[Image is a photograph of a young man leaning forward to hug a small black and white kitten.]
The following is an anonymous submission to the Animals and Autistic Lives Series. If you would be triggered by depictions of institutionalization and hospitals, please be cautious about reading this young man’s story. –Elliott
It’s the summertime, a few years ago, and it very well may be a beautiful day, but I don’t know. I’m inside a hospital where the windows are covered with metal. The hospital depresses and weakens me. I’m frustrated. I’m trapped. I have nowhere to run around or get my energy out. When my roommate isn’t there, I pound my fists into my pillow while tears stream down my cheeks. I’m trapped and I can do nothing but wait to be released from this prison. My mother visits, and I meet her in the “dining room”. She gives me notebooks and lots and lots of blue pens. The pens make a nice clicking noise. She gives me a watch so I can try to tell the time. It’s a Mickey Mouse watch and soon it breaks. I feel bad for Mickey Mouse watch. I see it slowly losing its energy because there is something wrong with its battery.
I start to use the blue pens to write in the notebooks. I write lists of words and more and more words and then I translate all the words into another list. Then I start to list other things. I write down the names of everything I can see in my room. Bed. Pillow. Blanket. Desk. Wall. Window. Metal mesh. Watch. Notebook. Pen. Closet… I name and rename and make up new names. I have to do something to keep my mind busy.
Finally, I decide to do something radical. I start a new list, but this time I am listing everything I want to do when I get out of this dismal place. I want to eat chili and french fries from my favorite cafe. I want to feel the air outside, breathe it in and know I’m free. And I want to watch Nyan Cat.
Since I learned about Nyan Cat, I have loved this Internet cat. Nyan Cat makes me happy, simple as that. I love the song in the Nyan Cat video. I makes me feel cheerful and excited. Then, as I watch Nyan Cat fly through the sky, I like how his little paws go up and down as he prances. He seems so happy to be flying through the sky, and that makes me happy, too! The video has a sort of infectious joy for me, even though I know many people find Nyan Cat annoying. I make a resolution to watch Nyan Cat as soon as I am released from the hospital. And when I am finally discharged, I do.
Fast forward a few years, and I’m no longer trapped in the hospital. One day, I’m feeling sad. Things aren’t going my way in life, and I’ve been through a spell of bad events. My boyfriend turns on Nyan Cat for me and I stim and dance to the song. I forget the tears on my face for that moment. Nyan Cat reminds me again that there is happiness somewhere, even though I can’t see it at the time.
Fast forward even further, and I’m oohing and ahhing at Facebook’s sets of Pusheen stickers. Pusheen is a chubby grey cartoon cat who enjoys all manner of food. She now has her own line of merchandise. The Pusheen stickers on Facebook fill a need for me. It is one of communication. I send stickers to my friends, and they respond with stickers. We don’t have to say a word, but if one of us is upset, Pusheen provides a representation of our feelings. A crying Pusheen means sadness, a Pusheen with a heart reassures and comforts. I have these conversations with my friends to distract myself and to express my feelings. Sometimes it’s easier to have a picture than to try to choose the right words. Like Nyan Cat, Pusheen also makes me feel happy. I share Pusheen’s love of food, and I love that if you click on a sticker, her little grey paws begin to move and sometimes her tail as well. I hope someday to have a stuffed animal Pusheen and a stuffed animal Nyan Cat, so that I can hug them when I feel sad.
I am not just a fan of Internet cats, but real cats as well. I live with two of them, and they never cease to make me smile. Cats have the strange ability to reassure themselves, even when they make a mistake. When one of the cat falls asleep on the edge of a cabinet or table–as she often does–she falls, but it never seems to phase her. She gets right back up and shakes it off. The other cat is the more affectionate one. She will come up to me and head-butt my ankles, asking to be petted. Other times, she will just brush her tail against me. I believe this is her way of saying hello. Whether I am sad, angry, anxious, or whatever else, the cats provide a needed distraction and allow me to focus on something else, giving me time to clear my head.
Animals are dear to me, and cats in particular have encouraged me to have greater resilience. As a result, I have learned better ways to manage my difficult emotions through interacting with, or just by being a fan of, cats–real or imaginary.