As I write this, I am sick with a head cold, sleep-deprived, and have popped blood vessels under my eyes from crying. I recently had to make the agonizing decision to euthanize my 20-year-old cat. She was in pain from various illnesses and showing signs of dementia. It was evident that her time to cross the rainbow bridge had come.
I cried for hours before and after her passing, because to me she was more than just a pet — she was a family member. I’ve lost pets before, and the sadness that follows is more harrowing because of my chronic depression.
I know a lot of people who suffer from depression find special comfort in an animal companion. For me, cats are my saviors. Over the years my cats have helped patch my emotional wounds more times than I can count. They helped me get through awful depressive episodes where I struggled to communicate with people. They calmed me down when I was angry at myself for being upset over trivial things. I loved and protected them with a fierce devotion. I grew to rely on them for positive vibes more than the people in my life.
When one of my cats died, it felt like the end of the world to me, and it angered me when my friends dismissed my grief. I lost one of my cats when I was a junior in high school. I told my close friend the next day why I was so sad, and she didn’t seem to care. I shared my sorrow, and it was rebuffed, blown back in my face, unrecognized. This only made me more depressed. I thought, Why do I even bother telling people I’m sad? No one cares about me. I thought, Why make friends when they’re not going to be there for me when I’m grieving?
Every time I lost a cat, my depression fueled the worst thoughts, setting them on endless repeat:
I should have been a better pet owner.
I don’t deserve to have another pet.
If I had taken my pet to the vet sooner, none of this would have happened.
I can’t take care of myself. I can’t take care of a pet.
It’s my fault my pet is dead.
Right now, I can’t get away from these thoughts. As I write this, I am suffering, but I no longer feel the urge to legitimize this sorrow with other people, even if they love and appreciate their fur babies as much as I do mine. I have power over who I choose to share my grief with, and I have the right to choose how I share that grief.
So here’s my message to those who have lost a precious fur baby and are battling depression: I am letting you know that it’s okay to be depressed about this loss, even if people close to you don’t understand or care. Those people might scoff at you or say incredibly insensitive things, but those people probably have no idea how special the bond is between human and animal. If the thought of being around people is too much to bear, I am letting you know it’s okay for you to call in sick from work or school and mourn this loss. Don’t let the thoughts or opinions of others interfere with your grieving process. Your sorrow and depression are legitimate, and no one has the right to say otherwise.