We adopted Lily in 2010 along with her sister, Daisy. Lily and Daisy were part of a larger litter owned by a former student of mine, and when her family was moving out of state, the kittens needed homes as quickly as possible.
From the beginning, Lily was skittish. When we picked her up from my student’s house, she ran, hid, and shook. She didn’t like to be held.
For over a year, she didn’t like to be held.
Lily was never the alpha. If she was resting on the back of the couch, and Daisy jumped up next to her, Lily would leave. She hid from Tika, our older cat. Kids were lucky if they got to be in the same room with her.
For most of her days, she lived in fear.
Then, a couple of things happened. Tika passed away in November of 2014, and Daisy unexpectedly passed away the following September. Lily was suddenly an only cat.
And she loved it.
She visited with us in the evenings, and she even snuggled on our laps. Being the only pet worked for her. Life was good.
Until December, when we got the kitten.
The thinking was Lily would be the alpha by default. She was older, bigger, and would assert herself against this 2-pound marshmallow.
She asserted herself, all right.
Lily hated the kitten. Hated him. When he wanted to see what Lily was about, Lily swatted at him. She scratched his nose and took a bit out of the top of his ear, a souvenir he’ll have for the rest of his life. We worried she would seriously injure him, so we made the difficult decision to have Lily declawed. That solved the scratching problem, but in Lily’s mind, she had no way to assert herself now.
So she started hiding behind the fridge.
If the kitten was around, Lily wasn’t. She spent probably twenty-three hours a day back there. Not a great life.
Deciding she’d be happier as an only pet for someone, we tried to re-home her, but when we had no takers we decided to keep her. Older cats don’t typically do well when surrendered by their owners. So we kept an eye on her, making sure she ate and drank as her fear kept her prisoner behind the fridge.
I figured that was how she’d live the rest of her days. She’s only seven years old, so she has half of her life to go, and it made me sad to think this was how it would be.
Fortunately, something changed.
She came out from behind the fridge. Tentatively at first, and only if the kitten was surely not around. Then she started creeping out when he was around, keeping an eye on him and rushing back behind the fridge if he noticed her.
Eventually, the two could occupy the same room.
A few nights ago, I found her playing – chasing a toy around the living room. The kitten wasn’t around, and she was carefree in a way I’d thought she’d never be again.
Now, she spends only brief periods behind the fridge, as if she’s realized she didn’t really have anything to be afraid of. She sits next to me while I work and lets us pet her while we watch TV.
I told you that story because I recently came out from behind the fridge too, so to speak.
It’s something I’ve debated talking about in a public space, but the issue is so common I figure there are others who may benefit from my story.
I’ve battled seasonal depression for years. In the past, I’ve used “band-aid” type remedies. They sort of helped for a little while. This year, the beast started to rear its ugly head earlier than normal, and knowing what was coming, I decided to take more significant steps in dealing with it.
I won’t say specifically how, because treating depression is different for everyone and I don’t want anyone to think what works for me is a sure-fire successful prescription. I will say that taking the steps I did was difficult, because there is a stigma around treating depression. It’s hard to admit when you’re not in control of your own mind and emotions, especially when there are people out there with “real” problems. When I was told I’ve likely had mild depression since puberty, and it dips even lower in the fall and early winter, I was afraid to learn who I really am and who I will be when the fog lifts.
Well, the fog has started to lift – I’m told it will continue to do so – and like Lily coming out from behind the fridge, I wonder why I was afraid. For the first time, I’m approaching October without creativity coming to a grinding halt. I wake up lighter and hopeful that good things are in store for the day. I don’t go through whole days where I want to quit everything and cry. I’m looking forward to not hating Christmas this year.
And I realized it’s not the first time I’ve come out from behind the fridge.
I came out when I let someone read something I wrote for the first time.
I came out when I allowed those first critique partners to pick apart my work.
I came out when I decided to self-publish the first time.
Fear – that we’re not good enough, or that no one will support us, or that we’ll be harshly judged – keeps us in hiding. Sometimes we run back behind the fridge and have to come out again. That’s okay. I’ve done it too. As long as we come out one more time than we run back, we haven’t let fear keep us trapped.
Do you have a story about coming out from behind the fridge? Feel free to share in the comments. I think telling our stories gives the fear a lot less power.