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Author: Sandy Sue
As blasé as cats seem, they are actually quite sensitive creatures. Stress makes them sick, especially if they are inside cats and can’t de-stress with normal feline activity like snapping a squirrel’s neck or dashing up a tree to escape the neighbor’s dog. The urinary tract is especially susceptible. My Henry develops crystals in his bladder without a special diet. And now Emmett has a urinary tract infection.
Emmett has always been a Scardy Cat. Plastic bags send him running. As does a flushing toilet. And don’t get me started on the vacuum cleaner. He hates being picked up or handled in any way. When we moved to the apartment, it took him almost two years to jump up on the bed with us at night and burrow under the covers. He actually loves being petted and groomed, but on his terms. That’s usually when I’m on the toilet or sitting quietly in my big chair. I am the elephant in the room, and Emmett feels much safer if I’m not stomping around.
I knew all the hubbub this summer would be stressful for both of them—the bathroom remodel, the bed-bug inspection, and then my five days away in Minneapolis. I tried to soften the effects—keeping them shut up with me in the bedroom while the contractors worked on the bathroom, providing lots of hide-holes, having a friend they knew come visit while I was away. Emmett went into deep hiding, which is fairly normal for him. But then he urinated under my chair in the living room. Houston, we have a problem.
So off to the vet for confirmation and a time-released antibiotic. Not a huge concern. But, I was hysterical.
Immediately, I was reliving a time in my life when a different kitty peed where she shouldn’t. At that time, several traumatic events happened at once. I wasn’t just remembering that time, I was in it, feeling all the terror and helplessness from twenty years ago. I bolted awake from nightmares. When the UPS man rang my doorbell, I screamed. I knew I was over-reacting, but couldn’t talk myself out of it. Then, I remembered working with my substitute therapist, Ben, last summer, and how I had the same kind of reactions. He named it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
It was hard for me to accept. I’m not a war veteran or a rape survivor. But as we slowly worked through the memories and flashbacks then, I began to see that what had happened to me was bad enough. So I went to Megan, my regular therapist, and we worked through it again.
Emmett and I are slowly coming back. He’s spent the last two weeks in the safe cubby I made for him in the bathroom with access to food, water and the litter box. He didn’t mind me sitting next to the nest and reaching in to pet him, but he bolted when I turned on the shower. So, on the days when I didn’t go to the Y to shower, I tucked him under a blanket on my bed. He complained loudly about being moved and handled, but would stay under the blanket all day. He was too scared to come out from that safe, dark place. To make sure he drank some water and used the box, I had to pull him out and set him back in the bathroom.
His fear broke my heart, but that reaction is also part of my old trauma. It’s confusing, this layering of past and present.
A few minutes ago, he came out of the bathroom for the first time on his own. I tried not to make too much of it, staying put in my chair and greeting him in a soft voice. But when he heard me, looked up and saw me, he scurried back into the bathroom. Emmett is my mirror and my Teacher in this particular lesson. We both need to relearn who is safe and who is dangerous. We both need gentleness and time to come back to ourselves.
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