This past year has been rough. Correction: these past two years have been rough. For someone who is grappling with depression and anxiety, going through a bad break up, losing people you thought were friends, dealing with boy drama, being turned on by your sorority, fighting health issues, and trying to reconstruct your identity can all lead to more than one mental breakdown. I can't count how many times I cried over Skype to my therapist, marred my skin with anything sharp, skipped classes and distanced myself from friends. I was spiraling for a long time into the abyss of self-destruction.

Then came an idea.

I remember on a particularly bad day, while I was driving with tears building up in the backs of my eyes, I abruptly turned the car into the parking lot of the local Humane Society. Without any particular intention, I went inside and was directed into the cat room, where visitors could sit and socialize with the adoptable kitties. I'm not sure how long I sat there, but within minutes my nerves had soothed and tears ceased from simply being surrounded by animals.

One month and lots of paperwork later, I brought home Sasha June, a 2 year old domestic shorthair tabby cat.

Now, I know women with cats get a bad rap. Mmhmm, I know you're thinking that this is just another story of how another crazy cat lady came to be.

No. This is how a furry companion – a cat who had been the last at the shelter waiting for a home – came to save my sanity.

Sasha acclimated to me almost immediately. She let me rub her exposed belly, curled up on my lap and slept faithfully by my pillow at night. If someone unexpected knocked on the door, she was the first to perk up and growl like a guard dog. If I had been gone for the day, she would be meowing in greeting as soon as I approached the door.

I never quite realized how much I needed her until I came to Rhode Island to live by myself for the first time. This was a huge step – a huge mistake, some might think – for someone who had been so mentally fragile just months before. And honestly, I owe the ability to do it to one silly little cat.

Sasha is my ESA – my emotional support animal. This is not a bullsh*t title for a glorified pet. When I am anxious and hide from the world under covers in my bed, Sasha lays on my chest and stays with me, offering a comforting weight that anchors me to reality and calms my breath.

When I am tempted not to wake up in the morning, she places a paw on my face and won't let me sleep to remind me that I must face the day and take care of myself – or at least her.

When I come back from a bad night, fighting back the all-too-familiar burn of tears at the back of my eyes, she rubs against my cheeks or wraps around my legs to comfort me.

Yes, Sasha is just a cat. No, she doesn't have any special training. But God, she has been a constant in a life that feels so unstable. And I don't know how I would survived this summer without her.