Thursday, July 28, 2011

My cat saved my life: One of many relapses into anorexia

October of 2008
A few years ago, during another relapse into anorexia, we had a family get-together at our house (I was living with my parents then). While family members were cooking hotdogs and marshmallows on the bonfire for lunch, I was nervously darting around, avoiding food. Whenever someone needed a condiment or extra napkins, I was the first to jump up and volunteer. Sitting in one spot would no doubt result in an offering of food, according to my anorexic mind. I stood six feet tall and weighed 108 lbs.

Familial exhaustion
After my first wave of anorexia, therapy, psychiatrists, medications, support groups, supplements, EKGs, heart rate checks, low blood pressure, hospital stabilization, inpatient treatment, and residential treatment, my family and most of my friends seemed to address additional relapses less intensely. From my perspective, they had given up on me. If all of that help didn't work, they didn't know how to help me. Continued relapses became a normal facet of our family and it was expected that either at our summer or Christmas reunion, they would find me sick again. It became commonplace so instead of the exhaustive effort of challenging every disordered thought or behavior, my family and I seemed to accept it as part of me.

As I was an adult, there wasn't much that could be done to save me from myself, aside from taking me to court and committing me to the state, which was discussed by my therapist. I felt all my coins of possible ways to get help and reach recovery were spent.

I gave up and decided anorexia would be my slow suicide.

I had had a suicide attempt years prior, but I felt that death by anorexia would be less hurtful to my family. The previous attempt on ending my life was unrelated to the eating disorder and caused shock, hurt, and fear in my family. At least with anorexia, I felt they were so fed up with me (no pun intended), that by slowly dying they were able to accept it, see it coming, and almost wish it sooner due to the pain I caused the whole family.


The bonfire
Sitting around (or me-darting around) the bonfire, I heard a faint "mew" sound. My family watched as I investigated in the woods behind the fire. Luckily it was daytime so I could see a tiny kitten at the base of a tree, looking lost and terrified. She continued to "mew" at me and the only thing I had on hand to give her was a hot dog. I threw little pieces of hotdog in front of it and it gobbled them up. She ended up eating 1 and 1/2 hot dogs! She was about the size of a beanie baby!

My parents were adamant about not ending up with a cat in the house...they were never cat people. I was able to get the kitten close enough with a chunk of hot dog that I made a grab for her, but she got away and ran back into the woods. I felt terrible but I couldn’t find her after that.

Growing fonder
The next late-fall morning, I saw through the dining room window the kitten had curled up in the warm ashes of the fire pit for the night. I began to leave a dish of water and a dish of tuna fish out for her every day and I frequently visited. She began to follow me around and I started feeling attached to her and worried about predators at night. I convinced my dad to let me keep her food in the pole barn with the door open so she had a shelter to stay in. Eventually, I got more attached and didn’t want her in harm’s way or to get lost, so I shut the door of the barn. Not yet knowing the sex of the kitten, I named her Pumpkin since she was orange. As winter neared, the barn got cooler and my mom finally conceded. If I would pay to take the kitten to the vet to be tested for parasites and to be fully declawed, I could bring her inside the house. I was thrilled.

Taken from me
One day I came home to my mom saying a neighbor had come to pick up the kitten. I was furious and hysterical. I felt like she was my baby, and she was stolen from me. “Why would you DO that?” Apparently he had showed up looking for a different cat that was missing and my mom told him about the kitten I found. He offered to take her off our hands since he had a barn full of cats. My mom didn’t realize how attached I was and after my outburst, she told me to go over there and ask for her back. I did. He gave me my kitty back, apologizing. He didn’t know how attached I already was. I thanked him and left.

The vet
After the vet appointments, I was able to bring her inside. I found out not only was my kitten a girl, but she wasn’t a kitten at all! Age-wise, she was a very young adult cat…that only weighed THREE POUNDS. She was extremely malnourished and they didn’t believe she would grow too much because of it.

I re-named her Riley as I’ve always loved that name for a girl. She never left my side, even following me into the bathroom at times. As I worked on rehabilitating her to a healthy-weight, I was focusing less and less on my eating disorder. I began to eat when she ate, share some of my food with her, and if I got anxious and wanted to purge or over exercise, I would use her as a distraction.

Both malnourished and slowly regaining our health, our connection grew to more than just pet-owner attachment. I almost felt TOO attached. I was so incredibly protective and anxious about losing her, I think not only because she felt like my baby, but because I didn’t really want to die, and I was getting better. I called her my recovery kitty.

She is now a healthy 11.1 lbs and I am a healthy 160. I love her and always want to be able to be around for her. That’s one of my many reasons that every day I fight for recovery. I know I helped save her life, and I truly believe she helped save mine.



Tom Eliot said...

I think your story is inspirational
and i know that by sharing you will help others.

Stay strong


Erica said...

Oh my goodness, this is so great. My cat, Lars, has had a similar impact on me. I got him a few months ago and have never loved anybody more. Such a wonderful thing, cats are :)

A is for... said...

Tom- Thank you. Your words are very, very appreciated.

Keep in touch!

A is for... said...

Erica- I couldn't agree more. Animals can be the therapeutic intervention that can reach someone when nothing else can. Glad you had such a powerful experience as well.

All the best!

Kristen said...

I just adopted a kitten who looks very similar to yours. She is rather bonded to me as well, and refuses to let me in the bathroom without her. I feel really guilty when I'm purging with her in there... I hope she can help me the way Riley has helped you. I've only had her 1.5 months, so hopefully in time...

zoe said...

I love this story and it is great how you and your cat have helped each other to get better <3!

There is one thing that I cannot help but find really hard to read, and that is the declawing of the cat: this seems to me very cruel, as a cat really needs it claws: to climb, to defend itself, and to catch its preys.

Your kitten does not have to fend for itself now, but by having her claws removed you have made it impossible for her to do so if need be.

I have three cats and they only very occassionally scratch something in the house, but not very often, as they can go outside in the garden whenever they wish to.

I have to admit that I cannot use my favourite -expensive- leather chair in the living room and had to move it into the study, because my cats would otherwise ruin it, but taking away a vital part of my cats' bodies seems a much bigger loss than giving up the use of a chair....

All best wishes!


A is for... said...

Kristen- I was in the same boat when I first had Riley...purging with her there killed me and I kept thinking, I have to get better to be able to take care of here and be here for her. I hope your kitten motivates you to work towards recovery as well!!

Zoe- Thank you! Actually, declawing is not cruel for cats that are to remain indoors only. There is no possibility of her getting outside (I've made sure of that due to my obsession with her!). And even if it were cruel, I really would not have had a choice as I could either have them removed or not be able to bring her in and we have coyotes, dogs, & the occasional bear here...she wouldn't live long. But since it isn't cruel, I had them done so that I could be allowed to bring her inside to keep her safe! :)

Thanks anyway though!

Anonymous said...

wow... you look absolutely beautiful now that you're healthy and i'm so inspired and omg this story is so good omg <3

A is for... said...


Thank you so much! You are a very kind person. I wish you the best in your journey. Keep in touch if you wish!

Sharon Baker said...

Hi there!

My name is Sharon and I'm a journalist for national newspapers and magazines. I thought your story about how Riley helped your recovery was so inspiring. I'm sure a magazine would love to feature it and would also pay you for your time. Please get in touch so we can have a chat. You can also find out more about me and the company I work for at

Many thanks,
Sharon Baker
HotSpot Media
+44 (0)121 449 7050

Emma Hunter said...

It is a really good thing your cat is there to be with you in time of your relapse. Many people go to a Treatment Centers but you got the comfort for free from your pet which is really nice.