Fostering happiness

Off the Beat

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Content warning: Suicide

When people think of lifesavers, they often think of superheroes, first responders or heroic strangers on the street — usually highly capable, intelligent and powerful people. I can honestly say, however, that my biggest lifesavers were a set of three helpless foster kittens.

This past summer was rough, to say the least. I spent my “break” here taking classes, and the boredom of the empty campus failed to occupy my time, leaving me with more time on my hands than I wanted and with nothing to do, except feel as miserable as I did. My classes seemed like a waste of time, and my depression was worse than it had been in a while. I was just so tired of the constant struggle with mental health, lack of motivation and seemingly no purpose or reason to keep going. 

And quite frankly, part of the way through the summer, I’d had enough. I had just given back my first set of foster kittens, which brought joy, routine and entertainment to my life. But they were gone, off to better homes with more space and a permanent family. They no longer needed me.  

I didn’t have anything to take care of anymore, and I didn’t want to keep going. 

The day that I planned to kill myself, I left the house with the pill bottles on my desk, counted out, researched and all ready for me to get home for the day and go through with my plan. All day, it was all I could think about; I was nervous but ready to finally go through with it, to finally be done.

But about an hour before my last class ended, my plans changed with just a single email. 

“Any way you can pick up kittens tonight?” said the email from the foster coordinator. “Just need a warm place till Friday.”

After class, instead of picking up pills, I picked up three 2-month-old babies: Bianchi, Trek and Schwinn — the bicycle litter.

I only had them for three days, but in those three days, my plan to end my life fizzled out of reality. I couldn’t die because the kittens would starve, and that was enough to get me through. 

It’s always sad having to let my kittens go at the end of my two-weeks-at-a-time foster stints, but the routine and their dependency on me really holds me accountable. On the bad days, I still get up in the morning to feed and play with them, forcing me out of bed on the days when I usually would not want to or be able to. And while I feed the kittens, it reminds me to get food myself.

They also force me to be more social, as my friends want to come over and meet the kittens. I have to talk to people and be mentally and emotionally present while looking presentable. Ultimately, I have to fight the depression, at least a little, to get through the day as an at least semifunctioning person.

Beyond the mental illness, they bring so much traditional joy to my life, too. They’re so cute and small; there’s nothing they could do to make me mad. If I’m lucky, they’ll curl up in bed with me and let me pet them. When they’re playful, their fascination with the laser pointer, toy mouse, feather wand or whatever else they can get their little paws on is hilarious and adorable.

My most recent set of foster kittens — one of which is sitting on my lap right now, purring and trying as hard as she can to lie on my keyboard — can be found most of the day lying in a pile with their little arms and legs wrapped around each other in a hug, purring because they are so bonded. And with this sight of them, as well as with every other thing they do, my heart melts for them, and I fall more and more in love. 

Nothing makes you feel more seen than when you pick up a kitten — a little baby — and they melt into your arms and purr louder than you could ever imagine a little 3-pound creature could. Their complete trust in you, their joy in having you around … just the whole experience is absolutely breathtaking. And their happiness can make me happy, at least for that moment, because they are the only things that matter, there in my arms.

I’ve fostered seven kittens over the past few months — not all at once — and I can honestly say that they have done way more for me than I have for them. They may be small, and they may not be the smartest animals you’ll ever meet, but the impact they could have on your life is extraordinary.

Because at the end of the day, they need you, and you need them. And together, you can both be happy, at least for that moment.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Kate Finman is an editor. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.