About a month and a half ago, my depression and anxiety had begun to get bad again, which was made significantly worse by me trying to hide that from everyone around me in an attempt to not worry anyone. I found myself in my therapist’s office one Thursday morning, during what was supposed to be a nice therapy session, but instead turned into an hour of me ugly crying while my therapist desperately tried to make out what I was saying in between my sobs.

I have had a stuffed elephant named Leonard for the last five years. He has, essentially, been a coping mechanism for me. When I first began suffering from depression, I didn’t know how to talk about it with anyone, so I created a personality for Leonard and told him my problems. He was my personal therapist. Snuggling helped me immensely, as part of the way I am able to relieve my depression and anxiety is through physical touch and snuggling and hugs fall directly under that category.

“I wish I brought Leonard today,” I told Jim, my therapist.

“Why do you wish that?” he asked.

“Hugging him helps me feel better.”

“Have you ever considered getting a therapy pet? Leonard doesn’t count. He can’t love you back. I really think you would benefit from an emotional support animal,” he theorized.

In fact, I hadn’t thought about a therapy pet. I had actually always doubted their effectiveness. I assumed it was a perfectly normal and healthy person’s excuse to get around pet-free housing. In reality, I’m not completely wrong. A lot of people claim their pets as emotional support animals, or ESAs to get around rules like that. But there’s also a lot of people out there (like me), who legitimately need an ESA to help them function day-to-day.

So the day after my meeting with Jim, I dragged my brother to the animal humane society in Woodbury to see what they had for animals. I’m more of a dog person. I’m not so much a cat person. Given the choice, I would describe myself as an animal person in general. But ideally, a cat was the best option for me as I didn’t have the necessary space and time to commit to a dog. My brother has always been more of a cat person than I have, so I thought he would be perfect in assisting me pick out the perfect kitty.

As soon as I laid my eyes on him, I was drawn to him. He was mine. He didn’t care about anyone around him and didn’t seem to be bothered by the people walking past him. Spotted like a little moo cow, Hundley and I connected the moment I picked him up. After visiting with him for a while, Connor said to me, “this is your cat. He is yours. You need to adopt this cat. He is the best one here.”

So I slapped down my $25 down deposit and promised to come back for him the next day after I bought all of the kitty essentials. In the hours before bringing him home, my anxiety spiked. I was nervous that maybe he wouldn’t like me when I got him home. Maybe he wouldn’t be happy. Maybe we wouldn’t mesh as well as we did at the humane society. But I loaded him into his box and brought him home.

Once home, I named him Steven. “Steven” fit him well. He was definitely a Steven.

What I didn’t expect is how quickly my life changed. From the moment I let him out of his box, it felt like I was pulling out the stop on a drain and down went all of my anxiety and depression.

I was in love with him from that moment on. I couldn’t believe the effectiveness of my new ESA. Steven is a snuggler, so he is very effective in relieving my anxiety and depression. To be completely honest, I have had Steven for nearly a month a now, and I have not felt any anxiety or depression episodes since then. The only anxiety I’ve felt is when I leave him alone. The first few days were rough as I was worried he would be lonely. The first weekend I left him alone, my brother and dad both stayed with him, but I missed him terribly.

When I reflect on this first month with Steven, I realize how lucky I am. I am lucky that our paths crossed when they did and that he came into my life at exactly the right time. I never would have imagined that such a small little ball of fluff could bring so much joy and happiness in my life while relieving me of my mental anguish.

I think what I needed was someone to take care of. I needed someone to love and someone to love me back, who would depend on me for love and care. Someone to come home to at the end of the day, and someone who would be waiting for me at the door. Steven is the piece of me that I didn’t know I was missing, and I’m so shocked to have found that in a cat of all creatures.

Emotional support animals aren’t all BS like I thought they were. They are effective, and when used properly, they are probably one of the most effective ways to treat a higher functioning depression and anxiety. It’s worth having that conversation with your therapist. As for me, I am happy with my sweet, sweet Steven.