed sense of how much time is passing and how long various tasks will take, which makes it difficult to prioritize and make plans.
Especially if I’m hyper-focused on something, it’s like I enter another dimension where five hours goes by like five minutes. Before Cléo, it wasn’t uncommon for me to spend hours at a time working alone in an empty room, everything around me quiet and still, the perfect environment for time blindness to occur. Now, even if I have a lot of work or don’t manage to leave the apartment, Cléo’s there with me, surrounding me with life and movement. Even the simplest of things — jumping onto my lap, running down the hall, looking up at me from across the room — provide little checkpoints of life that unfreeze me, if only for a moment. I try to use these moments as reminders to take a deep breath, stand up and stretch, or reevaluate how I’m spending my day.
In the morning when I wake up, sometimes Cléo’s asleep and sometimes she’s awake, but she’s almost always right by my side. She never wakes me up in the morning, which I appreciate — I value my sleep! — but as soon as she notices I’m awake, she has a very effective method of getting me up. First, she stares at me expectantly, tilting her head and asking with her eyes why I haven’t started my day yet. I’m in the process of training her to use “FluentPet” buttons she can push that playback words to help us communicate — so after about ten minutes, if I’m still not up, she’ll walk over to the door and press her “open door” button (for now, she stays in my room at night since it’s where all her stuff is and it’s a bit more cat-proofed than the rest of the apartment when unsupervised). If I still don’t get up, or if I let her out and go back to bed, she’ll come back and start meowing.
At night, she has a similar method — if she decides it’s bedtime, she’ll meow at me until I get up to follow her. There are about three turns from the living room to our bedroom, and she’ll stop at each one and look back to make sure I’m following her before either continuing on or meowing some more.
The rest of the day she doesn’t necessarily keep tabs on me, but she guides me through the transitions between day and night, and it genuinely helps me stay on track.
Cléo doesn’t let me forget to feed her — which also helps me remember to feed myself. I don’t always have the motivation for cooking or meal planning or even getting out of my chair. But for Cléo, I’ll stand up, open a can of cat food, and empty it into her bowl. And if I can do that, if I’m already standing and I have to take the empty can to the kitchen anyway, I might as well push on and feed myself too at that point. In addition to the aforementioned mental health benefits, having a cat has been proven to reduce stress levels, boost your mood, lower your blood pressure, increase self-esteem as well as empathy, and even reduce the likelihood of heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases.
Shortly after adopting Cléo, I became inspired to start a music licensing company, which we now run together as co-owners. I do most of the day-to-day tasks, but she makes all the final decisions. She sits on my lap and purrs, keeping me grounded and making it nearly impossible for stress and tension to build up in the same way that it does without her.
Additionally, via the aforementioned time management support, she makes sure I take breaks and don’t work too intensely, or through meals, or into the night.
Cléo’s curiosity and drive to seek out joy is contagious. Watching her entertain herself is, more often than not, very entertaining. Additionally, she gives me plenty of opportunities to join in the fun. When a cat wants to play, it’s hard to resist. Maybe their eyes get big, or they’re crouched and ready to pounce, or they’re pawing their favorite toy around on the ground looking at you intermittently as if waiting for you to join in. And sure, I mostly do it because it’s good for her, but I have fun and get to share the benefits too.
If that isn’t motivation enough, I know that if I don’t spend some time each day giving my cat some much-deserved attention and point a laser at the wall or wave around a toy mouse on a stick, I know I’ll have to make up for it by tolerating a wired kitty pouncing on my feet or going on a rampage in my room at 3 a.m.
I’ve struggled with making and maintaining friendships my whole life, and after a particularly tough platonic breakup with one of the closest friends I’ve ever had this past year, I was sure trying to form friendships would never seem appealing again. It takes me so long to trust people, to feel comfortable around them, to believe that they want to be my friend — and in a nutshell, this relationship left me wondering what was the point, if someone could just change their mind and drop me from their life for no good reason? How do I decide who to trust, who to spend time with, who to give any amount of my already very limited energy to — if even once I manage to get to that point and invest in someone, it can all come crumbling down? It’s a feeling, more so than a thought — I know that I can grow and trust and find connections. Still, it’s difficult to enjoy the process when I can’t seem to shake the question of how long I have before they decide it’s not a good fit.
I have no way of knowing what exactly goes on inside Cléo’s head, but I do know that she knows how to love. She enjoys people while she’s with them, and she doesn’t see love as an investment, but rather as a way of life. It’s not really a matter of who you give your love to, or who you can trust to give it back — it’s just a matter of doing your part to keep it flowing in as many directions as possible.
Cléo knows I’m her mom — she keeps tabs on me, and she doesn’t like it when I leave for too long. There’s trust there, and there’s a bond. At the same time, she is fully whole without me. She has a mind of her own and she knows how to keep herself busy.
The reason I chose Cléo amongst her litter mates was because she was the only one who didn’t have a note in her file about needing to be adopted in a pair. They told us she was sweet and affectionate, and she got along well with other animals, but she was also enough of an independent spirit that they had no worries about her being adopted by herself. I remember wondering how they could really know that, but after spending more time with her, there are so many behaviors that make me think their assertion was spot-on.
She’ll snuggle with guests, but only on her own terms — she won’t settle if you try to set her on your lap. When I took her with me home for the holidays, she tolerated my family’s two cats and two dogs remarkably well, but she also sought out her own time and space away from them. She seemed to have fun following the cats around, playing chase with the dogs, and snuggling up with a buddy — but her love and her joy is in no way dependent on how long the visit lasts.
Even though she seems happy to be home, I’m sure it wasn’t easy to say goodbye, and maybe she wonders if she’ll ever get to see them again. But at the end of the day, it’s out of her control, and for now she can turn her attention back to those who are still here.
“She’ll be okay with others or on her own." And now that I’ve met her, I know I will be, too — though it definitely doesn’t hurt to have a cat nearby.