The closest I’ve come to a self-care routine is using my ring finger to apply eye cream every night before bed. I’m also not sure I’d call that self-care — I do it because I dislike my dark circles, not as an act of love in which I mindfully apply the cream. I’m also not religious, so I don’t have any routines in that realm and instead refer to myself as “spiritual” (though my practice leaves a lot to be desired).
Over the past two years, however, I’ve developed a dopamine-inducing ritual that has made me believe in miracles. It’s given me a taste of what it would be like to regularly practice self-care as I thoughtfully nourish my body and soul. That source is foster kitten accounts on Instagram.
I don’t remember the origin of this ritual, but I recall a sudden shift during which I became deeply invested in the lives of foster kittens. I was in a toxic workplace at the time, and these small creatures offered me respite after awful days at work.
The first account I followed was @bottlebabyfosters run by Melinda Blain, who works with neonatal orphaned kittens that require specialized care in Phoenix, Arizona. The first kitten that caught my eye was a calico named Cordette. I’m specifically referring to this photo of her:
Something about her potato body awakened within me a pure joy that brought me back to my childhood. It filled a hole I didn’t know I had, one that being family-less and pet-less in Los Angeles had created inside of me.
When I found out that Cordette came to Blain as a 2-day-old emaciated preemie, it made me feel something I hadn’t in a long time. I remember turning to my partner, who kindly receives all my foster kitten updates, and saying, “This is what a miracle is.”
Soon after Cordette, another calico named Fleurette arrived at @bottlebabyfosters unable to eat on her own. She looked like a mouse, and she never wanted to leave her incubator. As a homebody, I thought this was charming and relatable and instantly took a liking to her.
I suddenly found myself checking Instagram just to see how Fleurette was doing — if she was eating, using the litter box, learning to live without the comfort of her incubator — and felt every up and down she went through as if she were my own.
When Fleurette initially tested positive for feline leukemia, a virus that would shorten her life span, I did something I do only once or twice a year. I cried. Yet, based on what I’d seen this far, there was a flicker of hope within me — hope planted there by the community of foster kittens.
Later on, when it was confirmed that Fleurette had actually tested negative for feline leukemia, my chest filled with relief. I found my usually pessimistic self saying, “I knew it.” She ended up being adopted along with her brother Teddy (later called Bourdain) by the owner of @astoria_of_2kitties, who continues to document their lives on the platform.
Since the loss of her latest litter of kittens, Blain has been taking a break to heal. In her absence, I’ve been checking Nikki Martinez’s @myfosterkittens on a daily basis. I discovered this account via actor Mandy Moore, who adopted two of Martinez’s foster kittens, Olivia and Peanut (formerly Pawlie). Before long, Martinez’s work with neonatal and critical care kittens had the same effect on me — I was dedicated to watching these animals survive.
I specifically became attached to Ponch and Jon, sisters who were given to Martinez by a woman who found them at her school and was unable to care for them around the clock. As Ponch and Jon grew, I became enraptured by their personalities. Ponch is more courageous and explorative (goals), whereas Jon loves to relax and has an adorable derp face (same).
Tina and Jim Motz ended up adopting Jon and Ponch and giving them their own account, @chipskitties. A few months later, they adopted EJ, another kitten I’d been following closely. There were many times Martinez thought EJ wouldn’t make it, so watching her reach milestones like eating without a tube and drinking water was incredibly rewarding.
Again, I felt like I was watching a miracle unfold. In the midst of the heartbreaking events happening in the world, these kittens’ journeys remind me that there is still humanity out there.
I’m at my happiest when I’m watching these kittens thrive. I am a cat lover, but it’s more than that. As I mentioned, I haven’t yet developed the skill of caring for myself in a way that fills me with the type of fulfillment that bubbles up from within.
When I’m watching kittens, many of whom appear as though they won’t make it and survive, I get that feeling. When I’m witnessing people devote their lives to rehabilitating little souls, giving them lives that initially seemed impossible, I get that feeling.
Based on the responses I’ve gotten from those who have followed and later adopted these cats, I’m not alone. There is something beautiful about being able to experience survival and loss alongside an entire community, one with enough feeling to transcend the illusions of Instagram.
I know that I should mentally invest in a self-care routine that nourishes my body. But in the meantime, it feels like I’m building a strong foundation. I believe in more than I did before, and I’m welcoming hope back into my life.
Soon, I suspect that as I get used to this feeling, I’ll crave more. I have hope that this will translate into other areas of my life, but for now, I have the foster kittens.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.