Having a cat is hard.
Before I adopted my new cat, Izanami, I was excited about my house being slightly less empty. Having a cat meant that I'll have something to talk to besides just myself and something to entertain me when I got tired of entertaining myself, but on the first night, I began to understand the gravity of what having a pet actually means.
For one thing, I'm never alone. When I want to paint, there's another creature in the house who wants to know what I'm doing and see if she can "help," and she wants me to let her into my studio to play with things she shouldn't play with.
When I take a shower, she wants to know what I'm doing and whether or not she can do it, too. And when she inevitably jumps into the water-filled tub like she did on the first night, she discovers that it's a terrifying experience (for both of us), but obviously not enough of one because she keeps trying to get in. When I just wanted to take a nap on the first night I had her, I realized how not alone I now am when she started gently clawing my face because she wanted to be petted, not naps.
Even if cats are fairly low maintenance, they're still domestic animals that need and expect our love, time and care. She can't go and grab food when she's hungry (my food doesn't count); she can't pour water in her water bowl; she can't clean her own litter box. When she jumps on the bathroom counter while I'm home, she pretends like she doesn't know how to get down; she can't even wipe her nose if it gets runny.
I liken taking care of her to when I'd babysit my niece and nephew when they were younger. They were old enough to know how to do certain things, but they were still too small to pour their own cereal or make sure their bath water wasn't too hot, and if they got sick, they needed someone older to take care of them.
Cats and kids have to be dependent on other people. But as children get older, they can begin to take care of themselves, though there are still certain things they can't or won't do. I wouldn't go to the doctor alone until the year I turned 20.
Cats and kids know they need help, and they are definitely not afraid to ask. My niece knew she couldn't stick the straw into a Capri-Sun, so she always ran to me for help. Izanami is still at the age where she can't jump onto super high spaces on her own, so when she's on my kitchen table and none of the chairs are pushed out, she looks to me to get her down.
But as people become adults, some of us tend to shut out the world, and we get really good at never being able to admit that we need help. It's just easier to do things yourself, right? Except, sometimes, it's not. Sometimes, you need help, whether it is something simple like an extra hand while repairing your fence, or something as complicated as needing a friend to be a sounding board when you have a lot of things on your mind.
Self-sufficiency is something we're all taught is necessary to survive. And to a certain extent, it is. We have to be able to stand on our own two feet. You put on your own air mask before helping others, right? But there's a point where it starts to be a bad thing, where you get so self-sufficient that you forget about everyone else.
We can get so gung-ho about being self-sufficient and making sure we make ends meet that we forget that (a) we need to practice self-care, too, and (b) we don't have to do everything ourselves. Chances are, you can find help from somewhere, whether it's friends who can take you out to eat when you're low on cash or family members who bring you heavy-duty bug spray when spiders decide to make the outside of your house their home.
Over the last year, people have shown me more kindness than I think I've ever had in my life, but it has made me realize one thing: My self-sufficiency is not unlike selfishness. I sometimes get so focused on my own needs and wants that people have had to remind me on more than one occasion that I should be more humble and empathetic toward other people.
Part of how I decided to work on that was through adopting a cat because I figured it would be tough (and also, I have to learn lessons the hard way). Like me, Izanami can be pretty self-reliant, but regardless, she is another creature who needs my love, attention and care. She's under my watch now. I mean, cleaning her litter box is the worst, but she can't do it herself. It's my job, just as is feeding her, loving her and making sure she gets enough attention. If that's not a lesson in humility and selflessness, I don't know what is.
A lot of us think that we don't have to depend on anyone else—ever. This past weekend, I thought I could fix a blown blinker bulb in my car by myself, so I didn't ask anyone for help. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get the new bulb to work. My parents finally came up to the auto-parts store and explained to me that I was trying to replace the wrong bulb. And then my battery ran down, so one of the employees let me use the store's jumper box. It was more than slightly humiliating, but had I just asked for help like I should have when I found out the bulb was blown, instead of assuming I knew which bulb it was, I would have had a working blinker for the last two weeks.
If you haven't been paying attention to national and world politics recently, just know that right now, we need each other more than ever. We can't be so self-sufficient that we never reach out for anyone else. Sometimes, we get up too high or in too deep, and we need someone to help us get out. As I've figured out over the last few months, all you have to do is ask. And if you're lucky, you'll find people who help without you having to say a word. The most important thing you can do, though, is when someone reaches out a hand to you, make sure to return the gesture at some point.
Managing Editor Amber Helsel is a Gemini, feminist, writer, artist and otaku. She loves travelling, petting cats, hoarding craft supplies and more. Email story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.