Getting By: Food
Occasional forays into the world of fast food notwithstanding, most of the time, I eat pretty well — blah blah, varied diet, lots of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, cook from scratch, etc. I can’t really gloat about that, by the way; it just happens that if you made a Venn diagram in which one circle represented “foods I really like” and the other “foods I find easy to prepare” basically includes all that stuff. I am lazy; I like leaves, therefore, salad.
I don’t bother my pretty head about the hot micro- or macronutrient of the moment, I don’t place anything off limits (except walnuts and their relatives, because I’m deathly allergic); there are just some things I eat less often and/or in smaller portions. If I want to eat steak, I eat steak; if I want to eat cake, I eat cake (isn’t that a Cat Stevens song?). Consistently excellent basic health indices — blood pressure, pulse, cholesterol, triglycerides, etc — confirm that this strategy works just fine for me.
When I’m struggling with Bipolar crap, though, sometimes that goes out the window. Depressions represent the tanking of, among other things, dopamine levels and the attendant ability to perceive pleasure. Manias represent … jeez, who even knows, let’s call it wild over-activation of so many systems … but they obliterate the small capacity for planning and patience required by my normal diet.
What this boils down to is that, sometimes, I more or less live on bread and butter for days. Denis is my saving grace; usually, I have to feed him at least once a day, so I generally manage to feed myself as well … though sometimes what I feed us is macaroni and cheese from a box, because that only requires one pan and, like, twelve minutes.
Meanwhile, I find baking bread pretty therapeutic. It’s one of the few things I can reliably do during depressions and manic episodes — there’s a lot more stomping and cursing involved during mixed manias, but even then it still gets done almost every day. I’ve baked enough bread now that it’s essentially an automatic process (though when I tried to bake bread while still fighting off the dregs of my most recent illness, I was sufficiently out of it that I forgot to add yeast).
A few minutes ago I was “woefully wonder(ing) why, my dear” (because depression) I have abandoned actually eating real food in favor of sort of grazing on bread… and then I realized, “Oh, right. Depression.”
And then it occurred to me that, while it’s not an ideal solution, it’s one that gets me by, and I guess that’s okay.
Depression can be reductive like that.
Personally, I don’t believe that worrying about what you “should” or “shouldn’t” eat is a very effective strategy in the first place — it’s much better to work your way in, cultivate a taste for a group of more health-sustaining foods, and allow yourself room for foods that other people might call “bad,” but less often and perhaps in smaller portions, if you find they’re affecting your health. Arbitrarily declaring foods to be “bad” and “off-limits” is far too often a recipe for cravings and disaster.
The acute phase of any depression, meanwhile, renders the whole point moot. If you’re someone who just plain can’t eat anything except bread (or chocolate, or boxed mac-and-cheese, or things prepared by other people, or curry takeaways) during the worst parts of your depressions, there’s a good deal of sense in doing so.
Better to eat a ridiculous, unbalanced diet for a few weeks (or even for years) than to starve to death — especially if something within that ridiculous, unbalanced diet grants you even a little pleasure.
Every drop of pleasure counts when you’re fighting a tidal wave of depressive anhedonia (in short, because neuroscience). That argument breaks down a bit when you’re talking about things that can swiftly create much worse problems — acquiring an addiction to a substance that can wreck your health overnight probably isn’t really going to help, for example, so it might not hurt to try to avoid doing that, if possible … though it’s not always possible; it’s not always as simple as “just saying no” when you’re trying to reach the other end of the tunnel alive.
Which, I guess, is kind of what I’m saying. Like physical illness, acute episodes of mental illness take the niceties of life off the table. The idea is to survive; you can sort the collateral damage later on.
So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go eat some bread and creep one day closer to the light at the end of my tunnel,which I hope won’t turn out to be an oncoming train.