Writing by Toni Stanger // Illustration by Arielle Jennings
On Thursday the 1st of December, I travelled to London with my boyfriend for a few days away; a belated trip we booked in celebration of our birthdays in September. Unfortunately, I had been struggling a lot with my anxiety disorder and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) the month before, and it seemed to worsen immensely whilst I was there. All I’d done to bring myself out of the dark hole I was in completely undone in a matter of seconds. I think this was due to me feeling uncomfortable in a big city, where I was out of my comfort zone. I was essentially back to starving myself because I was scared to death of eating something and having to deal with potential stomach cramps, bowel movements and panic attacks in an unfamiliar environment. I didn’t know where all the nearest toilets were, and even then they were usually full with other tourists. However, the first thing on our itinerary in London was the cat café, and I’ll be damned if you think I was going to miss that. I had dreamed of going to a cat café for years.
So in the height of my anxious and panic-attack-like state, we travelled to Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in Shoreditch from our hotel in Stratford, via taxi as I was weak and shaking and could not bear to walk the distance. I was surprised to see that it is only a smallish, pink and purple building; i was expecting something much bigger based on what I had heard about it. As soon as I saw the first cat in the window, I smiled so much. I smiled through my intense anxiety and empty stomach. Cats have always made me feel so happy. We were a little late because we had issues with traffic and getting to the hotel, and then issues with getting me to reach a point where I felt okay enough to actually leave the hotel. But we made it and, thankfully, being 15 minutes late wasn’t a problem. We waited to be greeted and then moved into a separate room to wash our hands. After this, we were explained some ground rules and then we were finally taken in to meet the cats.
There are two floors in the cat café, each with fun decorations, tables, chairs, many cats and their toys and sleeping spots. I asked for a drink of water and lemon, whilst my boyfriend opted for coca cola and some actual food. He said the food was delicious, and I would have loved to have tried some, but unfortunately I didn’t feel up to it. I didn’t want to focus on food. It made me feel uneasy. I had so many bad connotations attached to food that thinking about it only increased my anxiety even more. My stomach felt awful and I was still struggling to keep the anxiety at bay. I decided to try and stay occupied to distract myself from what I was feeling, but most of the cats were asleep. Lady Dinah’s has a rule where we should not disturb sleeping cats, which seems fair. It was still great to see them sleeping because they were absolutely adorable. I slowly went on to see how many I could find, taking my time as no food and high anxiety means zero energy.
As time passed, some of the cats woke up and more came into the area we were in. This meant I had a lot more to focus on, which fortunately for me really helped. I’ve had cats all my life and throughout my struggles with anxiety and, sporadically, depression, I’ve always sought some peace in playing with and cuddling up to them. I’m a crazy cat lady at heart, and being in this cat café was a heaven amidst the hell I was experiencing. I kept imagining what it would be like to work there and how happy it must make one feel.
At the time of our visit, there were 13 cats at Lady Dinah’s, which you can see on their website. However, there were a few cats in particular that caught my eye. The first one, who caught my attention as soon as we walked in, was Petra. She was curled up tightly in her fluffiness above our heads in the cutest cat-shaped igloo bed. I knew she was absolutely perfect and my favourite even though I couldn’t see her properly, but after an hour, she finally woke up and came down to see what all the fuss was about. I was right; she was perfect. The second cat to catch my eye was Tink, who was small, playful and mischievous. She came over to our table and was climbing, stretching and peering into an enclosed wooden fixture which covered a radiator. She soon got inside after some attempts to stop her.
I am so thankful I was able to go to Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium. The staff were lovely, the cats were wonderful and the place itself was delightful. It by no means cured me for the rest of the trip, but it really helped to distract me and give me some peace of mind for a few hours. Cats are magical at lifting moods, and anxiety often feels like neverending torture. It reminded me how good it was to be alive and to have these experiences, which sometimes outweigh the bad times which pass. If you ever have the opportunity to go to a cat café, especially in a time of distress in your life, then I cannot recommend it enough. You can spend one and a half hours sat peacefully with cats and kittens whilst perusing your laptop, having a bite to eat and something to drink. Whatever your demons, if you’re a cat lover, this is the perfect escape.[share]