Terminated

(for some reason my brain wants to go “pew pew!!!“)

I’ve been “in crunch time” for my current composition project for a couple weeks now. During Thanksgiving week I accepted 3 articles for the entrepreneurial project (EP) and ended up spending Mon-Wed writing them instead of composing. Then I spent 3 days straight with family – and when I wasn’t with family I was too exhausted to do anything. I didn’t fully explain all of this to the Editor in Chief (EiC), etc. when I said I couldn’t take a 4th article – twice – but I kinda feel like I shouldn’t’ve had to.

What I did do was talk to my friend / the CEO, who told me to talk to the EiC, who proceeded to ignore the message I sent her saying I couldn’t write 3 articles about frankly stupid topics every week because I need to focus on composing. (All unpaid, by the way. If this were a paid gig I would’ve handled it differently.) Last week I flat-out said “no.” This week I accepted the articles but realized I wouldn’t be able to meet the deadlines, so I said “I’m sorry I can’t do these.” Well to be honest I think I should’ve also resigned at that point in time but I dunno, I’ve been feeling ambivalent about this for months now…

They made the decision for me. In the form of an email notifying me I’d been “terminated.” No explanation, and there was certainly no discussion – at least not with me. I was upset for a while, but then I told a friend who was like “wait a minute: you were terminated from a volunteer position that wasn’t even what you wanted to do?” I laughed. And I will be laughing still, in the end… except that something about it is still bothering me.

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Out of the Darkness: In Search of Solidarity

Last night was the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk in Boston. I wasn’t there – to be honest, it had completely fallen off my radar – but I saw one participant’s posts on Facebook. I spent much of the night taking note of their updates in my own impromptu vigil.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the Overnight is the fundraiser by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: a 16- to 18-mile walk that takes place from dusk to dawn. I’ve been suicidal, and I know people who struggle with suicidal ideation, who have attempted suicide, and/or have lost a loved one to suicide. It’s a cause that’s near and dear to my heart.

I have yet to participate in the Overnight, but one aspect of it I find particularly attractive is the Honor Beads. There are 9 different colors, 6 of which represent the loss of specific relationships (i.e. child, partner, parent, sibling, relative/friend, and first responder/military.). There are also colors for people who support the cause and/or know someone who struggles.

A green square with a string of beads in darker green. The words: "I wear green for my personal struggle. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. #OvernightWalk" in white.

Out of the Darkness Overnight image to share on social media. “I wear green for my personal struggle.”

I like that participants can choose to wear green honor beads to represent their own personal struggle. It’s a way to silently communicate: “I’ve been to hell and I’m still standing!” It’s possible to meet eyes with another person wearing green and know they’ve been there too. And if you’re still in hell, it might be easier to connect with others who can understand what you’re going through. Such visibility can be healing.

I first learned about the Overnight two years ago, during a time when I was actively struggling with suicidal thoughts and feelings. At the time I wrote: “Above all, I am walking for myself, because everything we do to promote mental health and prevent suicide benefits me directly. I am walking to save my own life.”

I was very disappointed when circumstances prevented me from being able to participate in the walk, but at least I was able to raise some money to support the cause. I don’t know how many people were inspired or encouraged when they saw me wearing the T-shirt, but one person thanked me.

Words cannot express how grateful I am for the hope, happiness, self-esteem, and health I have now. I no longer feel like my life needs saving; that is something I will not take for granted. (Because honestly, it’s not guaranteed.) I want to do whatever I can to “pay it forward” – to help others who are actively struggling.

Registration is currently open for the 2016 Overnights, which will take place in San Francisco May 21-22 and in New York June 4-5. I haven’t registered yet, but I’m seriously considering it. I’ve started talking to loved ones about forming a team.

I would love to hear from you if you’ve participated in an Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk: what was your experience? How do you recommend preparing (beyond info available on the website)? You’re welcome to leave a comment, or contact me if you want to write a guest post.

A New Normal?

According to the current clinical depression screening tool on MoodNetwork.org, I am not depressed. I was so surprised by this result when I first got it, I answered all the questions again to make sure I hadn’t lied on any of them: Sad most of the time, check. Trouble falling asleep and waking early, check. Feeling tired, check. All these other questions… no, my appetite hasn’t changed, I’m actually more motivated and active than usual, and I DON’T FEEL WORTHLESS!!! (or suicidal). I feel… okay.

a checkmark in a green circle next to the words, "You are not depressed."

screenshot of my result from the depression screening: a checkmark in a green circle next to the words, “You are not depressed.”

I’ve been re-taking the screening for the past few days now, and I keep getting the same result. I’m not depressed. I’m not depressed. I’m not depressed. I’M NOT DEPRESSED!!!

Oh my GOD!!!

I know, I know, it’s just an online screening. It’s not a substitute for a mental health professional’s evaluation. Well, I met with two mental health professionals this week. My prescriber told me, “It seems like your antidote to feeling sad is keeping busy.” She agreed with my decision to stay at my current dose of lamotrigine (50 mg 2x/day) because I don’t want to try to medicate away my feelings. Wakana congratulated me, said that clearly the therapy and medication are working, and told me I’ve been making good progress.

I am not depressed. Part of me wants to scream “I’m cured!!!” – but I think that might be a little bit premature. (or complete bullshit.) I’m… better. I’m okay.

I’m standing at the edge of a cliff with a brand new glider on my back, watching everyone else glide around, and wondering, “Is this thing really safe?”

Wakana said, “baby steps.” She used the metaphor of easing oneself slowly into a pool – which I find ironic because to me that’s torture. I’d rather just jump in, get the “it’s cold!” shock over with all at once, and start swimming oh my god swimming it’s the best thing ever!!! I want to go right now! But, umm, I don’t have a pool. So, yeah, this isn’t swimming it’s life. Baby steps. (I have friends who have a pool, and they’ve invited me to come swim in the past. I should ask them if the offer still stands.)

I guess I’m taking baby steps. I’m (literally) taking thousands of steps (that is, walking) on the days when I meet with her… and I want to take more on the days when I don’t. I’ve been having great conversations with loved ones, including Mom. Composing, making art for the fun of it, spoiling our pet rats… being intimate with Fox…  (I love having my sex drive back – and it takes some… navigating…) In the next few weeks I plan to acquire clothes I feel good about wearing, start practicing music instruments regularly, declutter, meet with my adviser about internship possibilities, and start applying for internships and part-time jobs. I had to re-write this paragraph to sound positive and not “being hard on myself” for the things I “should” be doing; now I’m worried about trying to do too much and burning out before I even get started! But at least I can re-write it.

In the past, times when I’ve temporarily clawed my way out of the bottomless pit that is being clinically depressed have been the best days of my life. For example, my wedding: at that time I was still using the Burns Depression Checklist to keep track of my symptoms; on my wedding day my score was 6. That’s “normal but unhappy” (granted, only 1 point off from “no depression”). The best I ever felt – EVER – the best days of my life were what most people would (ostensibly) consider “unhappy.”

These are not the best days of my life. I’m tired. I’m sad. I’m achy. I miss my friends, especially Banji. Last night I had a nightmare (in which my husband died). I’m going to go crazy (and spend way too much time playing The Sims 3) if I don’t find some way to structure my time (besides playing The Sims 3). For a while I was starting blog posts, then deleting them. … I think you get the idea.

Today I scored a 10 on the Burns Depression Checklist, which is the highest score in the “normal but unhappy” range. (a score of 11 would indicate mild depression.) I think I answered honestly, despite the temptation to lower my score to fit with the previous assertion that “I’m not depressed.” It seems accurate to say that I’m unhappy.

But something’s changed. Like someone lifted a blanket off me and I can see the sun and feel the breeze and stand up tall and breathe. I feel more confident. Hopeful. Maybe… even… whole?

Sometimes the Answer Lies Within

I’ve been rehearsing the conversation I need to have with the instructor of my group therapy course, preferably before our next class. I’ve told “him” about my desire need to experience group therapy as a client, my difficulty dealing with groups, how I’m impacted by existential issues – which would make for an excellent post – even spoon theory.

In my imagination “he” patiently listened while I explained all this stuff and why I couldn’t join the class on Wednesday, even though I’d gotten dressed and traveled to campus and was standing right outside the fucking door. Then “he” took a deep breath, looked me in the eye, and said:

“This class isn’t therapy, it’s an academic class. But maybe it can provide the experience you need. Think about it: you like your small group mates – that suggests some sense of safety in that group and desire to belong to it, yes? They’re also trying new things in front of a group; it’s a common experience you can support each other through.

“Trying to be in this group – the small group and the whole class – is relatively low-risk. If you see these people again, it will be in maybe one or two more classes, or perhaps as colleagues… they’re not going to make or break your entire life. You have plenty of experience losing relationships and forging new ones. You have survived, even thrived. You’ll continue to do so regardless of what happens here.

“So take a risk. Be yourself with them. If you can also find group therapy, great, I’m sure it will help you a great deal. But don’t walk away from the group you’ve already joined. Use the resource you’re holding in your hands.”

I have no idea what the actual, separate person who is the instructor of this course – and happens to also be my academic adviser – will say when I talk to him in real life. I hope he’ll be willing to work with me to make the course a bit more accessible. But it almost doesn’t matter anymore.

What matters is that I have this voice inside me. These are my thoughts. I have this resource I can tap into whenever I need. I can see the world more complexly than my mental illness would allow.

I find it interesting that I’ve chosen my academic adviser – someone I trust and admire, but whose pedestal has been cut shorter as I’ve observed his limitations over the years – to represent this guiding voice. He’s already told me that my mental illness need not prevent me from entering this field – actually, it might make me a better therapist. He is not only a professional therapist but a trainer of professional therapists; this can’t be the first time he’s dealt with someone like me. If anyone can help me right now, I think – I hope – he can.

And if not the actual person, my internalized version of him can. That means I can. It’s I’m taking an extremely challenging experience and turning it into an opportunity for growth, and more importantly trusting that I already have what I need to get through it in one piece. I just need to trust myself – and I guess I already do.

I just need to believe that I am worth the struggle, the pain, the uncertainty. Not that life is worth living – honestly, that’s up for debate. That Imy dreams, my creativity, the ways I want to influence the world, the relationships I hold dear – that I am worth living. That I – whatever unique meaning or purpose I create for myself in this meaningless void called Earth in the 21st Century – I am worth the pain of existing every second of every day.

It doesn’t “get” better. I will make it better, or die trying.

My Worst Fear is Suicide

TW: suicide, self harm

I used to say that I did not fear my own death. I was thinking I would die – hopefully peacefully – “when my time comes.” It might be painful, it might be scary, but there would be something beyond. I expected to find peace in death, or if not peace, a new life to live. Or a new form of existence. Somewhere deep inside, I still hope that’s what death will mean for me.

I used to say my biggest fear was losing the people I love. But then 3 of the 4 people I lived with and loved as a child died. My grandparents died. My father’s side of the family abandoned me. My friends moved away and I lost contact with them. The classmates I once felt a connection with have moved on with their lives. I broke up with the first person I thought I’d spend my life with (not Fox, we’re still together). I came to realize that my mother has never been able to truly meet my emotional needs because she’s hurting too much. My uncle died, my college mentor died, and Schmoozer (my pet rat) died – all in the same year. I came to realize that, although my remaining family may love me, I don’t really have a connection with them most of the time. I don’t reach out to them enough and they don’t reach out to me enough, either. We all have separate lives.

It’s painful. It’s scary. But I know I can survive losing the people I love. I don’t want to lose them. I will work very hard to strengthen and maintain what connections I can. But I’ve accepted that people move in and out of my life and I need to let them go.

In a nutshell, what I fear the most is that I will give up on myself. I sort of did it for a while and got lost in video games. I was isolated, miserable, with no job, no outside activities or responsibilities, and I’d stopped making music. But people could – and did – pull me back from that. I had to do something: answer the phone, drive to where they were, invite them over … but they were there. Wakana has been there, lighting a fire under my butt whenever necessary. I haven’t really given up on myself. Not yet.

Now I’m slightly less isolated, considerably less miserable, with no job, minimal outside activities, motivation to complete my degree program and enter my career of choice, and I’m making music again. I’m also facing an illness that, left to its own devices, will only get worse. I have my ups, but the downs are murder. I hate the thought of taking medication and I want to pretend I don’t need to… but I’m clinging to every good or decent day in fear of having a truly bad day / week / month / quarter/ year again. I need some semblance of stability.

Then I get up the courage to reach out to psychiatrists and the only one who responds isn’t available until July 31st. I wasn’t even trying to reach the person I have an appointment with on purpose; the practice Fox and I set up our marriage counseling with offered to schedule individual psychiatric evaluations. I have no idea how I’ll be in a month. How I feel, what I can remember, the affect I show on that day will determine the diagnosis and thus medication I receive; it could be months or years before we figure out what I actually need and will benefit from. And in the meantime, my whole life is washing down the drain…

I think about hurting myself regularly. At least once most days. On days when I’m not thinking about or feeling an urge to hurt myself, there is often at least one point when I’m frustrated, angry, tired, and/or bored enough to visualize a knife piercing my skin. I become more aware of the underside of my left forearm; on good days I rub it with my right palm and hug myself. On some level it’s really that I want to break – or, well, cut – my way out of a feeling (or lack of feeling) that I don’t want to tolerate. But brain, come on! We need to come up with better, less painful imagery. Other times I think it’s at least partially an expression of what I feel is happening to me: someone/thing is cutting into me and hurting me, violating my final and most basic boundary. There are days when I think Mom and Fox would cut me open and climb inside me if they could.

If I hurt myself, my body will heal. There may be a scar, but honestly I don’t think I’d self-harm in a way that would do lasting damage or risk limiting my ability to do the things I love. If I’m self-harming, I still have a sense of self-preservation. I still intend and expect to live; I wouldn’t do anything to myself that I couldn’t imagine living with.

What I fear the most is that, on one of the horrifically bad days, I will actually try to kill myself. I will decide that there is nothing worth living for, not even the little things that have kept me going before. Not even composing. Not even love. I will decide that I am incapable of achieving any of my dreams. I will decide that I can never experience joy again. I will decide that I am not worth the air I breathe. I will decide that I do not deserve to be part of the Universe. That I do not deserve to be connected to anyone or anything. That I’m worse than nothing. That I never should have existed.

And worse than deciding all these things, I will act on that decision.

From what I’ve heard it won’t be one of the days when depression has sapped all of my energy and I can’t get out of bed. Then I’ll just be miserable, and it will suck. I fear I will commit suicide on a day when I have the energy to do something drastic, probably when I’m very, very angry. I’ll have to have stopped caring, not just about myself (that’s too easy) but about my loved ones as well. Or, more realistically, I’ll have to have a lapse in caring; it could be a moment when my impulses take over. (Which is why I’ll never own a gun.) Or maybe I’ll decide that, despite the pain and serious psychological issues my suicide would cause, my loved ones would be better off without me. To the point where pushing them away is not enough. To the point where I have enough days thinking like this to make and carry out a plan.

It’s a dark, terrifying place. I imagine anyone would be afraid to imagine someone else feeling and thinking this way. I imagine most people have never thought about themselves feeling and thinking this way. It’s just too horrific. Too painful.

I live close to the edge, clinging to whatever I can so I don’t look down and lose my grip. I’ve never attempted suicide and I’d really like to keep it that way. I fear a suicide attempt could result in lasting damage, impairments that would limit my ability to do the things I love. I fear the stigma people who attempt suicide face.

I fear becoming a statistic. Another sad story. Another “we never saw it coming.” Another thing for people to “survive.” Another piece in a puzzle that will never be solved as long as the only voices that are heard regarding suicide belong to people who have never stared it in the face.

Worse than all of that, I fear trapping myself in the very nightmare I would (ostensibly) commit suicide to escape. We don’t know what happens when we die; we might cease to exist. Some people think that’s terrifying and come up with alternatives; those alternatives have just as much chance of being true as far as anyone alive can tell. I’d much rather cease to exist – in comparison, that possibility is actually comforting – than trap myself in the misery and self-hatred that lie in the darkest and most wounded depths of my depression. That is my true worst fear: that I will commit suicide and not receive the peace and/or new possibilities I expect death to provide.

As long as I’m alive there’s still the possibility of experiencing happiness, even if it’s only for a moment. I can give and receive hugs. I can find ways to turn my painful experiences into creative endeavors that feed my soul and might inspire others to do something good for themselves and their communities. I can work on healing some of these wounds. And when I’m still and focus on my breath, I can know peace.

In response to Writing 101, Day Seventeen: Your Personality on the Page

The Forge

A video recently showed up on my Facebook feed; it is a message from Eric Lim (whose sister committed suicide) to anyone who’s hurting – essentially, to stay strong. Its central message is to use the pain as a source of strength, to turn “destruction into creation.” My initial impression was that it was too violent, and I didn’t like the message that the hits would never stop, nor that I should let myself be forged into something.

But the second time I watched it I could see past my emotional responses and appreciate how realistic a portrayal of emotional suffering – particularly from guilt – it is. I want someone to wave a magic wand and make it all go away, so I’ll be happy and healthy and whole again. But that’s not reality, and claiming that it is really wouldn’t help anyone. Pain and suffering are a part of life; some of us seem to have more of it than others. The point is that we’re not alone, and we don’t have to let it break us, and we’re not “abnormal” or “crazy.” As much as it sucks, my pain and the depths of my emotions and my ability to live with them are my greatest strength. My depression symptoms are actually the worst when I’m struggling not to feel.

I’m going to post two links to the video. The first is the initial context I viewed it in: a page on Upworthy. I really don’t like the way they portray it because their focus is on how heroic Eric is; they call him “superhuman.” They separate him from the rest of us, those who really struggle to see our pain this way, those who don’t feel like we can fight the monster. Good for him, but I’m the scum of the earth, what can I possibly do? I don’t want to be forged into something that can “hit back” – does that make me a horrible person? Clearly I don’t deserve the help offered near the end of the video.

Upworthy: "Put a cape on this guy, because the way he fights this monster is superhuman."

links to the video on Upworthy.com

The title of the Upworthy page creates a dichotomy: man vs. monster. The monster at least seems to be Eric’s sister’s suicide, a choice she made, an action she committed in a time of crisis. Some of us, who have at least considered and may have attempted suicide, may get the message that we are the monster the superhuman hero is fighting.

In other words, it pits the loved ones of those who lose their struggle with suicide against the people who actually contemplate, attempt, and/or “successfully” commit suicide. We are the monster. We are the thing that makes the people who “survive” us superhuman. The antagonist whose only purpose is to highlight the awesomeness of the hero.

I really don’t think that’s what Eric meant to do. I think he needed to work through his own pain and wanted to send a message of hope to us, the people contemplating suicide because we don’t think we can take any more hits from the monster. He speaks directly to us. The first thing he says at 1:00 is, “I love you,” and at 3:00 he says the core of his message for anybody hurting – I’ll let it speak for itself.

the Forge; two figures fighting in fire

links to foranybodyhurting.com

I’ll admit, as great as it is that Eric Lim was able to reach out to us through his own pain, I still feel like this is by and for people who are concerned about and/or affected by others committing suicide. So much – practically all – of the information and perspectives you find about suicide is from the perspective of outsiders, people who aren’t contemplating it for themselves and may have never contemplated it for themselves. Medical experts. Professionals. “Survivors.” I feel like I’m an exhibit at the zoo. All the information about me is by and for people outside the cage of suicidal ideation, who are looking in, studying me, and trying to figure out how to prevent me from exhibiting a certain behavior.

But my voice never gets heard. And more importantly, I never get to hear directly from other people like me. I tried searching for information on suicide from the perspective of people who have contemplated it, are contemplating it, and/or have attempted it. It is, at best, extremely hard to come by.

There’s an article in Health Sociology Review Vol 22 Issue 3 that looks promising, but I haven’t been able to access its full text because it’s too recent. I had to put in an inter-library loan request with my school library to gain access to an article, published in 1990, about feminist perspectives on studying suicide. I’m also struggling with two obstacles: 1) I’m sensitive about this topic, so I find it more difficult and more frustrating than usual to try and sort through potential (primarily online) sources of information, and 2) I often have trouble determining which search terms to use to get the most relevant results.

I also have another gripe about language. At Relay for Life, which raises money for the fight against cancer, very specific terms are used. A person becomes a “Survivor” the moment they are diagnosed with cancer and stays one, regardless of whether they are in remission, receiving treatment, or terminally ill but still breathing. Those of us who love people who currently have, or once had, or died from cancer are called “Caregivers.” We’re respected, but we leave the limelight to the people who actually have/had cancer.

Suicide (prevention) Land is a whole different story. For some reason people who might not have even known their loved one was contemplating suicide until it happened are called “survivors.” People have suicidal ideation. People attempt suicide. People commit suicide. People try to prevent suicide. But are there any clear terms to refer to all these people? Would such terms even be helpful?

I’m not even sure what terminology would apply to me. I know I don’t want to die anytime soon and I don’t have a plan, but sometimes I think and feel like dying is the best/only option and “I should kill myself.” I struggle with it almost every day. AND I’m still alive.

Fuck this shit. I’m a Suicide Survivor. A person who struggles with thoughts about suicide and/or self-harm and guess what? “I’m not dead yet!” I truly feel for people who have lost a loved one to suicide, it must be really horrible. I don’t mean to discount their pain. But until they’ve had to live from day to day with being the biggest danger to their own well-being – and all the stigma that comes with it! – they are not “Survivors.” No more than I am a Cancer Survivor, having never had cancer myself, just because I went through the agony of powerlessly watching while multiple loved ones died of it, in part due to patterns of behavior they enacted upon themselves (i.e. smoking cigarettes).

I respect the difference between feeling pain while loving someone with the disease, and being the person who has it. People talking about suicide / suicide prevention should do the same.

NewProjects

With only 11 days until the Out of the Darkness Overnight, it’s seeming less and less feasible for me to participate. I haven’t been training, I’m nowhere near the $700 I’m required to raise, and I haven’t made any travel plans or hotel reservations. Mom keeps saying, “Maybe this isn’t the year for you to do this.” It hurts like hell to hear it, but at least half the reason why it hurts is because at least part of me thinks she’s right.

I was finally able to express how her feedback is affecting me: “When you say things like that, I feel depressed. I feel like I suck.”

“I don’t think you suck. I just think you have a lot going on right now, and maybe trying to do this on top of it isn’t the best idea.”

She has a point. A lot of things have been going on to get in the way of my preparations for the Overnight:

  • my response to the 15-year anniversary of my father’s death
  • moving back in with Mom
  • moving back in with Mom
  • the extreme self-deprecation and anxiety that forced me to drop the last 2 pre-thesis classes I need to complete my master’s degree because they increased my self-harm risk
  • lack of social support
  • midterm and end-of-the-semester stress
  • anxiety over Mom’s surgery
  • Mom’s surgery
  • visiting Mom after her surgery
  • taking care of Dog and rats
  • turning to the computer (rather than walking or other forms of exercise) for escapism
  • depression symptoms
    • fatigue
    • lack of motivation
    • self-harm ideation and thought imagery
  • social anxiety; not wanting to be seen

Yes, I could have made different choices. But I think blaming myself for not preparing for the Overnight would be like blaming someone for losing a poker match in which the best hand ze was dealt was a pair of deuces. Sometimes, your best option is to fold.

When I expressed all this to Fox, he suggested a brilliant compromise: instead of attempting the overnight walk in Washington, D.C., I can do my own, shorter, walk locally. I can time it for when Banji and other people I love and trust can make it. Mom can come – even if she can’t walk the full route, she might be able to walk part of it. Just her physical presence as a supporter would mean the world to me!

I can even still ask people to chip in what they can to donate to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). We might even raise some awareness; I can wear the shirt I received for raising $100 for the Overnight and maybe my supporters can wear matching shirts in a similar color (ooh, getting together to decorate them might be fun!) … that kind of thing usually gets people to wonder what’s going on; even explaining our shenanigans to just one person might make a difference.

The AFSP even has tools for creating your own campaign that I can use! They offer a variety of ideas; endurance events (e.g. walks) are only one option.

I’m thinking of making a campaign I could link to from this blog, actually. One idea I have is to invite readers to commission posts on topics of their choice related to my experiences with mental illness, mental health care, and possibly other topics – all with the caveat that I will only share information I feel comfortable and safe sharing. What do you think?

Another project I’m planning is an herb and vegetable garden. Fox is on board with it; I love the idea of having someone to garden with. We’ve done some research and decided to start small, just a handful of plants in a few pots, preferably raised off the ground so we don’t have to bend too much. It’s a way for us to get outside in the fresh air and sun, do something that resembles physical activity, connect with nature, and possibly even grow our own fresh (preferably organic) produce! – that is, if the squirrels don’t eat it all …