poem:untitled by lydia nethercutt
Content Warning: Mental Illness
When I signed up for my week, I started looking for existing poetry. While there are several poems- by Maggie Smith, Mary Oliver, Rumi, and Yrsa Daley-Ward- that have been on my mind recently, none of them seemed to quite get at the way I was feeling about the time we are living in. I believe poetry can be timeless, and yet there is something about this time that makes it feel like it has no parallels. I have been thinking about this fact a lot- that we have yet to establish sufficient rules for life amid COVID-19, and so we are all doing our best with outdated heuristics and incomplete information.
I have been having a hard time with all of this (she says as if that is a statement worth saying. As if anyone reading this might be surprised at the idea of having a hard time with this). I have chronic mental health issues, and the current reality- of isolation, of disrupted routines, of confusion about the new rules, of real danger looming beyond the walls of my house, of loved ones at risk, of people suffering and dying, and all of this seeming to be meaningless to a persistent faction who apparently lack the empathy to accept that they may have to slightly inconvenience themselves in order to save lives- is starting to exacerbate my neurotransmitter imbalances. The world is terrifying and terrified, and I want to help it. But you have to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. So this is what I wrote about.
A few years ago, I picked up a book of my mother’s. It was called something like 1000 Quotes that will Change Your Life. Honestly I picked it up with some derision. I was going through a rough time with my mental health and the idea that a quotation in this book would change my life, let alone that these 1000 quotations would change my life 1000 times as I read them, seemed ridiculous to me. I opened the book to the quotation “Talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love.” And it accidentally changed my life. I thought about the way I had been talking to myself- the way I beat myself up for being sad despite nothing that bad ever having happened to me. The way I hurdled insults at myself inside my mind at the slightest perceived failing. Weak. Lazy. Coward. Ungrateful. Pathetic. Then I imagined saying any of these things to a friend or family member who came to me for help. I could never speak to someone I loved that way. The fact is I have been entrusted with the care of a slightly broken brain. A brain in need of help and nurturing. Caring for it means taking my medication to balance my neurotransmitters. It means eating, taking walks, and getting fresh air and sunlight to take care of my body. It means doing art and petting dogs and reading books to take care of my soul. It also means talking to it like I would talk to someone I love.
If you are struggling right now, I encourage you to be understanding with yourself. True, many people are suffering right now, and maybe your struggles don’t look quite like theirs. Maybe you wish, as I do, that you had the strength to do more to help the world. But we’ll never be able to take care of the world unless we take care of ourselves first.