Cat vs. Therapist - theHumm February 2021
Cat vs. Therapist - theHumm February 2021
By John Pigeau
Last week my therapist said something to me that struck me as exceedingly important. We were talking on the phone and I have a famously poor memory, so I said, “Whoa. Can you hold on a second? I need to write that down.”
He said “Of course,” and I reached over my cat, who was sitting on the coffee table watching me, to grab a pen. Or rather, I tried to reach over Ellie to grab a pen, but she wasn’t having it. She gave my wrist a nasty little “love” bite. Her little teeth pierced my skin like a mouthful of sharp, steely needles, and I yelped, “Ow! You little bugger. Get down!”
She did, jumping down to the carpet, then trotting off into the kitchen.
“Everything okay?” my therapist inquired.
“Oh, fine,” I told him. “My cat just gave me a little nip. She thinks I’m not paying enough attention to her or something.”
“Ah, I see.”
Ellie had drawn blood, I noticed, when I put pen to paper. “Lacking the cognitive wherewithal,” I said aloud, and printed on a fresh page in my small Mead notebook. We’d been discussing how and why it was that some people are unable to realize their inactions can be harmful to someone else. It was a breakthrough moment for me. It made perfect sense and would be helpful. And I was dripping blood droplets on my notebook.
We wrapped up our 45-minute session with some hopeful talk of September vaccines, then I tended to my wound.
And of course when I found Ellie she was up in her back window, stretched out languidly, her eyes shining just so — a gentle, knowing yellow — her head tilted up toward the light, where she was either tracking some birds or waiting for them. It’s impossible to be angry at Ellie at such moments, no matter how fierce her bite may be when she’s bored or wanting attention, or just in a snoot. She meows without making a noise, when she notices me, as if to say, “I’m here, but busy-busy, important things to do and see.” It’s a sort of apology. And I can’t help but watch her for a little while. The way her elegant form looks both relaxed yet poised to pounce, should the need arise. Her fur coat of marbled tans and browns. That gentle glimmer in her eyes.
I don’t need to re-read the science to know that spending just a few minutes in the presence of a cat lowers your blood pressure.
I’ve heard people describe life in lockdown as a kind of hell. I feel for people when they say this. Sincerely. Especially older or disabled folks, and those who live alone. The loneliness and isolation can cause severe mental duress. I’ve talked to my therapist about this, and he says it’s certainly one of the biggest concerns among mental health professionals.
At such times, I always tell him about my good friend who is an ICU nurse at Kingston General Hospital. She gets pretty exhausted sometimes, but does her job efficiently and compassionately, without complaint. So, I can’t really think of my own life during this global pandemic — as isolated as I am, as lonesome and anxious as I get when the walls seem to be pressing in — as a kind of hell.
My therapist of course believes this is a healthy approach: keeping things in perspective. “Yes,” I’ve agreed with him, then he’s quick to remind me to get out for as many walks as I can, despite my physical pain. “Do what you can,” he says. “The cardio will do you wonders. Physically and mentally.”
We talk once a month. For about an hour, normally. I talk to Ellie far more often. And it might seem silly, but talking to my cat — this mostly gentle, loving, and playful little soul — is helpful.
One day I was reading Barack Obama’sA Promised Land in my chaise lounge (a pandemic gift to myself) and I barked a laugh and paused to tell Ellie, who sleeps in the chair next to me while I read: “Ha! Listen to this — ‘And what became abundantly clear as soon as Sarah Palin stepped into the spotlight was that on just about every subject relevant to governing the country she had absolutely no idea what the hell she was talking about.’” I laughed again. Ellie looked up at me. “She was a silly woman,” I told her. “You’re far, far smarter than Sarah Palin, Ellie Bird. And cuter too.”
Have no illusions, a cat is a lovely companion. Many times at night I wish I could camp out with my spouse, put on a silly movie, and snuggle and laugh and just be together. Give her a back rub. Fool around. But I don’t have a spouse anymore. That fact has caused me a great deal of pain and grief over the last eight years, and the isolation of a pandemic, the loneliness, the fear, the anxiety — they all heighten that pain, that aftergrief. If I am personally experiencing any sort of “hell” because of this deadly virus, that would be the hardest thing.
My therapist has reminded me — although not as often as I remind myself — that grief is unique, and my pain — your pain, your suffering, anyone’s — is not small or petty; it all matters; we all matter. It’s not a matter of comparison. If you’ve a wound, it needs to be tended to, just as other people’s do.
It helps me to hear this from a very good mental health care professional, if only once a month. I need the reminder. Just as I need Ellie’s sweet and restful company. In the case of Cat vs. Therapist, the verdict is inherently beneficial for everyone: all parties are winners.
Seeing that on occasion we go off on tangents during “my” sessions and get talking about our shared admiration for the music of Leonard Cohen or the writing of Julian Barnes, I bet my therapist would agree. He gets some joy from our chats as well. And he can feel good too, knowing, at least, that he’s helped another of his patients maneuver over some of the bumps along the way.
By Sally Hansen
Art… and Soul
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Artistic Excellence in our Area - theHumm February 2021
By Miss Cellaneous
Mary Pfaff: Companions
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Build a Birdhouse! - theHumm February 2021
By Glenda Jones
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I ride a friend’s beautiful big black horse Izzy out into the fields on a farm east of Perth. It is a gloriously eerie afternoon in late November. A wet snow has fallen on not-yet-frozen ground and now a thick, vaporous veil of fog has gathered over the land.
Izzy is a game companion and I anticipate the adventure we have ahead of us. When the curtain of fog closes around us, separating us from buildings and barns, suddenly I am transported into the pages of childhood books — a girl on a pony, ve......
Finding Joy in Lockdown - theHumm February 2021
By Sarah Kerr
I had a bit of the “blue Monday” feels as I sat down to write this month’s Little Humm column. But the whole point of this column is to add some joy and encouragement to all my parenting peeps in the Valley. So in an effort to find inspiration for February, which is currently forecasting a continued lockdown and possibly a polar vortex, I decided to survey the kids of the Ottawa Valley to see how they think we should handle this situation. And it turns out, they’re not as upset about lockdown in wint......
Back to Better in the Valley - theHumm February 2021
By Jeanne d’Arc Labelle
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Dear Little One - theHumm February 2021
By Jaaron Hamilton
Jaaron Hamilton sent in this letter to her young son (as well as the photo) as her contribution to theHumm’s Winterwords invitation to write:
By the time that you’ll be reading this, all of this will be a distant memory. Maybe you’ll be reading about it in your history textbook, or watching a documentary about it on Netflix. In any case, there is one thing that is absolutely certain: this was not the year that we imagined. I don’t know what we expected, but this definitely wasn’t it.......
By Nick McCabe
Nick McCabe sent in this gently insightful contribution to theHumm’s Winterwords invitation to write. Artist Catherine Orfald allowed us to use her painting Ontario Farm Remains to accompany it.
This past summer, while tying up our tomatoes in the garden for what felt like the 100th time, my wife noticed our son Theo, in flight, speeding past the garden with a rusted-old-broken-thingamajig in hand toward the woodshed. She, boldly, remarked as to whether he had gotten around to co......
We and Covid - theHumm February 2021
By Frank Hirst
Frank Hirst is the author of A View from the Forest — a non-fiction collection of stories about his life. Born in England in 1939, Frank came to the Ottawa Valley in 1948. He taught for two years each in Ottawa, Northern Ontario and Dawson City, spent four years at Queen’s and retired from high school teaching in 1990, returning to his farm. Frank lived off the land for the most part in the Ottawa Valley, in a log cabin he built in the bush with his wife and kids. Frank’s adventures, captur......
By Jill McCubbin
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. Or as my son said: “We are blessed to live in these times and we are cursed to live in these times.”
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