Have you struggled with trying to determine what role your mental illness takes in your life? Is it all-consuming or are you able to find moments of reprieve? This is the story of an experience which took me away from focusing on my depression. It might be a pleasant experience for you as well.
Please allow me to mindfully describe the dining experience I had with my family tonight. First, let me explain a few things. My brother, my Mum, and I each live in different cities. My trip to San Jose is either an eight-hour drive by car or an hour and five minutes by aeroplane. My Mum lives a two-hour and 20-minute aeroplane ride away from San Jose in the opposite direction.
My Limited Talent in the Art of Cooking
Second, I am talented in the art of making beans from scratch (as opposed to opening a can), in making rice, and in boiling water for pasta. I am also adept, very practised in fact, at the art of microwaving frozen meals based on directions given on the packaging. Have you ever done the frozen meal diet when your illness has taken away the desire to prepare food? I also eat salads, apples, berries, and plain, whole milk yoghurt with granola. Sometimes I grate an apple into my granola like we used to do back in Switzerland. That about comprises the extent of my vegetarian diet. Recently I have taken to cooking my own pasta sauce as per my Mum’s recipe instead of resorting to commercially-made pesto or bottled pasta sauce. My Mum, being quite the fancy cook and food connoisseur, thinks that the latter is just disgusting. I don’t think she would touch it with a two-foot pole.
With all of that said, whenever someone cooks for me, particularly if it is my Mum or my brother (who, through the power of observation, picked up the penchant for making amazing food), I just about keel over in enjoyment of the intricate flavours which decorate my plate and my palate.
The Main Course
My Mum made dinner for all of us, including for my East Indian grandfather, whose birthday is coming up. The salmon (I am actually a pescatarian) was broiled in a 450 degree Fahrenheit oven. On top of the quality, fresh salmon was a rather generous amount of dry dill weed seasoning and a spice mix called “Fox Point.” Let me just tell you that the Bay Area has a spice store called Penzeys Spices and it is chef heaven. They have an incredible array of beautiful spices including Ceylon cinnamon, which is apparently “real” cinnamon, and which I like to put into my warm milk along with turmeric in the evenings. It is quite delicious. Some people add honey to that mix.
Back to Fox Point, the ingredients in this spice mix are salt, shallots, chives, garlic, onion and green peppercorns. Imagine all of those flavours put together, along with dill, on top of pink salmon with a teaspoon drizzle of an expensive 2016 harvest extra virgin olive oil. Although my Mum and my brother are both very frugal, quality food ingredients have always been an important, non-negotiable expense throughout our lives. My brother makes up for that expense by making his own kimchi, yoghurt and kefir from special cultures of bacteria, and homemade bread, among other things. I blame my own not-so-frugal spending habits on mental illness and, well, being a bit lazy in taking the time to set a budget. Have you ever had that problem? I told my brother that staying with him is like staying at an amazing Bed and Breakfast location.
Thin, green asparagus cooked in the same 2016 harvest olive oil, to a point where they are the perfect texture, slightly crunchy and not overdone, was a side dish. Lemon garnish on the salmon was provided by my grandfather’s garden and plain, white basmati rice came with the dish. My brother owns pounds and pounds of basmati rice, which he buys in bulk at the Indian store in order to save money. The salad was made with finely chopped kale, shredded carrot, chopped dried apricots, pumpkin seeds, and grated rutabaga. To be honest, I don’t even know what a rutabaga is, but apparently, it tasted good in the mix. If you’ve ever heard of that vegetable, kudos to you! This salad was topped with a tahini dressing.
I’ve just realised that this wasn’t the whole meal. There was a starter which I had completely forgotten about. It was served cold: pad Thai noodles made out of black “forbidden” rice and jicama chopped into small pieces. This was all garnished with fresh basil, mint and cilantro, olive oil and a bit of soy sauce. There were cooked mushrooms as a topper and for everyone else who isn’t allergic to shellfish, beautifully cooked pink shrimp. My Mum set aside the buttery, pink shrimp broth for my brother to make a soup out of on another day.
Three Twins ice cream: it is only found on the West Coast from what I understand and the company is based in San Francisco. It is just very good ice cream. We had a choice of chocolate or vanilla bean flavours served along with soft ladyfinger biscuits and copious fresh raspberries. I don’t know if the raspberries were organic, but at that point, I didn’t care. It all tasted amazing. Served alongside this entire meal were choices of sparkling water, Martinelli’s fizzy apple cider, or chilled Pinot Grigio. This was indeed an intricate meal which required some time for preparation. But it is in no way out of the ordinary for the likes of the lives of my Mum and my brother. To me, it was an extra special treat and I was mindful of the delicious variety of flavours until the very last bite. People with mental illness want to experience joy too, just like everyone else.
My Illness Doesn’t Define Me
What does any of this have to do with psychology other than the mindfulness bit? I suffer from and am in recovery from a major, severe depressive disorder. You probably want to hear more about my experience with depression, but here’s the great thing: my life doesn’t revolve around my chemically-based illness. Your illness doesn’t have to consume your life entirely either. There are good days and there are bad days. The bad days always come and go, yet I remain. My illness does not always get in the way of my enjoyment and appreciation of the life which I live.
Moving Forward is the Spice of Life
I have a great life and, as I will say many times over, I have a lot to be grateful for. Gratitude can go a long way in improving your outlook on life, thus improving your experience with your illness. I also take my psychotropic medications as prescribed in the mornings and at night. They help me to live my life and to remain stable. The more important thing here, however, is that I help myself to live my life. You need to help yourself. In spite of the difficult challenges which we face in our daily lives, we need to find ways to work through those difficulties. Sometimes that involves crying and taking deep breaths. And then you try to move forward. I continue to move forward each and every day. I could say that I don’t have a choice and place the responsibility on the passage of time, but it is I who chooses life. I choose life, not death, and I am committed to enjoying the fantasy of the possibilities of the future until the day I die, which may be a long time from now. My hope is that you too, find moments of pleasure and enjoyment in your life, and that these moments lift your mood a little bit each time. Life is certainly worth living.