The Summer Day
Mary OliverWho made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MACopyright 1992 by Mary Oliver.
Soon, I'll have a big birthday. I'm going "over the hill". I'm going to be 40.
I used to really dread my birthday. I spent so much of my life wasting time thinking of ways to end my life, and worrying that I would never get to live it like I wanted to at the same time.....I spent so much time plotting attempts to jump from a bridge, lie down on a railroad track, buy a gun, stockpile certain pills, etc., and I would revert to these thoughts when things got to be too much, when I lost hope, lost faith in myself and humanity (and medicine), and when I just felt like I couldn't take it anymore.
I'd like to say "I never do that anymore", but the last time I did that was five months ago. However, when I did that the last time, it resulted in me admitting myself, under my doctor's advice, to a hospital. It didn't result it months and months of plotting, nor did it result in a suicide attempt. It resulted in a brain tune-up inside safe corridors. And if it happens again, which, knowing my history, it might, then I'll go to the hospital again. I hope it never, ever happens again though. I plan on working very hard (continuing to work very hard, that is), to make sure it doesn't. I plan on living my life every day and not wasting my life wondering whatever happened to my life.
I don't plan on spending this month of my birthday, when I turn into an official "older" person in the eyes of youth, wishing I was dead, regretting all the wasted time, regretting things I've done, and fretting about everything I never got to do. I never got to do a lot of things I wanted to do. And that's done. That's the past. There is no going back and fixing it. I never got to attend Smith College like I was supposed to in 1999. I never will. But, did I attend a college? Yes. Am I going to graduate with my BA before I'm 40? No. But am I going to graduate with my BA when I am 40? Yes. I am going to be finished, after starting college in 1993, with my Bachelor's Degree in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, specializing in Social Work and Political Science in December, 2015. I will be 40.
I can't go back and fix the wasted years, and you know what? That's okay. Because everybody has regrets. Some people say they live with no regrets, but I don't really buy that. I think we all have times when we wish we would have done something differently, said something differently, or not done or said something we did do or say. I think that is part of being human, unless you are a complete egomaniac who believes they are perfect. I've never believed I was perfect, but I used to always wish I was. Enter, at age 12, Anorexia Nervosa's beginnings, my first diet, my first thrill at wearing a size zero. My first step into mental illness.
I don't have an eating disorder anymore, though. I also don't practice self-injury anymore. I don't regularly think about suicide anymore, either. I don't regularly wish I was dead. I don't regularly think I deserve nothing but death. I don't regularly hate myself to the point of wanting to harm myself. I really don't. And that's pretty goddamn impressive, for me. I've improved.
Additionally, I've practiced enough self-care to get myself the therapy I've needed and the medications I've needed, and the medical attention I've needed, for years now. Lots of years, actually. I've been on antipsychotics, antidepressants, anxiety medications, and mood stabilizers for the mental health stuff all the time since 2005. That's ten years now. I've been in therapy since about 2007, most of the time. I go to therapy every week now, and I have for a long while. I research the medicines I take, and I know which ones work and which ones don't. That's how I knew to ask for Saphris, in July, when my doctor wanted to resort to electroshock treatment because, "nothing works", for me. Stuff has worked - it just never worked as well for as long as Saphris has! And I asked for the right damn drug. I trusted myself enough to do that. I did that. The doctor didn't come up with that idea; I did. I did my research, all suicidal as I was, and I was planning on jumping off the Skyway Bridge, but I was also well enough to think "what about Saphris?" What about living?
I thought, "What about living?", and I went to the therapist, and the doctor, and the hospital that day. I didn't even drive to the bridge. Thank you, self. You have come a long way since 2005 when you tried to drive off the bridge.
Do you know what has happened since July? I have stopped having auditory and visual hallucinations and delusions. I have stopped having them. They are gone. There are almost no instances of them at all. That is completely, and utterly, amazing. What else has happened? I reached out for support, a lot. In the hospital, I had to ask my family to help me both financially and in taking care of my cats. I had to ask for my case manager and her supervisor and her supervisor's supervisor to help me with my apartment situation, and they did. I didn't get evicted for having such a horrendous flea problem that the place was crawling with fleas. The place was cleaned, treated, and the cats were treated, and I got to go home. I then took good care of the cats and the apartment. I kept the apartment clean most of the time. I took the cats to a vet for the first time either of them ever got a real exam, because I found a charity that would supplement the cost of the veterinary care. I did that by myself. I have treated the cats for fleas, treated their ear infections, and made sure they don't go outside. I have vacuumed regularly and I didn't have to pay someone to clean for me because I clean for myself. I don't need to ask my friend to clean for me using money I don't really have. I can clean up after myself. My mind is working well enough for me to handle that. My mind wasn't working that well six months ago or a year ago or two years ago.
I joined a church, and I'm a Unitarian Universalist now. I did this to branch out into the social realm, partially, because I love my involvement with NAMI, and I'm still involved in NAMI, but I also don't want my entire existence to be defined by mental illness. So now, besides having NAMI friends, and feminist friends, I have humanist, atheist, agnostic and other Unitarian friends. And I like that.
I also started eating in a much more healthy fashion. I created a budget and stuck, most of the time, to that budget, by not eating microwave dinners and fast food, and by going to food pantries. This did not solve the long-term problems of credit issues, but it did solve the problem of not having any money to pay my rent. I started exercising, for my health and well-being. I started practicing mindfulness. I started noticing the birds, the trees, the lakes, the flowers, the bunnies, the squirrels, the pine cones, the sun, the grass, the moss, the lily pads, and other things in the local parks where I walk. And I've lost 35 pounds since August, which is really good, because I'm prediabetic and overweight, thanks to the medications that I used to take, so I need to lose weight very badly. So I'm doing it. I don't just think "I need to lose weight", and do nothing. I think, "I need to walk", and I walk.
I went back to work, after they tried to fire me for being in the hospital. I found out I was going to end up laid off from my job at the college where I work, along with coworkers. I looked for other jobs. I got another part-time job at the college, with the hope that it will turn into something more.
I went back to school two weeks ago. I'm taking two classes that are interesting, and thought-provoking, and I like them. I'm keeping up with them. I might ask for a note taker for one of them, as I have had to do in the past, via the office for students with disabilities, and that is okay. I can do that. There's nothing wrong with that. I'm not embarrassed about that.
I'm going to finish my degree. I'm thinking about graduate school, even. I'm thinking about the many things I not only want to do but also can do, and will do.
So, later this month, I'm turning 40. I'm not going to waste my time getting depressed about it. I'm actually going to celebrate it - odd though that is for me! I'm throwing a big, OLD birthday party, and inviting tons of people. It's going to be in a lovely local park in early February. I wish that everyone who reads this blog could come, but as most of you don't live near me, I won't plaster an invitation here. I do want to thank you though. Thank you for all of the support over the years that I've written this blog. Thank you for your comments. I appreciate each one very much.
And you know who's coming to my birthday party? Both my mom, and my dad - with his wife! My parents have been divorced 25 years, and they don't speak. The only time they've been in the same place at the same time in 25 years were when my brother got married and when my sister graduated from college. My dad didn't come to my college graduation when I got my AA degree. But he's coming to my birthday party. I never got married, so I never had an engagement party or bridal shower or bachelorette party, or any of that. I never had a child, so there was no baby shower. I never lived in a place of my own other than a one-bedroom apartment, so I've never had a housewarming party. But I'm going to have a big birthday party. I'm inviting people from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), people from NOW (National Organization for Women), people from my job, people from my non-churchy church, and a couple friends I've known for years who aren't part of any of these organizations. I don't know what it will be like - I guess interesting would be one word - but I think it will be fun, at least that is my goal. And I think it will be a good way to venture into being 40.
What do you plan to do with your one wild, precious life? I plan on living mine.