Pets & Mental Health, A Love Story : Cats & Overcoming Past Trauma
Written by Taimour Fazlani
Maow Maow, Chyna (endearingly named after the WWF wrestler), Tommy, Sirius, Orange and of course ‘Little Shit’ - these are just some of the cats I’ve been a human to so far in my life. My family and I have always been cat lovers, so it’s no coincidence that we’ve had over 15+ cats in our collective lives.
From Karachi to London, we’ve always ended up with a family of cats as a result of adopting one stray cat. This was started off by Chyna in Pakistan and then continued on by Maow Maow in London.
For as long as I can remember billis (Urdu for cats) have been a big part of my life and it is through my love for cats that I’ve been able to develop emotional attributes that make me who I am today. More importantly, it’s my love for cats that’s helped me in relation to my past trauma.
Quite often those who have suffered trauma tend to hold it in their body. As a result, they become hardened to any form of gentle or loving touch. This makes physical affection really difficult. This state of hollow existence is where I spent most of my early to mid-teens - and it was a really hard time for me.
This period was made worse by the fact that I was also consistently battling with toxic masculinity being imposed upon me. I was experiencing what a lot of other boys go through but never talk about - a lot of which is left bottled up. This path created by patriarchy and ruled by toxic masculinity was extremely suffocating- as I grew older what I could and could not experience grew narrower so that I could fit the mould of ‘what a man should be’. This meant forcibly having to lose connection with soul-warming experiences such as kindly holding someone or something, let alone nurturing something I loved.
Luckily for me as I entered my late teens all of this started to radically change and I ended up turning in a different direction when Maow Maow (along with other things such as reading and martial arts) decided to enter my life. Although, it wasn’t love at first sight.
At first, I was quite hesitant to pet Maow Maow, as she can be quite unpredictable. Plus it had been nearly a decade since I had actually stroked a cat - at the start, all of it was unfamiliar.
Nevertheless, as time progressed and as Maow Maow kept visiting us more regularly we developed a level of comfort between us. I was a university student at the time and most of my days were free - as a result, I ended up spending a lot of time with Maow Maow. Before I knew it we had an effortless routine - something I feel cats do really well as they can just adapt to a person’s schedule.
Through Maow Maow I re-discovered my love for cats and animals in general. I mean how could I not fall in love with this beautiful fluff?
I remember I would speak to Maow Maow as if she could fully understand what I was saying and tell her about my day, she felt like a non-judgemental observer - all of which felt very cathartic. However, due to Maow Maow’s unpredictable personality, there wasn’t much stroking or petting involved, she felt more like a friend instead of a pet you cared for.
One day early in the morning Maow Maow, who had been missing for a couple of days, decided to resurface bringing with her 5 beautiful kittens. It was overwhelming at first but it was here that I started to re-learn a lot. In this short period through my love, care and responsibility for Maow Maow’s 5 adorable yet mischevious kittens I began to re-discover important things such as joy through physical affection, sensitivity to touch and even felt a genuine form of holistic love - it was a priceless feeling.
This was accompanied by a feeling of freedom as I became more open to life-essential activities such as cuddling, hugging and stroking through the kittens - all of which stood in direct opposition to toxic masculinity’s restrictive behaviour patterns.
Over time as I naturally turned towards such positive emotions and behaviours my life trajectory started to shift drastically - as did my sense of self-care. All in all, this was a very special time for me, a period I remember with fondness because I began to learn to love myself and others. For all of this, I’ll always be thankful to the cats for showing up on our doorstep - equally, I’ll always be respectful to myself for being open enough to let love in despite my trauma.