Healing Through The Feline Coach

One of the components of rebuilding a life in a wholistic manner is ensuring that mind, body and spirit are attended to, and not just the home and workplace. It’s an uphill battle with a lot of stumbling blocks and on my low days I feel like my name should be Sisyphus. For the past three months that I have been job-hunting in Berlin I began to believe there was something seriously wrong with me since I can’t seem to break the cycle of application rejections. I have been vocal about both the real estate and employment markets being extremely discriminatory and was happy to find an article that actually back-up my theory which I subsequently translated and published in this blog.

Last week my young Asian neighbor came up for a cup of tea and we exchanged battle stories. She too is struggling with the job market, being on the other side of the spectrum and part of the bracket that employers tend to shy away from even more than 50-year-old Asians: child-bearing women between mothers between 25-35, with at least one child. It isn’t a figment of my imagination. I thought I could easily slip back into development cooperation or apply my linguistic abilities, but the scenario has changed so drastically in Germany over the last 11 years that I barely recognize it anymore.

Taking a quick look at the job openings in the development cooperation scene, the priority now is to hire people with experience in handling refugee programs and yes, translators and interpreters are being hired a dime a dozen, if you speak Arabic! Geez. What happened to the need for classical languages that I speak?

A dear friend recently asked me whether I was experiencing bouts of depression, considering everything I have been through in the last 18 months. Am I still grieving? Am I still in mourning? Why am I not seeing a therapist? What is next?

Good questions – to which I have no answers just yet.

First of all, what is the difference between grief and mourning? I stumbled, perhaps fortuitously, on a blog that spelled it out for me though its author, Jade. The words have been misused over the years to mean the same thing but they are not. “Grief is an emotional reaction/response to loss” and “mourning is the process one undertakes to deal with the void that is now left.” I had two years to prepare myself for my father’s death through his illness, the grief was spread out in stages, but Mommy’s death one month later caught me unawares and that was more devastating. Life played a cruel joke on me by throwing two grief packages my way at one go, on top of Empty Nest, relocation to a new country, and a host of thunderbolts. So no, I’m not over mourning, and am still grieving my loss(es). “Loss is not just about losing someone we love, to death. We may experience intense loss from losing a relationship, our sense of self, our job, our home, our freedom, our health, our dreams or a limb, among many other things that we hold precious and important.” (Jade)

Having no siblings to fall back on and share the burden, I turn to friends. It’s no secret that I make a very clear distinction between friends and acquaintances, bestowing the title of Friend very sparingly. But when I do, it is a relationship that holds no boundaries and entails a  synchronicity of lives that nurtures, supports and heals. None of this nonsense of “true friends” because when I elevate an acquaintance to friend, he or she knows that there is very little I wouldn’t do to make the moment more enjoyable, ease the pain, or replace tears with a smile in the same manner that I know they will not hesitate to do the same. Sometimes it takes a strong friend to draw out the tears in order for the healing to begin. My definition of friendship is shared by my friends, and we live by these precepts.

There have been many times that going the extra mile for a friend has led me down a very adventurous path. Laughter and tears are the cement of the unforgettable moments, making each personal triumph celebratory, and the pain of loss bearable. I’ve been a willing partner on diets, (dieting with a friend is much easier than alone) – whether it was the infamous cucumber and watermelon diet in college, the Dukan in India, or now a gluten and lactose free one – travels, road trips, projects, and stood by one another in sunshine and storms.

I have been generous over the years with my spirit and self, giving until there is nothing left, but it is only very recently that I am learning to seek out emotional support. I suppose this is rooted in my upbringing, with both my parents refusing to spoil their only child and hence raised me to solve my own problems. At a very early age it was drilled into me that nobody else was going to come to my rescue and fight my battles, so I would have to suck it up and face the bullying, snide remarks, cruel judgements all on my own. Sink or swim said Daddy, and I refused to sink. I still do, but struggle intensely with letting my guard down and admitting that there are chinks in my armor.

CatDiva on the go ©MTHerzog

When my cat Champagne came into my life three years ago, I thought I was the one rescuing her. What I have learned, however, is that I nursed her back to life and in spite of all the changes she has endured, she is the one rescuing me. Now that she has adjusted to life in Germany, she makes sure I feed her and myself as well. I can’t explain how she does it, but she will lead me to the kitchen and point to the stove or the fridge, not asking for anything for herself, but knowing that is time for me to cook. Recently she has taken on the role of fitness coach as well. I bought her a backpack so she could tag along everywhere I go and remain safe in this city crawling with dogs. She has always enjoyed rides and adventures, and it makes no difference to her whether we are on foot, on the train or in a bus. We get strange looks from passers-by, but mostly amused. Lately she has been demanding more outings, which forces me to leave the desk and go for a long walk. Yesterday we tried walking through a field with her on a leash but just when she was feeling safe a huge Dalmatian came bounding down path and Champagne jumped right back into her backpack.

Life is my classroom, Loss my workshop, Friendship my soul alchemy, and my Cat is the coach who ties it all together. Bohemian? Perhaps, but these are the ladders that make wall-climbing achievable.

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