Lessons From My Cats
Lessons From My Cat
I rescued two kittens this summer while traveling in Italy, and we recently got them spayed. The vet instilled upon us that they were to wear a cone so they could not lick themselves and to restrict their jumping so that they don’t damage their healing wounds for 10 days–a difficult feat for two young, high-energy, extremely athletic outdoor cats (think hardcore parkour!). These cats are used to wearing harnesses, but let’s face it- no animal wants to wear a cone on their head!
With cones on, the cats wander around very cautiously and won’t jump anywhere because of the way the cone affects their perception of the world. They’re more scared to do the things they are used to doing without the cone. They don’t run or play anymore. They can’t even eat their food as easily, and they especially can’t groom themselves as well. In situations they used to jump, they now climb. One might even say they act “strange” or “weird”–maybe even “depressed”–appearing to be in a heightened state of anxiety, often pausing, shaking their heads, and backing up in an attempt to rid themselves of the cumbersome thing that restricts not only their range of motion, but also their field of vision. The cone appears to affect the cats’ entire being, and they seem to be much less happy because of it.
To the observable eye, these cats are no longer “themselves”; the cats with cones and the cats without cones have become two entirely different cats with distinctly different personalities.
Society places metaphorical “cones” on neurodivergent people when we are forced to mask in order to survive.
One situation where I struggle to remove the mask is within the workplace, where I am forced to navigate the nuances of the social world. I mask when I must fight through the anxiety of being judged by neurotypical people, when presenting information to families and staff at meetings knowing I may fail to communicate what I know well enough, and when I fear that I am going to lose my train of thought, which occurs at least once every meeting I attend it seems. I put on this metaphorical “cone” when building relationships with peers or coworkers for I am cautious because what they say is not always what they mean.
I wear the mask in order to make a living for myself, in order to survive; the same way the cone ensures the cats’ survival by preventing infection so that surgical wounds can heal properly.
And perhaps like the cats with cones, I appear “strange” or “weird” to my peers, too. The mask restricts my natural impulses much like my adventurous cats that are unable to be their playful, inquisitive selves when they must wear the cone. I, too, desire only to be my uninhibited self.
Fortunately for them, my cats will be able to have their cones removed sometime this week, but neurodivergent people don’t have this luxury until society fully includes us. Our disabilities do not heal in the same sense as my cats’ surgery wounds, but we can raise awareness in the greater community and self-advocate for our needs in difficult situations so that we are able to be more included without compensating our abilities.
If we equate the cats with cones to neurodivergent individuals that must mask in order to be included in society, imagine what we are capable of once the mask is removed…
About the Author
As a neurodivergent school psychologist and self- advocate, Brittney Geary, MEd CAGS utilizes her experience as an autistic, ADHD, learning-disabled person to inform her professional practice.
She has over a decade of experience having served as a consultant and research assistant in autism research, a coach for neurodivergent adults, a school psychologist in several public school districts, a mentor and a volunteer for several neurodiversity-affirming organizations internationally. Additionally, she is familiar with supporting others in managing commonly co-occurring physical, mental, and neurological health conditions.
She is passionate about promoting disability awareness through sharing lived experience, education and valuable resources, and would love to connect with like-minded individuals & organizations who share a common goal to embrace neurodiversity and enable neurodivergent individuals to lead more authentic lives