I should confess something, right off the bat: Macbeth is actually my least favourite Shakespeare play. But as luck would have it, mid-last year I inherited a European shorthair cat, a few days shy of her fifth birthday, called Macbeth.
I come from a strict dog-loving household. Probably my earliest memory of interacting with a cat was with the one who lived on our street growing up: a skinny, ratbag thing that stretched out in the sun on the footpath and hissed at me whenever I passed.
Still, when it came about that Macbeth, my friend Rob’s wide-eyed, diffident cat, needed a home, I stuck my hand up to take her.
I knew nothing about cats: how they ate, what they slept in, whether you washed them or brushed them, and what exactly was the function of a litter box. I had no knowledge or expertise, but still I had a distinct desire to own a pet.
After a year and a half living with depression and anxiety, and six months living alone, I’d read everything I could about “pet therapy”
After a year and a half living with depression and anxiety, and six months living alone, I’d read everything I could about “pet therapy”, and felt like a cosy little cat could be the perfect addition to my life.
In the week leading up to Macbeth’s arrival, I was up each night, sleepless with worry about every tiny thing to do with her life with me. What if she didn’t like her food? What if she jumped off the balcony of my first-floor apartment one day, and couldn’t climb back up?
And, worst of all, what if she didn’t like me at all? I was terrified we just wouldn’t get on, and she’d hate living with me in my tiny, tidy flat – so different to the sprawling sharehouse she was coming from.
Then Macbeth arrived, huge yellow-green eyes just visible between the squares of her cage door. Rob set her down on the living room floor and warned me she would probably take a while to come out of her cage, but she was tiptoeing out within seconds, padding around the flat and rubbing her face glands all over everything.
It was only after Rob left her alone with me that I discovered just how anxious and, well, weird she was.
I’ve been told cats are naturally standoff-ish, but Macbeth oscillates between virulent disgust of me and desperate, heart-breaking neediness. Unsurprisingly, I’m equipped to deal with neither of these states, and each one terrifies me to my core.
She skits at every voice or footstep in the corridor outside our front door, and she positively jumps out of her fur when a car door slams in the alley behind our flat. She doesn’t like to be left alone, even for forty minutes while I run to the pool or a quick coffee around the corner, and when I return she sprints to the door, bell clanking, mewing like mad.
She also hates to be laughed at, which is a very odd thing I’ve googled incessantly. (For what it’s worth, others on Yahoo Answers have suggested that cats “sure do” hate being laughed at, but I’m not sure if I believe them, or that Macbeth even knows what laughter is.)
One night, my partner and I were discussing our various “super powers” – you know, the little, possibly irrelevant things we do really well. For example, I have a powerful sense of smell. I asked him what Macbeth’s super power was, and he said, “I don’t know, anxiety?” And we both laughed, then felt terrible.
Sometimes, on my very bad mental health days, if Macbeth was having a bad day too I would be reduced to tears wondering why I was such an utterly hopeless cat mother
Because Macbeth’s various anxieties quickly went from odd and interesting to seriously worrying, and they began to induce their own anxieties in me. Was I treating her poorly? What was I doing wrong to make her so skittish and sad?
Sometimes, on my very bad mental health days, if Macbeth was having a bad day too I would be reduced to tears wondering why I was such an utterly hopeless cat mother.
So I took her to the vet, who examined her and listened as I detailed each one of Macbeth’s anxious oddities. The vet agreed that Macbeth’s behaviour sounded strange, and offered to prescribe kitty anti-anxiety medication, but warned that cats aren’t covered by the PBS (as I am), so the cost of her anxiety medication would stack up.
“The other option is just to care for her, stick to a routine, keep her calm and love her,” said the vet.
I took Macbeth home, and committed the vet’s final words to heart. “It’s good to remember sometimes,” she said, “at the end of the day, she’s just a cat. And as long as she’s being fed, and she’s got water and someone to pat her, she’s probably fine.”
These days I’m a lot less anxious about how anxious Macbeth can be. Sure, she’s still a little weirdo, but I think she mostly lives an OK life. And maybe, like me, her anxiety is just part of who she is. Like my partner said, it’s her super power.