Posted in Self-Care

Zelda: My Furry Burnout-Avoiding Cat

We have three cats.  Tommy is older, grey, and was supposed to be a feral, but apparently developed a love for people since some nice person fed him a bit during his first year.  We’ve had him the longest and he’s going to be 10 this year.  Zelda, a former stray, came next.  She will be four this year, and we’ve had her also since she was about one.  Then there’s Baxter, who is our messy cat.  Someone else had him at first, then he got an infection of the sort that is more typical in unneutered male cats and they couldn’t afford to fix him, so the humane society did and he’s ours now.  He’s neutered now, but he’s got some odd habits that came from a life when he used to make baby kitties with other cats.  He’s sort of dog-like in that he’s messier, clumsier, and a bit too interested in my fuzzy blanket if you know what I mean.  Baxter will be six this year and he’s a black-and-white cat.   Tommy and Baxter are both tuxedo cats with white tummies, but Tommy is greyscale and Baxter is black-and-white.

Even though Baxter is our most dog-like cat, Zelda is really our odd duck.  A cat with medium-length hair, she spends a lot of time grooming and “posing” since she knows how adorable she is. She’s highly sensitive, and she’s the reason we keep what we call “happy cat smell” going on in the house.  It’s this pheromone that supposedly mimics mama cat rubbing baby kittens and is on a plug-in diffuser.  Because the house is large, we have three or four of them going and also she gets weird litterbox spaces with newspaper on top because she really has to have her own smell around her to feel completely happy.  She’s getting better as she’s lived with us for nearly three years, but it was a rough go for a while.  She’s the kind of cat that will pee on clothes left on the floor, but she won’t go out of her way to do this anymore, like she did when we first got her; she gives us a brief window in which to pick up our stuff or she figures she’s good to go.  She’s our anxiety cat.  We’ve altered our space a lot to accommodate her, and I know few people would do this, but she needs it to feel safe, so we just sort of carry on and do what she needs.  She’s quite happy now.

Zelda is also our barometer for family and household health.  When we got her, my husband worked 12-hour days outside the house Friday through Sunday until he eventually got to work from home on Fridays since there were too many people there and it was stressing him, and then later left that job to do a work-from-home at a company specializing in hiring Autistics.  Since he’s come home, she has warmed up to him.  But when we got her, I worked at home, and when I went out to work, it threw her off quite a bit, whereas Tommy just figured I’d come home eventually.  He’s a very flexible cat.  Zelda likes that our son homeschools since he’s home most of the time, too, which she appreciates.

I tell you about all this because Zelda is the one who lets me know when I’m heading for burnout.  She’s not one of those fancy therapy cats, but she does meet me at the door almost every night and follows me around when I get home.  It’s sweet because she doesn’t have to be “on” me like a dog, but she just likes to be in the same room, doing her own thing.  However, if I’ve been out of the house too long, she punishes me by ignoring me until the next morning, though she’ll hang out in the bedroom all night so she can watch me to make sure I don’t go anywhere.  The other two don’t much care how long I’m gone, but not Zelda.  Zelda does not like having her world disrupted at all, really, but she can deal with me leaving so long as I’m back by 4 or 5 and she really likes having all day Saturday and Sunday dedicated to hanging out with her.  She allows me brief journeys out on the weekends for Mass, but otherwise, she wants me home.

It seems like she knows that I’m Autistic and I need to be home to relax, and to keep myself in order.  She knows I will burn out if I’m not home enough.  I don’t know how she knows, but she does.  I’d like to say it’s theory of mind and she thinks that I think like she does, and she knows that she is happiest at home and therefore I must be, but I’m sure some vet will say she’s not capable of that much thought.  Then again, so many of us Autistics claim to be cat-like in that we like what cats like in terms of calmness and routine, and we like to watch a bit before diving in, maybe she does get it since I am like her.  I know that we all share the anxiety she has, just about different things.

The snow day yesterday really helped me to recenter, and I got a lot of work done for school, mostly marketing, which is easier for me to do at home since I have two large monitors and more software options than at school.  I also have my Yankee candles burning and can take breaks with stimmy games.  And then, of course, there are these three furry menaces running around.  I looked at my calendar, though, and I will be out late tonight.  Meeting at another school, then a few hours before school lets out, an afterschool meeting, then another, so I’ll be out of here by 7, and not back until 7:30 or 8, most likely.

Zelda will be upset with me when I get home, but she might forgive me since it was just one day.  The rest of the week looks calmer, so there’s a chance I’ll be okay, especially since we had that snow day yesterday.

But if I’m heading for burnout, she will let me know, and I will be able to talk to Father about readjusting my schedule.  He is amazing about understanding when I need something, and so long as I have a plan, he’s great at letting me just go and do it.  Part of me wishes Zelda could come to school with me, but I know she would just have super anxiety in a new space (though she has this “I’m a pretty princess” routine at the vet where she acts all nonchalant, under the surface she is kind of a mess) so instead I just think about “How will Zelda react to me doing this?” and use that to guide my decisions when planning my week for a balance, as much balance as I can find given how many hours I shove into a week.

I hope you all have your own Zeldas, who can help you to avoid burnout, but I very much doubt your Zelda is as adorable as mine!

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