365 Days of Kittens 2.0

A year ago today, we were unexpectedly blessed by two new kittens, Sooty and Sweep, also known as “the beans.” And what a year it’s been.

Last spring, my Mum and I were toying with the idea of a last round of kittens before we had our younger two cats spayed. The experience of raising kittens had always been such a positive one and we liked the idea of doing it one more time. Of the two cats, we thought Mouse would be the better choice and so we had Tiger spayed but left Mouse to wander. But a couple of months later, my mental health plummeted and the idea of getting attached to kittens only to have to let them go just felt too much so we took Mouse to the vet for the pre-spay check up. The vet was happy with that but said she could probably do with losing a little bit of weight. I did wonder if she was pregnant but the vet categorically disagreed and explained the spaying process to us again.

Less than a week later, my Mum and I came home from a family dinner to find Mouse pacing on the doormat just inside the front door. As soon as she saw us, she started yowling and headed upstairs, pausing every few steps to make sure I was following. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure but it was exactly the same behaviour that Lucy had displayed when she had her two litters of kittens. So I followed Mouse up to my room where she curled up in the cat bed and within a couple of hours, our two little black furballs were born. Girls was my guess and I was right.

IMG_5690

So that was a bit of a shock.

But, of course, they were gorgeous and I was immediately in love. Unfortunately, Mouse wasn’t the natural mother that Lucy had been to her and her sister. She’d curl around them, feed them, and clean them, but then she’d get up and leave them for fairly considerable periods of time. And since kittens can’t regulate their own body temperatures, I was worried, even though it was summer and the weather was very warm. So we had to take somewhat drastic measures: I set up camp on the floor next to the cat bed and every time Mouse went to leave, I turned her around and nudged her back inside. Most of the time, she simply climbed back in and curled up with them; it was like she just didn’t know that that was what she was supposed to do but with a bit of encouragement, she started to get the idea. I stayed there for two weeks until I was confident that she didn’t need my direction although I didn’t stray far, just in case.

To make matters more complicated, we were in the middle of a heatwave and I was worried about them all overheating (we even ended up at the emergency vet at one point). Mouse – a very fluffy cat – did have to leave from time to time, just to stretch out and cool down, although she had by that point gotten the hang of things and didn’t leave the kittens for long. I struggle with the heat and so we’d just bought a pretty expensive fan but we ended up mostly using it to keep the general room temperature down. It was a stressful balancing act.

The arrival of the kittens also changed the general cat dynamic in the house, as well as my relationship with them. The living room (where we’d moved the bed with the kittens – it was easier to manage the temperature in there and still allowed me to work while I kept vigil) had always been the central hub of the house, where we all – cats included – hung out. But suddenly Lucy and Tiger were nowhere to be found and since I was on kitten watch, I barely saw them. That was quite upsetting as I was used to Lucy always sticking close and Tiger constantly climbing all over me. I missed them. I just had to hope that things would return to normal once the kittens went to their new home (the plan my Mum and I had discussed and felt comfortable with, especially if they could go to the same home).

Then Mouse started trying to move the kittens out of the bed, into different corners of the living room. It would have been cute if she didn’t keep trying to stash them in potentially problematic hidey-holes: amongst the wires behind the TV, behind the sofa… She even got one of them half way down the stairs a couple of times. That wasn’t exactly ideal. In the end, we managed to compromise – yes, I was compromising with my cat… I built her a new nest under the TV, carefully covering all of the wires with a blanket and then another in the crate we still had from the last litter.

IMG_6156

IMG_6194

The best part of having kittens is when they open their eyes and started stumbling around, exploring and playing clumsily. They’re so in the moment, all of their focus on what they’re doing. It’s so mindful and so calming to watch. And their innocence is just good for the soul. There’s something magical about knowing that you’re giving these open, trusting little creatures the best possible start in life, giving them as much love and attention and care as you can.

While I do kind of love the idea of having a big litter of kittens running around, there’s something really special about just having two. They were partners in crime, always  snuggled up together, playing together, or getting into trouble together. They were constantly getting stuck in ridiculous places, no doubt due to their boundless curiosity. There was one particularly memorable incident where I scraped up my arm, forcing it behind the bookshelf to retrieve one of them when she got trapped behind it. How she got behind it in the first place I have no idea. Safely rescued, she shook herself off and was off playing with her sister, no worse for wear.

We did end up naming them, for ourselves at least. It wasn’t like we could refer to them by colour since they were both ‘the black one.’ So they became Sooty and Sweep (I’d always wanted to do matching names – even if it was just going to be for a little while and just for me), Sweep being the fluffier of the two. Due to their birth order, it should really be Sweep and Sooty but oh well. You can’t win ’em all.

(In the second photo, they’re watching the TV.)

Mouse has slowly become a really good mother and to this day (spoiler alert: we kept them, as the title suggests), she’s still very close to them, especially Sweep. We often find the two of them cleaning each other or curled up together. It’s very cute. She’s close to Sooty too but more often than not, Sooty snuggles up with me. They’re both very people friendly cats, inquisitive about new people, obliging when we want affection, and downright cuddly when they want affection. They have really lovely characters, both of them.

Lucy and Tiger eventually stopped avoiding them, curiously checking them out. Sooty and Sweep were very enthusiastic, always wanting to play or snuggle. The older cats were more reserved but after a while, they formed a little pack: we call them our pride of cats. Now they eat together, play together, and contently share the cat tree.

Lucy and Tiger also returned to their normal behaviour. Lucy spends her days stretched out on what she considers ‘her’ chair, hanging out with me while I work or write or practice, and Tiger, while fairly independent, comes to lie on me every day, sometimes multiple times. That always makes me really smile-y; I’d missed that.

IMG_4596

They weren’t quite old enough to go to new homes when my mental health suddenly plummeted, my depression dropping to new gut-wrenching levels and my anxiety through the roof: sometimes it was so bad that I could barely speak. And in the middle of that, I started my Masters and started the release cycle of my first EP, both of which were incredibly stressful. But the kittens helped in a way nothing else did or could, their mindful behaviour very soothing.

As I said, we hadn’t intended to keep them but with the stress I was under, Mum was happy to leave the process of finding them a new home until I felt a bit more settled and emotionally stable. But I continued to struggle – having meltdowns almost everyday, leaving me physically and emotionally drained – and it turned into a landmine of its own. The thought of them going was physically painful and I couldn’t bear to bring up the subject, knowing that the conversation would just cause yet another meltdown. And with the amount I was having, I was desperate to avoid actively causing them.

Weeks after they originally would’ve gone, me and Mum had had a few brief conversations about the situation and how difficult and overwhelming I was finding it (on top of everything else) and we realised that, somehow, the decision had made itself. We were keeping them. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed with relief and Mum held me until I was all cried out. I was exhausted but a weight had been lifted and during this awful period where everything felt wrong, something finally felt right. I don’t think either of us have regretted it for a moment (well, except maybe when it seemed to take Sooty forever to transition from using the litter box to the garden).

55A1ABCE-7DA8-4141-AD46-F6A3F7FAD3BA

I’ve loved every second with our pride of cats but they’ve truly been a life saver during this pandemic, one of the very few things that have helped with my mental health, helped calm (or at least manage) my overwhelming fears; cuddling or stroking them, even just watching them, can pull me out of an anxiety spiral. They’re completely unaware of the pandemic, of the bigger picture, and when I get lost in my panic, watching them exist in their own little world – waiting for their next meal, chasing bugs in the garden, stretching out on the cat tree, or demanding my attention – helps me rein in all the ‘what if’s and reestablish a sense of perspective. As much as possible anyway.

IMG_8080

And now they’re a year old. I kind of can’t believe it. Somehow it’s simultaneously flown by and been the longest year of my life. But as I said, I’ve loved every moment with them. My family of cats is one of the most precious things to me and the addition of Sooty and Sweep has been a true, if unexpected, gift.

(One second a day of Sooty and Sweep’s first year.)

10 Things That Are Helping My Mental Health in Lockdown

I think probably most of us can say that we are struggling mentally in lockdown. I certainly am. I seem to be swinging wildly between overwhelmed, depressed, and anxious with no warning as to when the ground I’m standing on is going to change. It’s exhausting and kind of makes me feel sick all of the time. So I’ve put together a short list of things that are, if not helping, then managing my mental health in this emotionally turbulent time.


  1. Talking about how I’m feeling – I’m in lockdown with my Mum and talking to her about my anxieties and how I’m struggling with my mental health has been helpful, even if it can, in the moment, be really hard and make the emotions feel more acute. But after all this time, my Mum is very skilled at helping me with my mental health so when I get into such a state that I can’t think properly, she’s very good at helping me through it.
  2. Keeping a diary – I always keep a diary but I’m finding it particularly useful at the moment. Emptying my brain and getting all of my thoughts down on paper lifts a little of the weight I feel like I’m carrying. It just makes me feel a little bit lighter, like I can breathe more easily, and that’s invaluable right now.
  3. My cats – Obviously my cats have no idea that we’re in the middle of a pandemic so they’re just continuing to do all of their cat things: playing together, chasing bugs in the garden, playing with their toys, and sleeping all snuggled up together. It’s a good distraction and a very mindful one. Everything they do is entirely in the moment and it’s hard not to smile when you look at them, something I’m finding hard at the moment.
  4. Favourite Films and TV Shows – While getting sucked into a new TV show is a great distraction, I find that I don’t always have the concentration to keep up with new characters in a new world with an unknown storyline so I’ve been watching a lot of my old favourites, especially ones from my childhood. They’re familiar and comforting and distracting, making everything feel just a little bit less scary.
  5. Video calls with friends and family – I hate not being able to see my family and friends in person, hate not being able to hug them and just hang out with them for no particular reason other than just being together, I’m very grateful for video calling. I’ve spent a lot of time talking and catching up with my favourite people and although I sometimes find it draining (I think, to an extent, the level of video call use just serves to be a reminder of how different everything is), I’m just really pleased to be able to see them at all. I miss hugging though. I really miss hugging.
  6. Reading Fanfiction – As I said with watching films and TV shows, I’m finding it really difficult to get into new books. I just don’t seem to have enough concentration to stick with new characters and settings and so on. But a technique I’ve used for a while when it comes to anxiety is reading Fanfiction. I love that you can get so many new stories but with familiar characters and overall themes and story arcs. If you’ve ever felt like a book, movie, or TV show didn’t do a good enough job with a story or that they left out something really important or you see the characters in a completely different scenario, then I highly suggest looking into Fanfiction.
  7. Playing an instrument – I’ve spent a lot of time at the piano over the last couple of weeks. It’s something I’d hoped to do during my empty semester but coincidentally, it’s been really good for my mental health. I love the sound of the piano (I find the lower octaves especially soothing) but I also find that playing takes up all of my brain. I often sit down to play a couple of songs and then realise that I’ve been there for over an hour. Learning new songs and figuring out new chords and progressions just pushes everything else out of my head. It’s a nice break from reality.
  8. Time away from social media – I’m definitely guilty of spending too much time on social media at the moment, terrified to miss out on important information (I absolutely do not trust the government to be giving us the full story, ever really but especially right now). But that’s leading to a lot of fear spirals so I’m trying my hardest to spend real time away from my phone and social media, checking it once a day at most. It’s complicated since part of my job involves the use of social media but with the disruption to the music industry at this time, I’m not too worried about that right now. My mental health has to be my priority.
  9. Decluttering – This is another thing I’d hoped to do during my empty semester and, depending on my mood, it’s not always possible but when I do feel up to it, I’m finding that going through my things and creating space in my room seems to create space in my life and my head too. I can’t do it for long periods because I start to experience decision fatigue and get really indecisive but creating order and having some control when I feel so out of control has been both satisfying and soothing.
  10. Preparing for my next university module – Something I was worried about before the pandemic was being prepared for this next module in my Masters degree, which involves a level of musical theory that I’m not sure I’m comfortable with at this point. So I’d wanted to do some work on that and my attempts at this have actually been good for my anxiety: focusing on a completely separate anxiety has been a good distraction and preparing for a future post-pandemic has been good for my mental health too. It helps me remember that this isn’t forever.

It’s also worth mentioning that I have an anti-anxiety medication that I take as needed, which is pretty much all the time right now. My psychiatrist is aware of this and supports it. This has been hugely helpful and has halted many a panic spiral for which I’m really grateful. Being constantly overwhelmed by anxiety is exhausting and only makes it harder to cope with everything going on.


As I said, I don’t know if these things are helping or just maintaining my mental state but honestly, I think the only thing that’s really going to help my mental health is life returning to somewhat normal: being able to continue our lives and do the things we love to do without a thick fear of being infected. I want to feel safe again. I want to hug people, go back to university, go back to the gym. Maybe I’ll write a post about all the things I want to do when it’s safe again.

9E17E6A6-C9C3-427E-9A9E-0C59C0331A1B