There are, I've found, two ways to center myself: put a baby in my arms, or a cat in my lap. In the early years of dealing with depression, and before the self-injury began, I adopted a cat from another person in therapy. I had mentioned to her that I wanted to do this, but wanted to wait until my daughter could participate. One day, after we were through with groups and individual therapies, she asked me if I would be interested in taking her cat, Princess. It seems she and her husband had a dog, a boxer, who was tormenting the cat, and they wanted to find her a good home.
The night Michelle and Princess came, we talked awhile. Michelle had come straight from the vet's office, updating Princess's shots.
Princess must have known that she was going to a new home, and didn't like it much. When freed from her carrier,she tore down my short hallway and into the bathroom. Here, she climbed the shower curtain and brought it clattering down to the floor. From there she headed for the only open door she could find, which led to my bedroom, and from there, into my closet. We (Michelle and I) tried to talk her out. I think we even tried to bribe her with food, but no deal. Princess was in her safe place and wouldn't budge.
It took at least a week before I could coax her from her hiding place in the corner of the closet. I would leave the apartment each day having set out her food and water, and by the time I returned later, from work or therapy, the food would be gone, and the water seriously depleted.
As treatments continued, I would return home and head straight for the closet. I would kneel down and reach in to pet the scared cat, talk to her,and assure her no one would hurt her. Eventually she ventured out while I was doing chores one afternoon without any cajoling from me.
A routine began to develop. When I got home, I would grab my tape-player and a book, grab the cordless phone, a soda and a snack, then sit down on the couch. Once I sat down, Princess claimed my lap, stretching out and treating me to prolonged purring. Provided that I didn't have to move, I could count on at least 30 minutes of lap time, some times longer. I would pet her as long as she permitted. She would let me know, by repositioning, by a gentle nudge, or kneading of my leg, that I was to stop.
Five years ago, I had to put Princess down. She had caught leukemia via a scratch from another animal at some time and had gotten progressively sicker until she barely moved.
Now there is another cat. In fact, at one time, there were three before Princess died. But now there is only one, and he, too, demands lap time. We just had about 20 minutes of it, giving me time to think (or not) about other things Mostly, I just sat, one hand near his tummy, the other just beyond one paw. When Olie, my sister's 12-year-old tabby, was done with this particular nap, he gracefully rose, then jumped from my lap to find another napping spot.
And so, I can get on with my day.