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OCD Makes Me Feel Hyper-Responsibility for My Cat

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help, visit the International OCD Foundation’s website.

It’s no secret to those who know me that I love my cat, Jade. I talk about and post pictures of her constantly, to the point that people often think I have more than one cat. Really, it’s just the same cat coming up over and over. What may be more of a surprise to people though is the crushing hyper-responsibility I sometimes feel for my cat’s safety and well-being, which stems from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I am deeply aware of being her caretaker, and this responsibility is terrifying.

During a tornado watch a few weeks ago, I was once again confronted with this hyper-responsibility I feel. During the storm, I was on high alert. I had my shoes on and was ready to get my cat in her carrier at the sound of any sirens. Some of this is logical, but the anxiety I felt was higher than usual. Even after, when the storm had passed on the radar and the watch would soon expire, I still felt guilty about leaving the house for several more hours. What if another storm came? What if there actually was a tornado this time? And what if I wasn’t home to take Jade to a safer place?

My cat’s life is my sole responsibility, and it can be a lot of pressure. Even when I first met her at the shelter and was considering adopting a pet, I was terrified. Despite the instant connection with Jade, I was afraid to adopt her or any cat because of this accompanying fear of responsibility. I had a good feeling OCD would latch onto a new cat, especially since it would be my first time being the sole caregiver of an animal. I also knew I would fall deeply in love with this animal, and OCD attends to go after what we love most.

There are a variety of ways OCD can latch onto pets and animals in our care. This includes, for many, contamination concerns with where the cat walks and sits, but for many it can, and often does, go beyond contamination. Other themes may include a fear of accidental harm, fear of losing control and doing intentional harm, magical thinking about thoughts affecting the pet’s well-being, intrusive sexual thoughts, and many others.

For me, the main OCD symptom is this hyper-responsibility. This can lead to feeling guilty about leaving her alone in my apartment for more than a few hours, even though she has water, food, and a litter box. She is a cat and hypothetically can be independent for several hours at a time. It leads to an almost agoraphobia when leaving the house because what if something happens to Jade while I’m gone, and I’m not there to rescue her? That feels like my job. It is my job, in a way.

This hyper-responsibility also coincides with my fear of accidentally starting a fire. I will double and triple check the stove is off, to prevent a fire while I’m gone that could potentially kill my cat. Overall, I am terrified that something will happen to her and worse, that it would be my fault, even though I know logically that my cat is mortal, and accidents do happen.

Still, people with OCD can adopt and care for pets, despite their fears. I make myself leave the house for work, participate in theater, meet up with friends, etc. It brings anxiety, but I am able to do it and tolerate the discomfort. Plus, there are countless benefits of having a pet in your life. Coming home to my cat, as she runs to the door with chirps for attention, is a comforting moment each day, even if there was anxiety about leaving. Taking care of Jade and trying to minimize OCD‘s influence through exposure therapy is a values-based decision. My life is much more enriched by having both her and this fear than if I had neither. I’m glad she is my responsibility.

Image via contributor

Originally published: May 10, 2022
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