Winnie Fig Georgia poses for a Spring Photo Shoot on Feb. 28. No poisonous daisies were consumed by Winnie. | Photo by Elise Fero

An emotional support animal saved my life

Trigger Warning: Eating disorder, suicide, mental health

I have never experienced a so-called “normal” life. I’ve never experienced a brain that wasn’t plagued by anxiety and lacking the proper chemicals to make me entirely happy. I did experience mocking of my mental illnesses. I did experience doctors who didn’t believe me.

I remember one doctor telling me “you don’t look like you’d be mentally ill” when I first reached out for help. How does one even “look” mentally ill?

I never experienced truly fitting in with other people. I couldn’t maintain friendships with many. I only really had one person who consistently understood my brain. But I did feel connected to nature and to animals.

I grew up with dogs and cats, and always the occasional fish, hamster, or currently, a tree frog. Days of mental hardships always led me to them. I would hold my pets close to me when I felt alone.

I felt afraid of the world often. It scared me. But not as much as my own brain. I became suicidal. I developed body dysmorphia. I struggled from multiple mental disorders. I tried medications and therapy, but sometimes those things didn’t work.

My two consistent forms of support were my best friend and my pets. When my head was shaking and the world screamed at me, my dog Peanut would sit with me and lick my tears away— a comfort I couldn’t attain from people, a connection that was completely made of love and support, held together with no judgement or hate.

I moved over 1,000 miles away from everyone I knew to start fresh, away from every person who had ever hurt me and every fear I had in my old town. But this also meant the support of my pets was left behind as well. I felt more alone than I ever had.

I knew I needed an animal in my life, other than my tree frog, who doesn’t provide the same connection that a dog or cat would. I spoke with people I knew who have mental illnesses and it came to my attention that I could get an emotional support animal. It would give me a reason to wake up, a reason to go outside and a reason to stay alive.

I felt hopeful, yet hopeless. Was I even ill enough to deserve this form of help?

I began the process of adopting an ESA, afraid that if it fell through my loneliness would only grow worse and that my nightmare of mental health would continue— not that a single animal would solve all my problems, but it would absolutely help.

I began meeting cats and kittens, hoping I’d find one that I felt a connection with. It took a few weeks before I met her. She was alone in the shelter in a little room and immediately greeted me as I walked in. Her sweet brilliant blue eyes gazed up at me with hope that she’d finally be going home after being a stray and now a shelter cat.

Her name was Georgia, likely named after Curious George, because she is immensely curious about everything. She had a unique look, calico and siamese with polka dots on her back and every color of cat on her face, with a little racoon tail and the softest white toes.

They told me Georgia was quite young, just out of kittenhood and had already given birth. But now sweet Mama Georgia needed a home. I had seen her online before I met her and immediately felt hope. This was the connection I was looking for, and I knew she was going to impact my life.

Two days later I took her home, and those two days of waiting were the longest of my life.

While I loved her name, I didn’t feel it belonged to her. Now her last name, as it was part of her past. Winifred Fig Georgia, that would be her name. One that felt full of love and light and gave her a new beginning.

Because Winnie was so young, she learned quite quickly to fit my emotional needs. She discovered how to help during my breakdowns, how to be there for me in my anxiety, and how to cuddle with me when I need love. She never leaves my side, even joining me on walks and hikes in the forest and on the beach.

I now have a reason to get up in the morning, instead of sitting in my sorrow, because my Winnie needs food and attention. I have a reason to leave my room because she needs exercise and to go on walks every day. She reminds me of the importance of eating, because if she, a little kitty can eat, I can too.

Winnie comforts me in ways a human being can’t. I’m able to cuddle with her when I feel most alone. She helps me function. When days feel like anxiety filled years, I have a companion to remind me of the beautiful little things in life, and appreciate them. She motivates me to get up and actually live my life.

I have never felt so supported as I am now, with Winnie. I truly believe Winnie saved my life by giving me a reason to be here everyday. If you are struggling, I highly recommend getting an ESA. Give yourself a reason to be here, one that can’t just go away. Finding my best friend and biggest supporter in the form of a cat has been more than the world could give me.

Every day I wake up and remember the face of joy that Winnie is. She has given me a purpose in life, as now my life isn’t the only one I’m caring for. She is my tree, the thing that keeps me rooted to life.

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