Anita Mechler: My Michi

[This is a transcript from a performance I did at the  Cat Diaries on March 5, 2014, held at Haymarket Brewery benefiting the Harmony House for Cats, a cageless, no-kill shelter housed in a Platinum LEED-certified building.]  {Today is also my cat’s 2nd birthday.}

A year before I adopted my Michi, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress, not quite at a “Disorder” level, according to my therapist. My particular trauma was caused by living through the 9.0 magnitude earthquake while visiting Tokyo on March 11, 2011.

I survived and was physically unscathed; unlike the thousands of people who lost their lives, loved ones, homes, and villages.

It was difficult to come back to Chicago. Even though I had just experienced one of the most personally traumatic events of my life, I had also fallen deeply in love with Japan over the month that I had visited. I was leaving this beautiful country and the wonderful friends and hosts I met there to an uncertain future. I arrived back to the detritus of winter: the cold, gray, shitty weather of mid-March, when I normally felt like Spring was a figment of my imagination and would never, ever arrive.

I had just stared mortality in the face and now I was supposed to resume a “normal” life.

I didn’t have time to process what I and my newly beloved country had just gone through. I was not prepared to be bombarded with the gut- and heart-wrenching images that were on the covers of the newspapers that I set out in the library. I was unprepared for how blood-hungry people were to get the juice from “someone who was there”. And I had started to experience a new symptom of my PTSD: panic attacks.

My panic attacks were triggered by anything shaking. My brain would relive the trauma and I would be unable to breathe, trapped by my own terror, convinced I was having a heart attack and dying.

I felt very alone. I contemplated suicide and knew how I would do it. It was frightening and very real.

My boyfriend of 5 years had no idea how to deal with me when I was home. I dissolved my relationship with him and moved a tiny 2-room studio. My panic attacks continued and worsened. I felt the pull of tunnel vision relentlessly trying to drag me inward and down.

Luckily, I had people around me who cared and were worried about me. My HR director put me in touch with our Employee Assistance Program and I was able to get immediate professional help. My non-asshole co-worker friends introduced me to the “deep freeze” of Xanax, breathing exercises, and talking myself out of the panic and off the proverbial ledge. Every small effort helped me cope but nothing seemed to “cure” me completely.

After many conversations with my best friend about the best coping method for me, she hit on something new: “Find something living and take care of it”, she said.

It’s true that I often thrived in a caretaker role.

First, she suggested a plant but I disagreed due to my black thumb. Finally, she said, “Why don’t you get a cat?”

This struck a chord. I was the “queen of the strays” growing up in Texas. But one of my newest fears was giving love to something that would someday die or be destroyed. The thought terrified me. I asked my therapist if having a cat would be an “emotional crutch of dependency” somehow weakening my ability to take care of myself. She heartily disagreed. I was also broke and could barely afford to feed myself, how could I afford to care for another being?

The first steps I took were tenuous. I casually browsed some cat adoption websites and went to a cat meet and greet. After weeks of waffling on my decision, my best friend forwarded me an email looking for someone to take the last kitten in a litter, saving her from the pound. I couldn’t resist the sweet face that stared out from that email; I had to give this a try. Image

Finally, it was time to meet my new companion. I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect. The family I met was friendly and we talked while the kitten played with a toy under the couch. She seemed energetic but a little shy. When she wasn’t playing with her toy, she was running around like the devil was chasing her. She squirmed in my hands as I held her for the entire ride home. I felt as if someone had dropped a baby in my lap and I had no idea what to do with it.

Turns out my best friend was right. I started to care more for myself when I had something to care for aside from myself.

Of course, I had to go to the grocery store because Michi needed food and deserved toys and treats; maybe I’d pick something up for myself while I was there. I got toys to help spend some of that kitten energy and my understanding of cat nature started to come back to me.

As we warmed up to each other, Michi started to greet me at the door whenever I came home. She would stretch and stretch and then flop onto her back, inviting me to rub her belly before I could set my bag down. She would go nuts for the laser pointer and impress me with her crazy jumps to catch that little red dot. I discovered that she loved to be brushed and would often let me do it for almost 5 minutes at a time. She let me cuddle her and hold her my favorite way which was carrying her like a baby.

Even with all of this, I hadn’t quite realized her worth to me until one day when there was a huge summer storm raging through the city. It shook my building and windows and floors with such force that I was afraid of it all crashing down on me with no escape. I was on the way to the bathroom for my anxiety meds when Michi followed me into the kitchen, sensing my panic. She stopped in front of one of the doors where we would play and looked at me. Instead of popping a pill, I grabbed the laser pointer and began to play with her. Her crazed efforts distracted me, made me laugh, and immediately pulled me out of the grips of a panic spiral.

Right then and there my panic attacks stopped.

Even though I still experience a quickened heartbeat and a flutter of nerves, I have yet to get completely pulled under. My once lonely apartment is now replete with love and warmth and safety. My Michi hops and runs to me, like a little gray rabbit, when I call her or feed her wet food and treats.

She is a little older now and sleeps more; she’s bigger but is still as soft as a kitten. Michi has moved on from the laser pointer to shadow puppets and flashlights.

The best way to wake up in the morning is when she is sleeping curled in a ball next to my head, clutching the pillow. When she wakes and stretches, she climbs onto my chest, settles in, and purrs into my face with closed eyes.

I know that death still waits for me and her and my loved ones, but now I hope and believe that it will be a very very long time coming. Those thoughts of suicide are long gone…I couldn’t do that to my Michi.


  1. Happy Birthday Michi!
    I am so happy that you’ve got a good friend that has helped you cope with the darkness you’ve endured. Thank you so much for sharing. I felt like I was there with you with every sentence.

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