We adopted Bramble, a petite nine year old tortoiseshell cat, in June 2020, along with round little tailless Manx cat Poppy, from the wonderful local cat rescue charity Paw Prints. We soon learned that Bramble had ‘tortitude’ ie. she was a highly strung diva who longed for attention but was terrified of us.
Poppy settled down quickly, paws firmly under the table, but Bramble was a different story. Originally called Madison by her previous owner, we changed her name to Bramble because she turned out to be sweet but prickly! Before being adopted by us Bramble had been treated for a painful dental condition and it soon became obvious that the treatment had been botched, and that she was in constant pain. Her behaviour deteriorated as the volunteers at Paw Prints negotiated with the vet who’d done the work to set things right.
Months passed with Bramble still in pain, but eventually after trying several different things a new vet found just the right treatment for her to live pain free. Pain free was good but we wanted her to have a happy life too, however we had a long way to go to win her trust and convince her that humans weren’t going to hurt her. I sat for long stretches of time with Bramble in her favourite spot in the conservatory talking to her in my softest voice and holding out my hand (protected by my sleeve) for her to tentatively rub. Me and my husband learned to read her body language carefully and figured how much attention to give her before she got overwhelmed and scared, despite pestering us for a fuss. When she lashed out we calmly but firmly shooed her away. We used play to grow her confidence and treats to reward bolder, less anxious behaviour. Slowly, with literally faltering steps, Bramble learned to expect kindness from us rather than danger, and lashing out with claws became more rare.
As I write this I’m sitting on the lawn with Bramble beside me, showing me just how far she’s come in 12 months. She’s stretched out, looking relaxed and confident, watching me and purring between standing up frequently to meow squeakily and demand attention. She’s still a diva but a confident one who is less prone to tantrums.
When I reflect on this gradual change I can see key things that were part of this transformation: Patience, kindness, trial and error and getting the right information and support. I think the same things help us with transformation in our human lives too:
A lot of caring, active, ambitious people live in daily frustration. Do you find that when you think about how different you want things to be it gets harder to actually do something about it in a steady and sustained way? Patience is the act of accepting that things take time and there’s only so much you can do to hurry them along. When you accept this you bring yourself to a calmer place where overwhelm is dialled down and you can focus on what you need to do now to make progress.
You show so much kindness to others and now it’s time to dare yourself to show yourself that kindness too. Just as deliberate, patient kindness encouraged Bramble to trust us when she was in pain, so patient kindness towards yourself will encourage you whilst you do the hard work to take you where you want to go.
Trial and error
In 12 months Bramble had dental surgery twice, several courses of antibiotics, steroids and various drugs with unpronounceable names, plus many check ups with the vet. Eventually one thing worked and monthly doses keep her pain free and happy. It can take a long time to reach a goal and there will be disappointing dead ends sometimes. But if you go into it with the attitude of trying an experiment instead of telling yourself that you must get it right straight away, you’ll find the best way forward in the end. And it’s amazing how often the right solution isn’t the one you’d expected it to be.
Getting the right information and support
My word, it’s hard asking for help isn’t it? So hard that lots of writing advice for coaches says “Do not use the word ‘help’ – no one wants to ask for help!” But here I am stubbornly using it anyway, because I’ve struggled to ask for help and I know it’s not just down to stubbornness or shyness. With Bramble it felt so easy to ask for help; she was suffering and the only option was to learn what we could and consult the right people. It doesn’t feel this way when you’re facing problems of your own though. Why? Because it feels like by asking for help you’ll be a burden to others or you’ll look and feel weak and unable to cope. Yet the right help or access to information at the right time will speed up your progress in a way that seemed impossible when you were trying to go it alone. Whether it’s a group, a professional or supportive friends, the right support is key. When you ask for advice most people are happy to give it; after all, it’s nice to discover that someone thinks you’re an expert on something.
Cat or human, we all have times when we want to curl up and hide from danger. This is normal for both us and little furry animals! The important thing is to compassionately give yourself what you need to creep out from under the metaphorical sofa and carry on in a way where you give yourself the support you’d give to anyone or anything else that was facing a challenge.
Is it time to tackle your own inner Bramble? Check out my page on one to one coaching where you can book a free 15 minute consultation.