Saffie-Cat and I moved house recently.
We didn’t want to lose our Bluebell House, but we needed to move in with my family for a little while.
She was born on the first anniversary of my gran’s death and she has bought joy back into my life without knowing it. She is comforting and consistent; her fur is a silky-smooth black and soothing to touch; when she sleeps on my tummy the weight of her relaxes me. When I look into her amber-eyes I feel loved because I am the only one she will make eye-contact with for any long stretch of time, and vice versa, and that is a big deal.
But it wasn’t until we moved that I realised that she is Autistic.
The change disturbed her.
She spent three days squashed down the side of my bed, against the wall. I don’t know how she managed to get down there, the space was so small, and her little scared eyes would stare up at me and break my heart.
Gradually, Saffie ventured out and began to explore on her own terms. I tried to make our bedroom look and smell the same as my bedroom at Bluebell so she could feel ‘right.’ We like fresh-blossom room scents and dim mood-lighting. We like the feel of a certain brushed-cotton duvet cover and blanket, and the aura of gentle colours.
We like it when things stay the same.
Most people do. Let me rephrase that… we feel safe and well in this changeable world when we know that certain things will be staying the same.
For the first two nights, Saffie didn’t eat or sleep. Changes upset your feelings and your tummy. When one thing changes it is hard to remember that not everything has changed: it is hard to remember that your friends still like you; your hobbies, thoughts, behaviour and beliefs are still the same. You still have the same doctors’ appointment booked and the same book you’re halfway-through reading. But when you have Autism, it takes ages to remember all of this.
Slowly, Saffie remembered that she likes to eat chicken-in-gravy at five-o-clock in the afternoon and she likes to fall asleep in the corners I make with my bent legs when I sleep on my side. She remembered that she likes watching TV, chasing ribbons and drinking water from taps. She remembered that she doesn’t like being picked up but she does like to always be close-by and she loves a cuddle, (on her terms). She remembered that she doesn’t eat anything unless it is put in her cream-kitten bowl; she doesn’t like having her claws clipped but she does like waking me up at four-on-the-dot every morning by licking my eyes and pawing my face.
Saffie stayed in my bedroom for about a week before she was bold enough to meet the other cats in the house.
Although she is a loving cat, interactions with others can sometimes be traumatic: being around others that look like you, but don’t think like you, can highlight your cognitive differences and cause anxiety, misunderstanding, a decreased sense of worth. Saffie wanted to be friends with Merlin but he ran away from her because he is a cool-cat who associates with the ‘street-wise’ cats. He doesn’t understand her and he doesn’t want to, which is fair enough. So she tried to make friends with Molly by licking her, which was apparently not-socially-acceptable because Molly responded with a hiss and a growl.
Saffie ran back up to my bedroom to be by herself instead.
She doesn’t quite know how to make friends and the older she gets, the more isolated she feels.
She used to have a friend at the Bluebell house called Dobby. He was easier for her to get along with because he was a ‘boycat’ and he was older. For some reason, she gets on better with boys. Dobby was also a creature of habit, stuck in his patterns: she would follow him, copy him, learn from him and she learned to be herself around him. Moving away from him has been another difficult change to adapt to.
She needs space and time and plenty of silence to ‘recharge her batteries’ …as they say.
Noise triggers Saffie’s ‘catxiety’ and she can’t concentrate or function when there are new or loud noises or if there are too many noises at once. I am sympathetic when she is distressed by noise because she can’t put her hands over her ears to block it out and it can really make your brain race. Her other senses are heightened too, touch and smell, but some things that bother other cats don’t bother her at all, like dogs and danger.
She doesn’t like weather though.
Weather sometimes causes us uncomfortable sensory feelings or forces us to change our plans: people can do that too. We did not like the snowy weather but thunder and lightning is the worst: it is loud, unexpected and you can’t control it. I sometimes catch Saffie looking out of the window at the weathers, like an outsider looking out into a world she will never truly understand.
Especially on fireworks night.
Sometimes, when things get really overwhelming, she goes absolutely wild and darts about upstairs like a caged-bat, chasing imaginary things and shadows to ‘let off steam’. Sometimes she’ll sit and knead my jumpers or blankets as if pushing the anxiety out of her body through her paws. Is this her version of stimming?
This week Saffie went outside for the very first time.
As her little paws touched the concrete she paused… it felt… new. A piece of fluff flew about her face like a fly and she chased it with her eyes. Confidence grew as she walked through the grass stopping every so often to glance back at me. A pigeon clapped his wings overhead and she cowered, then ran toward a tree: she clawed the bark and rubbed her face against the trunk’s twigs. After twenty-minutes and a brain full of new sensory-stimulation, she pounced back into the house and up the stairs to our bedroom, our sanctuary.
That was enough.
There she slept for four hours, overawed and exhausted by the things she had touched, smelled, heard, tasted and seen all in one gulp. She was probably also over-thinking her interactions with the other cats too. I say ‘probably’ because of course, Saffie never expresses her emotions. I can tell that, when she is sad, she goes off her food, or she hides. When she is happy she slowly blinks as she purrs, or falls asleep across my neck like a silky-black scarf. It is quite hard to know about other feelings besides happiness and sadness: sometimes you have to watch and guess and look deeply into her eyes to see if her pupils are enlarged or not. I think she can identify feelings of hunger, tiredness, when she needs to use her litter tray, as long as there’s not too much else going on.
Saffie is safe and solitary, there is no doubt that she likes me and my company. I know her. Once I even bought a black-cat dressing-up costume to wear to a social so I could be her.
I didn’t have the confidence to go as myself.
In the end I didn’t go at all.
I just stayed at home with Saffie.
Writing is my creative and therapeutic way of educating myself and my friends at the same time. Thank you for keeping me confident and supporting my blogs.