No longer have the energy to take care of cats post-divorce?
February 19, 2020 7:41 AM   Subscribe

I lived with cats while I was growing up, and took care of my ex's cats while we were married. Now, on my own, I find that I can't take care of a pair of cats that I adopted by myself. Is this burnout from the divorce? Am I just not cut out for solo pet ownership? If the first, how do I get back the ability to take care of things that I had before?

The past year has been a difficult one. I proposed an open relationship to fix the growing distance in my (never great, if I'm being honest) marriage (in hindsight it was an awful idea, but I wasn't ready to divorce him, and saw no other way forward), and instead my husband fell in love with someone else, started spending half his time with another woman and all of our time together talking about her, while also telling me that our marriage was fine and that I was being unreasonable for feeling jealous and neglected. I told him I would divorce him if he didn't treat me right three times in as many months, and the third time I wised up to the fact that he would beg me to stay and be better to me for about a week before going back to doing the same old thing, and we separated. That was in October.

Since October, the following things have happened:
- He moved in with his new girlfriend the night we decided to separate.
- I found a sub-letter for our apartment.
- I started divorce proceedings, and have been pushing this through as quickly as I can. Divorce will likely be finalized this spring.
- I sorted out all our stuff because he was 'too busy with the holidays.'
- I took care of his cats (who were bereft without him despite the fact that they'd lived with both of us for 8 years) for two months until he could get his own apartment.
- I found myself a new apartment that I could afford on my solo income.
- I moved into the new apartment at the end of January.

When I moved into the new apartment, I adopted a pair of cats (kittens, really; they're just under a year old). I'd always lived with cats growing up and enjoyed their company. I'd lived with my ex's cats for 8 years and sure I got along with one of them better than the other, but I enjoyed having them around. I did most of the feeding and cleaning up after them (I did most of the cleaning, period, in our relationship), and played with them often. I figured having a pair of cats around would stop the new apartment from feeling lonely, and would, I don't know, provide furry companionship? A home without some sort of furry friend just felt sad. I really looked forward to getting cats, and the hope of cats was the the thing that got me through the stress of the move.

However, here I am nearly three weeks after adopting these cats, and I have an appointment to return them to the shelter I got them from (a kind, no-kill sort of place that I'm sure will find them another loving home) this evening. They are young, they are energetic, I am a single person in a studio apartment with a full time job and a commute, and taking care of them, providing them with the play that they needed and making sure that the apartment was cat-proofed against their shenanigans quickly took me to a place of overwhelm and resentment. It didn't help that I am a light sleeper, and no matter how much I got them moving during the day, they only seem to sleep in 1-hour segments at night, so for the past several weeks I've been woken up multiple times a night, every night, by the sounds of scratching, chewing, or things being knocked over. They are lovely, loving cats and will make someone a wonderful pair of companions, but I cannot keep up with them. I cannot currently deal with taking care of another pair of living beings on top of keeping my head above water and healing from what happened.

I feel awful because I rushed into adopting these cats assuring myself that I would have the energy to take care of these cats. In fact, when it actually came time to adopt, I had my reservations, especially about their age, but I wanted cats so badly, and these were the ones that had "chosen me" that I ignored those worries and feelings. And now I find that I've run myself ragged just trying to take care of a pair of cats, which are supposed to be the 'easy' pet between cats and dogs. Clearly adopting these cats on top of everything else was a mistake, a taking up of responsibility that I was not ready for.

My question is, I suppose: how do I not make this mistake again, especially when big commitments like pets are involved? And, also, how do I fix myself when I'm so far gone into exhaustion and overwhelm that I can't even take care of a pair of cats, when I used to be able to take care of me, a pair of cats, and a husband who basically went to work, came home, and played video games?
posted by bridgebury to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There's a lot here but I just wanted to touch on one point: kittens and 8 year old (or older, depending on how old they were when you got them) cats are a completely different ballgame! Kittens are a ton of work. I would not adopt a kitten unless I was at the top of my game. Maybe not even then.

You were under a lot of stress and it can be so hard to resist a cat that's "chosen" you. You've realized that wasn't the best choice. Be proud of yourself for coming to this realization and being willing to do something about it. Please don't feel guilty about taking these kittens back to the shelter so that someone who's in the right place in their life can take care of them the way they need. Kittens get snapped up, they'll be in a new home in no time. And please don't think that the fact that you couldn't care for them is a reflection of you in any way, or that you've lost an ability you once had. I could take care of several 8 year old cats right now, no problem. Kittens? No way.
posted by brook horse at 7:55 AM on February 19, 2020 [22 favorites]

You are most likely grieving for your marriage right now. A "dead" relationship is not so dissimilar to losing a person you cared for. It is not unusual for people suffering from grief to have trouble caring for themselves, much less others. It's why we bring food and so forth to comfort people. To show we care, and because the act of cooking to feed ourselves when dealing with grief is just a bit too much.

Young cats are a lot of work. They can be very draining. If you are out of resources, it's natural to feel resentful to something else that needs those resources. You are not a bad person. I think it's worth trying again someday when you feel more whole. Good on you for recognizing this early and seeking a suitable home for these cats. You can get through this, but maybe focusing on yourself is what you need to do.

Sometimes having someone / something else to care for is restorative in its own right, other times it's just too much. That's OK. Be kind to yourself.
posted by jzb at 7:59 AM on February 19, 2020 [22 favorites]

I think that your feelings make perfect sense. You've just gone through a big change and it's affected you - your personality, the things you tolerate, the ways you respond to different inputs. It's an ongoing process that's taking tons of your energy from tasks you might have previously found no big deal. You're changing, and it's going to be for the best in the long run, but right now, you don't really know yourself as well as you did previously. So my suggestion is to get to know yourself as you are now, and not who you're aspiring to be or who you were pre-divorce, because you're not either of those bridgeburys anymore.

I think also that some of this is that thing where you start processing trauma once you're in a place you feel safe or secure. Now that you're in a new apartment and it sounds like the divorce is proceeding without too many hitches, you're struck with this exhaustion and stress that you feel like you shouldn't be feeling. But you should! You're processing trauma and that's exhausting, on top of all the other new stuff you're learning and doing. So try not to feel guilty, instead look for ways to be kind to yourself. Keep making yourself feel safe and secure.

I think that you've made the right decision to return the cats. Cats under like, 2 or 3 are barely grown. Kittens are so much more work than adult cats! You've also gone through so many transitions in such a short amount of time that I bet the cats were picking up on a bunch of it. I bet that in time you'll be able to welcome some pets back into your home, but it's just not the right time now.
posted by Mizu at 8:05 AM on February 19, 2020 [14 favorites]

I had a year-old bonkers puppy when I separated from my husband and I felt like I just could not cope. He required so much of my mental energy, which was already tied up in trying to figure out wtf just happened and wtf I was going to do now. It was awful. During this period I had surgery and sent him to stay with a friend for a couple of months which was necessary physically but to tell you the truth a BLESSED RELIEF mentally. All of this is to say give yourself a break. You have a lot to process and just only so much horsepower. No shame in returning them! You’ll be a great kitty home again in a few months, a year, whatever. It will happen.
posted by HotToddy at 8:06 AM on February 19, 2020

It sounds like you’re worn out from doing so much mental/emotional/physical labor for your ex etc. and you need to rest and grieve. That makes sense given the circumstances.
In the future consider fostering pets rather than adopting them right away. I fostered cats for years before I permanently adopted the one I have now and it was a great way to help animals & have cat companionship without the permanent commitment and anxiety around whether that cat was the right pet for me. Also the animal rescue I fostered for paid vet bills until someone permanently adopted the cat, so all I had to come up with was food, toys and litter! It was great.
posted by zdravo at 8:06 AM on February 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

I never think it's the right move to return cats once adopted, but I think in this case you're making the right decision.

I'm so, so sorry for what you're going through.

Take time to grieve. Take time to take care of yourself. If you're feeling lonely, go to a cat cafe or volunteer at a shelter.

When you're ready to adopt, DO NOT get kittens - get an older, chill cat (or cats) who will cuddle with you and sleep and are low energy. PLUS adult bonded pairs are much harder to adopt out than kittens.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:15 AM on February 19, 2020 [9 favorites]

In regards to decision making moving forward, I think your best bet to avoid making too many long term commitments right now. Give yourself a little time to adjust to your new life. You're in an unusually stressful moment of transition and, while this decision was perfectly logical given your past experience, you may discover what worked in the past doesn't feel as good now. That's normal and ok - give yourself some room to move and discover who you are becoming.

It sounds like you have a very solid option to rectify the situation for yourself and give the kitties a wonderful home. If I was in your position, I would do it without hesitation. If you find yourself wanting a cat later when you are feeling more settled, there will be plenty of cats in need of a home at that point as well.
posted by amycup at 8:17 AM on February 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

^^^In the future consider fostering pets rather than adopting them right away.

Fostering would be a great bridge back to the world of four-footed companionship for you. Volunteering at a shelter might be another possibility.

It sounds like you have a lot of kindness and attention within you, but right now, you need to direct some kindness and attention toward yourself, after the emotional and logistical upheaval you've been through. Just moving – just moving – one flight downstairs in the same building has been known to discombobulate me! You have weathered so much more. Be gentle with yourself.
posted by virago at 8:20 AM on February 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

You made an honest mistake, one people make all the time. You're taking care of it, they will be fine, think of yourself as a foster.

There's a reason they say not to make any major decisions (that you don't HAVE to make, obviously moving and similar is often unavoidable as a result of the Event) for a year after a Significant Life Event. This is why: you don't really know what your new normal is yet, you haven't even had time to know how you feel about it all, your routine is shot to hell. You need time. You're tired.

One thing you can do is wait-list any big ideas you get. If you still want that nose ring in six weeks or three months or next year, go for it! If selling everything you own and moving to Patagonia still feels like a solid plan - maybe even one you've researched and honestly put some hard consideration into - in six months, you then decide on what subsequent decision benchmarks will need to be and work on those. Maybe just get a trim this week and talk to your stylist about your radical breakup haircut/color that you will get in a month or two if you still want it.

You deserve to take time to radically and intensely take care of you and ONLY you right now. I honestly hate that Metafilter tends to go so hard on "feel bad? get a pet!" because that's a) a financial commitment not all people have the privilege to make, because just a medium pet mishap can easily run $1500 in vet bills b) a lot of work that not all people are in a place to make happen, either in time or energy or emotional expenditure c) not feasible in all locations because of restrictive housing situations or safety or other factors. A pet is a lot to take on, I think we tend to be a bit hand-wavy about that culturally. You've seen it first-hand now, it can be a lot and it can be too much.

Focus on you for a while. You haven't been able to do that for a long time, and that bill is overdue. Spend a year pet-free and then see what your feelings are about that status.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:23 AM on February 19, 2020 [14 favorites]

It's OK. Youre doing the right thing.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:23 AM on February 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

So sorry to hear of your troubles, but to answer your direct questions, I don't think your frustration in trying to care for these kittens is necessarily a sign of a problem with you (or that you'll be doing anything wrong in trying to find them a better home). I think it's largely due to not having quite the right apt setup.... I also have recently adopted two awesome kittens that I am extremely in love with, but there is 100% absolutely no way I could keep my sanity if I couldn't shut the door to "their" room (a spare bathroom with lots of toys and squishy places to sleep and food/water/litter boxes) every night . These are my 3rd and 4th kitties from kitten hood, and I feel it is impossible to sleep in the same room with kittens...especially two kittens who will wake each other up all night long. Take care of yourself and just mark this as a foster period for these kitties!
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:30 AM on February 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

Hey there. There is this pervasive notion that rehoming or returning a pet when you can't care for them makes you some kind of villain. It isn't really true (unless you're being super capricious about it). But what you've described demonstrates to me that you are doing the right thing by these animals, because neglect is a 1000x worse than admitting, hey, I really can't do this. That is okay!!!

Divorce is hard. Raising kittens is hard. Healing after emotional trauma is hard. Do right by yourself. These little guys will be okay.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 8:50 AM on February 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

how do I get back the ability to take care of things that I had before?

Time. Like, twelve months minimum.

A lot has happened recently, and much of it was the culmination of things that have been going on for years. It takes a long time to come back from things like this.

For anyone who is going through the sort of recovery you’re in I would suggest a therapist, which would among other things give you someone who really understands your situation to bounce ideas off of. You don’t need to sort everything out on your own.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:57 AM on February 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

Oh my gosh, you have only had them for three weeks! Congratulations on figuring this out *now* before you went farther in. You did something that you thought would help you, and unfortunately you made the wrong call, which happens, you're human. AND you realized it before the new normal really had a chance to get settled in.

My responses to reading your text:
1. WOW she's going through a lot. Internet hugs if this person wants them.
2. She's really trying to take care of herself through one of the roughest times a person can have.
3. Those kittens can go back to a no-kill shelter, fantastic!
4. Aww, the OP is being so hard on herself. She is totally doing the right thing and I am impressed by her self-awareness.
5. Maybe if she wants a cat, try an older one. Solidly adult cats are like a third of the effort of kittens.
posted by emkelley at 8:57 AM on February 19, 2020 [8 favorites]

Yeah, I think it is absolutely the right thing to rehome these little guys, I know that taking care of a single kitten in a large house can be a challenge for two people, so no shame at all that two proved too much for you at this point. I also counsel a long-ish period without pets to get your legs back under you, and then go to a shelter and ask to adopt pair-bonded adult cats and they will be so very happy to see you.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:17 AM on February 19, 2020

It probably took me about a year post-divorce before the idea of caring for another being didn't just exhaust me. And I grew up in a houseful of animals and had never not had a pet of some sort. Then one day I realized that I could do it again. But it took quite a while.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:49 AM on February 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

Oh dear. Please be kind to yourself. This is a question about cats, but I think it's really a question of how you take care of yourself. You are coming out of a marriage that wasn't happy and where you didn't feel you had a full partner, and you are grieving that, and you are probably mad at yourself for being sad the marriage is over, and maybe even mad at yourself for not ending it firmly more sooner, and yet you miss him, and yet you resent that he's moved on so quickly when you were the one who wasn't happy. That's a whole lot. You've got a lot to work through, and you need to be gentle with yourself as you work through all this.

But you know what? I know it's hard to see, but you're doing pretty good right now: you ended an unhappy marriage and you set up a household for yourself that is working for you, that you can afford. After all the upheaval, that's a pretty solid foundation for moving ahead.

So please do bring the cats back. It's okay, really. As for this:

My question is, I suppose: how do I not make this mistake again, especially when big commitments like pets are involved? And, also, how do I fix myself when I'm so far gone into exhaustion and overwhelm that I can't even take care of a pair of cats, when I used to be able to take care of me, a pair of cats, and a husband who basically went to work, came home, and played video games?

You be gentle with yourself. And you do what we always say to do: you go to therapy. You talk about your marriage and the cats and the whole thing. And you give yourself space to grieve the end of unhappy situation. You keep yourself busy with hobbies and friends. You build a new life where you aren't focusing on taking care of others but on taking care of yourself.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:00 PM on February 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

You've had way too many painful moments in the last few months and I'm sure you're expending most of your emotional energy on your own life. I think it's a good thing - it's important for you to have as much energy to recover from your hurt as well as you can.

Even the fact that your shelter has a "return policy" is a good thing - they completely understand that some people will decide that owning a pet isn't right for them.

In terms of how you can avoid this in the future, I would say look at your decisions from as many facets as you can.

My process when I consider getting a pet is something like:
- would it be nice to have someone welcome me home? yes
- would it be a way to meet friends? yes
- could I afford it? yes
- do I have the time? mostly
- am I capable of taking a dog for a walk at least once a day? no. not motivated enough. too self-conscious. lazy. the weather is bad, etc.
-remember that personal goal you made to never clean up another being's shit? yes

All my best. ❤️
posted by bendy at 8:21 PM on February 19, 2020

I agree with the sentiment that you are doing the right thing in a responsible way, in a situation that you've realized really isn't workable.

I'll gently note that if your general MO is I used to be able to take care of me, a pair of cats, and a husband who basically went to work, came home, and played video games?, that you might have made the decision to get these cats simply because you're so accustomed to being ON all the time--do, do, do, care, care, care. Your husband wouldn't step up and be a partner, your choice was to either do it yourself or it wouldn't get done, and that severe imbalance is not sustainable in a marriage.

It takes a while to lose that reactive drive to do, do, do, care, care, care, if it's been your life for so long. My guess is that taking on new kittens came from that drive.

I would say, be gentle with yourself. Doing and caring are really good things--crucial for taking care of yourself, excellent traits to bring to a relationship, in the right balance--but part of your divorce healing is going to be winding a lot of that back, and figuring out where the limit is about exactly how much you have to give to doing and caring.

Having limits is not only good but necessary. Sounds like you're handling this really well: recognized that you're past what you have to give, stepping back in a responsible way. Nicely done--keep up the good work.
posted by Sublimity at 4:24 AM on February 20, 2020

You're doing the right thing. This wasn't the right time, these weren't the right cats for the time. It's an honest mistake that you are handling right. Be gentle with, and kind to yourself.
posted by wotsac at 7:52 AM on February 20, 2020

« Older Linzer Tart/Cookie recipe, like Hot & Crusty...   |   Can FIV and non-FIV cats live together? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.