My journey into the world of astrology started in college.
One evening one of my closest friends came into my room and told me to pop my birth date, time and location into cafeastrology.com, and boom—an entire roadmap of my characteristics, my journey, and what was coming next appeared on the screen. The experience fascinated me. Today, astrology has become like a rabbit hole for me as I’m constantly learning more about planets, transits, and houses. It provides a roadmap—to know that every movement in the cosmic universe is connected to how we live our lives gives me peace. And as astrology becomes more and more ingrained in pop culture, the infamous “mercury retrograde” has become the face of astrology memes and the center of tweets every time it comes around.
Mercury in retrograde gets a bad rap, and rightfully so.
If you’re not familiar with astrology, all planets go through retrogrades. A retrograde does not mean the planet literally moves backward. It means that Earth has surpassed a planet by moving faster within its orbit. When this happens, the characteristics that the planets rule may be off-balanced. Some planets go years without moving into retrograde, like Mars. But Mercury retrograde is common, typically happening 3-4 times a year. Mercury is the planet of communication. When it goes into retrograde our interpersonal relationships can be fragile, conversations might be lost in translation, even technology can glitch or become difficult to use properly. As a novice in the world of astrology, I used to dread the thought of everything becoming so fragile, especially when straightforward communication is so valuable to me. Last year was different though.
I’m a Scorpio Sun, Sagittarius moon, and Virgo rising, and I was going through a breakup phase that began in mid-September. As a Scorpio, connection, trust, and loyalty are very important to me, so breakups are always difficult for me to navigate. This one in particular stung me. I was facing feelings of rejection and betrayal. Have you ever put your entire heart and soul into something, only to reap nothing in return?
In the same fell swoop, I also broke up with a best friend I had in college. I’m not entirely sure why, but that one didn’t hurt as much. The relationship had turned toxic and had been for a while. While they were there for me during a rough time in my life, our lack of trust in one another became an issue on both sides. I wasn’t really bothered about losing our relationship, but it was unsettling that when I needed my friends the most, I had to let go of someone who was problematic and in turn, lost someone who was supposed to be a part of my support system. In a lot of ways, I was lost. All of this slowly unraveled over the course of about a month, leaking into the pre-shadow period of a retrograde set to begin on Halloween.
Retrogrades actually have what are called pre-shadow and post-shadow periods, which tend to be about two weeks before and two weeks after the scheduled retrograde. Pre-shadow has always set the stage for me to brace myself, and post-shadow gives me the opportunity to reflect.
The best thing I did for myself, for the first time, was to set some intentions for myself during that pre-shadow retrograde period. After all the loss I was experiencing I asked myself: All the time and energy I put into loving and caring for this other person, what if I took that and gave it to myself instead?
So that’s what I did.
I decided to take a break from smoking weed because I wanted clarity. I used to smoke daily and I noticed my brain always felt cloudy, and I wanted to remember who I was without it. I wanted to journal every morning and evening. I love to write, but I couldn’t remember the last time I had done it for my eyes only. I really wanted clear skin and to rid myself of dark spots and other imperfections caused by stress and hormones. I wanted to strengthen my relationships with friends and make new ones. I needed to restructure my support system in a way that was healthy. To help me achieve all of this, I decided that I was going to be open to whatever the universe decided to bring me.
During the pre-shadow period, I developed a new morning and evening routine and I noticed myself getting up earlier. I became a “morning person” and I was shocked at how much I could fit into that little timeframe. As I drifted away from weed as my stress reliever in the evenings, I felt some of the cloudiness in my consciousness fade away. I figured I would pick it back up after the retrograde was completed, but other than one social smoke in March, I haven’t gone back.
I reconnected with my best friend from high school. We fell off when I went to college as we began to navigate life as adults. And coincidentally, we picked up right where we left off. For the first time ever, we went clubbing together and it signified a new sense of freedom and maturity for both of us. We supported each other through both of our breakups and it’s still crazy to think that a bond that strong never really dies.
But all of this really led up to the most classic Mercury retrograde-esque situation of all.
It all started when I went on a date… that I didn’t know was a date.
A woman asked me if I wanted to go to dinner with her, casually mentioning that my birthday was coming up soon. I told yall, I was looking to make new friendships and reconnect with old ones, so when she reached out to me via Twitter I just thought she was being nice. Our not-date-date was scheduled for Halloween—yes, the first day of the official Mercury retrograde. The day rolled around and was not off to a good start: I was irritated. Everyone was on my nerves, I’d wrecked my skin barrier just days before my birthday, and my perfectionist Virgo side was screaming “NOTHING IS RIGHT!” But for some reason, I decided not to cancel as I usually would have. Instead, I treated myself to a full set and a pedicure to get my mind right.
Later in the evening, she picked me up both looking nice and smelling good, but since I assumed this was a platonic meeting, I hardly noticed her effort. We spent three hours talking at the restaurant, but since I’m a mess, the first hour was dominated entirely by me talking about how my ex did me dirty. Nevertheless, she politely listened, continuing to shower me with compliments and looking at me deeply with her brown doe eyes. She paid for my meal and we rode back to my house in silence. It wasn’t until l got home that I said, “fuck it” and asked her—was that a date?
A year later, she is now my girlfriend and the rest is history—a crazy miscommunication led to a love connection.
You know that SZA album, CTRL? The album begins with a message from SZA’s mom explaining that her greatest fear was losing control. But throughout the album, she speaks about the freedom she experiences as she learns to let go. I think that’s the reason so many of us struggle with retrogrades. American culture does not celebrate a go-with-the-flow attitude. Everything about our society is structured around making every moment we have as productive as possible. If you can multitask, even better. But the stars have shown us that approach to life is not sustainable. Retrogrades make us slow down. It’s up to us to take advantage of it.
The next time Mercury retrograde comes to town I implore you not to prepare for the worst, but to remain open to what the universe brings you. I was met with love, healing, self-reflection, and closure. Be open to your blessings arriving in ways you weren’t anticipating.
Olivia Harden is a Southern California-based writer who uses her experiences as a Black, queer woman to guide her storytelling and bring attention to voices that need to be heard. She has been featured in publications such as Zora Magazine, Buzzfeed, and PBS’ Rewire. You can keep up with her at https://linktr.ee/livineuphoria.