The Cat Lady Post: What My Cat Has Taught Me About Life

Day 1 with Pickles

Day 1 with Pickles

I’m going to start this week’s post with an incredibly depressing but profound quote.

I read a Guardian article about crime writer Henning Mankell who was facing his imminent death from cancer in 2014.

The quote goes:

“Fear is natural and based on the simple truth that what distinguishes us humans from other species is that we know we are going to die. The cats I have owned during my life have never been aware of their own death. They haven’t even been aware that they were alive. They have simply been there, day after day – hunting, lying around, miaowing. Acknowledging one’s fear of the unknown is realising what it means to be a person. Our existence is basically a tragedy. Throughout our lives we strive to increase our knowledge, our abilities, our experiences. But the bottom line is that all of that will be lost in oblivion.”

Heavy going right? But an interesting comparison of humans and their pets. I am a huge advocate for having pets – particularly rescue animals. 

Two years ago, my husband and I went looking for a cat to add to our family and were led to Pickles, a black cat who had been found very sick on the streets with cat flu.

He was taken care of by the Lost Cats' Home and now us and we can’t imagine life without him.

I’m sure you’ve heard the theory about why pets are so good for humans and in particular why it is so hard to ever lose them.

Relationships with pets are usually all positive, for a number of reasons... and here is what Pickles has taught me about life so far:

Accept people as they are

Our relationship with pets is so special because they accept us just as we are.

They don’t try to change us, they don’t mock us or put us down.

They love us just as we are.

Pickles is there for me through good times and bad and his love for and acceptance of me never wanes. His behaviour towards me stays consistent and it’s always positive. Whether I've I'm grumpy in the morning, have had a hard day at work or am just feeling glum in general, he's there for me in a consistent non-judgemental way.

Slow down

I remember when we first got Pickles, one of his major demands (!) of me was that when I got home from work, I was to lay on the bed so he could lie on me and purr and cuddle after a day away from me.

I must admit this was a struggle for me to start with – I was very used to coming home and getting on with cooking dinner, or cleaning up, or doing something else on my to do list.

Instead I’d come in the door and Pickles would demand I relax and cuddle with him. A pretty amazing way to end the work day and start my evening.

Don’t forget to be silly

Pickles loves to sleep a hell of a lot (did you know cats sleep for 16-18 hours a day? Inspirational really) but he also loves to be silly.

He did this even more so as a kitten, but one of my favourite times of day, is when Pickles will run around the house like a maniac, leaping off furniture, tearing up the hallway or bouncing across our bed.

It never fails to make me laugh and reminds me how much I love to make jokes, be immature and take a break from the seriousness of everyday life.

Thanks Pickles, I owe you so much.  

How To Deal With Negative Thoughts (My Review of The Happiness Trap)

I read The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris earlier this year, and it made such an impact on me that I’ve re-read it in the last month.

Based on the psychology of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), the book is centred on dispelling the widely sought after goal of chasing a constant state of happiness. It also addresses the belief that negative thoughts get in the way of happiness and need to be eliminated or controlled.

As the name suggests, ACT teaches us how to stop struggling with negativity and accept negative thoughts as part of the complexity of our minds.

Here are some revelations I had while reading the book, and strategies you can use yourself.

1. Your thoughts are not the truth

I literally shrieked this across the room to my husband when I read this (the things he puts up with…). The passage reads:

Thoughts are merely sounds, words, stories or bits of language. Thoughts may or may not be true; we don’t automatically believe them. Thoughts may or may not be important; we pay attention only if they’re helpful. Thoughts are definitely not orders; we certainly don’t have to obey them. Thoughts may or may not be wise; we don’t automatically follow their advice.

I think this struck a chord with me as I’d never really not trusted my own thoughts, even when I knew they might not be right. It felt great to acknowledge they are not the absolute truth and I don’t have to always believe or follow them.

2. Distance yourself from the thought

Dr Harris talks a lot about the ‘observing self’ throughout the book and I’ve found this one of the easiest strategies to implement.

When you’re in a negativity spiral take a step back and observe the thought from afar.

So rather than “I’m hopeless at XYZ” turn the thought into “I’m having the thought that I am hopeless at XYZ”.

It gives the thought less power and lets you view it in a more detached way.

3. Name regular negative stories (or give them silly voices)

Identify your mind’s favourite stories, then give them names, such as the ‘loser!’ story, or the ‘my life sucks!’ story, or the ‘I can’t do it!’ story.

Again, in the spirit of detachment (or cognitive defusion as it’s known), this is a good device for thoughts that come up again and again. Rather than following them down the rabbit hole, name the story. “Oh yes, the ‘I’m lazy’ story is back, I remember this one”.

Dr Harris also suggests giving your negative thoughts a silly celebrity or character’s voice.

When I use this one I put the thoughts to Eddie Murphy’s voice circa Delirious or Raw in the 1980s, and I literally cannot take them seriously anymore.

DR RUSS HARRIS

4. Make room for negative thoughts

The book goes into this in far more depth, but the purpose of this insight is not to fight the thoughts (as clearly that rarely works and they always come back).

Rather than denying the thoughts, acknowledge they are there and although you don’t like the feeling, make room for it. It will likely come and go if you accept it.

Basically, expansion means making room for our feelings. If we give unpleasant feelings enough space, they no longer stretch us or strain us.

5. Ask yourself these questions

Lastly, although there are many questions you can ask yourself when in a negative thought spiral, my two favourites are:

  • Is the thought useful or helpful?
  • Does it help me be the person I want to be?

If the answer is no (and let’s be honest, it usually is), I make room for the thought, give it the Eddie Murphy treatment and can often move on with my day.

Have you read The Happiness Trap? What strategies do you use to help work through negative thinking?

Light Links: May

How has your May been lovely readers? We’ve had some beautiful crisp days in Melbourne but the early mornings and evenings are definitely getting a little too chilly for me as we head into winter starting in June.

Luckily I escaped for a warmer weekend in Sydney, with quality girlfriend time. I also did some more decluttering at home and we celebrated my husband’s birthday. I’ve got lots of great links for you this month so grab a warm tea (or a cool wine) and enjoy.

Having a bad day? How to turn it around and talk yourself into a great day at work.

Smart ways to dial back at work (yes, you can dial back!) once you’ve set an expectation around your performance.

A personal story on saying yes to your purpose. Can you believe a female’s confidence peaks at 8 years old?

False ideas we may have around being a mother and having a career - a three part series:

Inspired by the original post from Jess Lively, Grace from Design Sponge shares the things that scare her.

Stop fighting against your feelings and ‘accept what is’.  

And finally, 40 quotes to help quiet your mind