the most valuable piece i took away from top chef was that i was able to do something i didn't think i could do. [...] once i realized it was kind of okay, and i got positive feedback for being exactly who i was and keeping my head down and just cooking, i was able to be who i was. so that's what top chef did for me. all the other things — the shiny things — are just bonus. (kristen kish)
hi! so, may is mental health awareness month, and i've been back in california for five months now, in therapy for two-and-a-half and on medication for a little over one, so i thought, hey, why not post a progress report?
for the uninitiated, i have major depressive disorder, recurrent episode, panic disorder, and ADHD. i have a history of suicidal thinking and ideation, and i've lived with major depression for my entire young adult and adult life. i've only very recently started getting help for it.
it terrifies the fuck out of me to be so open about this. it's frankly unnerving to put so much of me out there to be seen, to be consumed, and to attach my face to it (at least, on instagram), to say, hey, this is me, this is what i look like, this is the shit i carry.
i ask myself constantly why i do this, and i suppose it boils down to a few things. one is that i want to be known, to be recognized. another is that i'd rather be rejected for who i am, flaws and deficits and all, than for this idea of a perfect being i could pretend to be. yet another is that i think it's important to talk about all this shit, not only after we've "survived" it but as we're going through it, in these dark moments when the future is uncertain and unknowable. i don't believe that only stories with survival clauses are worth telling because the bleak truth is that, sometimes, there are no happy endings, and, sometimes, these demons in our brains and bodies lead us to take our lives.
that's not the point, though. the end isn't the point. the point is that we try.
here is a list of lessons i've been learning as i've been seeking professional help.
it's not just about going to therapy or taking meds or seeing your psychiatrist. a pill is not going to fix everything; a therapist isn't going to put your life in order; and a psychiatrist is not going to keep you alive. it's about everything. it's about making the effort, being kind to yourself, letting people love you and care for you and support you. it's about showing up, whether it's to therapy sessions or doctor's appointments or lunch dates or special events or the gym. it's about listening to your brain and your body, knowing when to step back and rest, letting yourself have bad days. it's about everything.
it takes time. an anti-depressant takes a few weeks to start working, and they're not always the most pleasant few weeks. my first week on an anti-depressant, i was so nauseated, i couldn't sit up. my second week, i was so out of it, i couldn't focus on the smallest, most inconsequential task. my third week, my inability to sleep and stay asleep got even worse — and stayed worse.
when it started working, though, the anti-depressant (i started on citalopram, or celexa) did stabilize my mood, and, other than the nausea and insomnia, i did start feeling better. celexa totally exacerbated my sleep issues, though, so my psychiatrist and i decided last week to switch anti-depressants, to try good, old prozac and see if that will do away with the nausea and sleep issues. this is going to take a few weeks, too, though, and i don't know what the side effects will be yet.
so, again, it bears repeating: it takes time. it takes everything you've got. and it's not easy. i still wake up to panic; i woke up absurdly early this very morning because i was having a panic attack; and, still, hours later, i feel physically sick and nauseated and uneasy. i have nightmares almost every night, all around the themes of rootlessness, homesickness, and loneliness. i go to therapy every week, email my psychiatrist with concerns if my side effects are really bad, and take my meds as prescribed. i try to eat well, exercise regularly, keep a routine. i do everything i can, and some days are better than others, and some are worse, but they're all days to get through.
by all accounts, i'm a high-functioning adult who is, at least in this moment of her life, managing her anxiety and depression and ADHD fairly well. i get up in the morning, work out, eat breakfast, and go to work. i have meaningful social relationships; i create content regularly; and i read and write and think and function and, on some days, thrive.
which goes to my last "lesson," the thing i will say and repeat over and over and over again — mental health issues, mental illnesses, seeking professional help and/or taking medication — none of these diminishes your humanity. you're not crazy or psycho or subhuman, no matter what it is going on in your brain and/or your body; you're simply human. don't ever let anyone make you doubt that, that you are a sentient, thinking, feeling human being, deserving of respect and decency. people who make you feel any less are shit.
on saturday, i went to hear kristen kish, a chef from boston. she's currently doing a tour with macy's for asian pacific american heritage month (because may is also APA heritage month), and she was in los angeles for an afternoon taste and talk, and, obviously, i went.
i sat there thinking, god, you're fucking cute as hell, adorably fidgety with that smile, that ease, and i thought about visibility, about the comfort of being yourself, about the confidence and security that come from being out and open about who you are, as you are, and being okay with that. i thought about how it's kind of strange and kind of sad that that's something that we have to learn to be okay with, to learn to see ourselves for who we are and accept ourselves — and, consequently, to learn to be okay with the fact that people will see us as they wish, will project on us their own fears and insecurities, and we can't control that.
we can't control what people think of us, but we can control how they make us feel.
up until my mid-twenties, i projected what i thought i was supposed to be. [...] once i let go of all that, that's when things really took off.
kish also said:
[the attention] is absolutely fascinating. for the majority of my life, i'm slinging in the back of a kitchen and working my butt off and living my life, and, suddenly, now i'm out there, and i think my responsibility is to continue to put my life out there. it's the fact that i am who i am, and, hopefully, what you see and what you can relate to is helpful.
if you don't feel fearful in some ways, if you don't feel nervous, then it's not something worth doing.
and i think, okay, fine, maybe there's something to all this, to being so confessional and at least making the effort to be my true self and be known. i will never be able to share my full, whole self on this website, just like i will never be able to share my full, whole self on social media or in my fiction or, even, in person-to-person relationships. there will always be limits to how fully and deeply we can be known, even by the people directly in our lives.
we make the effort, though. we try to express ourselves, and we try to listen. we try to be there for each other, and we try to connect. and i believe that the discomfort and fear i often feel when i share so much about my mental and physical health, about my fears and anxieties, even about the things i love — i believe that, somehow, in some way, it is a discomfort that propels me on because it tells me that it is something worth exploring. all this shit is worth sharing because the thing i learn over and over again is that we are not all that different, that i am not alone, that these things — whatever they are — need to be talked about.
fundamentally, i believe in breaking stigma, in ending the shame and guilt that keep us silent about mental health, sexuality, body image issues, doubt, etcetera, and, if anything, i am here to say to someone out there, whoever you are, whatever you struggle with, that you are not alone. for what it's worth, here is a human being who is doing everything she can to stay alive and thrive, even though her mental and physical limitations scare the shit out of her every single fucking day, so fight. hold on. stay.
kish also said, "my culinary influences are every single thing that has happened in my life, from the fun to the hard to the whimsical — but the underlying thing under all my food is proper technique."
and, "my style of cooking is a general tasting menu. not one dish is supposed to stand out," and there's an arc to it, an exploration of different textures and tastes, and, "at the end of the meal, you should feel full and satisfied."
and, "i struggled a lot with self-identify and self-worth and who am i and what am i going to do."
and, "the one chef i get starstruck by every time — and i don't get starstruck — is gabrielle hamilton [of prune in nyc]."
and, she never cooked at home, but she wanted to cook for her ex-girlfriend, and "learning how to navigate a home kitchen was quite difficult."
anyway, all of which is to say that i fucking love her and am glad she's out there doing her thing, and i had a great saturday, then i woke up having a panic attack on sunday, feeling sick to my stomach because of anxiety-induced nausea. i gave up on sleep and took lorazepam in hopes that it would help quell the anxiety, which it did a little but didn't stop the effects of my early morning panic attack from incapacitating me for the rest of the day.
i managed to get out of my head to make dinner reservations for my parents at republique, one of my favorite restaurants, scrounged up enough energy to shower, get dressed, and drive out to la brea for one hell of a dinner. the kusshi oysters were sweet and creamy and so good; the grilled octopus was tender and succulent, though the salad had too much mint for me; and the brussels sprouts with friseé and bacon and a soft egg were awesome (and made for great fried rice the day after). the new york strip was perfectly medium-rare, dry-aged for 45 days, in this beautiful sauce, but the winner of the night was the spinach cavatelli with porcini and morel mushrooms and ramps.
(ramps. it's the season for ramps, y'all. and i'm starting to like mushrooms.)
i love a good handmade pasta; there is little that gives me the depth and fullness of joy and happiness that a bowl of great handmade pasta delivers. it's just so comforting and soothing, and i love it more because i love making pasta myself, understand what goes into crafting a bowl, though, of course, the pasta i make is nowhere near as great.
and, anyway, all of which is to say that mental well-being is about more than just therapy or meds or psychiatry appointments. those are important; i'm not diminishing how crucial it is to get help; but it's also about getting out of your head, doing nice things for other people (when you are able), finding enjoyment and pleasure in the little things. it's about meals and literature and women you have crushes on and think are badass, people who model the kind of life you'd like to live, the kind of person you'd like to be (while remembering that they are still humans, and they are not perfect, and they fuck up and have flaws and insecurities, too).
it's about being the best you can be and learning to live within limitations, and it's about remembering that everyone struggles, everyone flails, and everyone kind of fundamentally wants the same things from life. it's about remembering that you aren't alone, no matter how much the monsters in your brain and/or body try to convince you otherwise. it's about reminding yourself that you are stronger than you think you are, that the fact that you have made it this far to this point in your life is the very evidence of that.
it's about telling yourself, making yourself believe that you are worth it, so get the help you need, reach out to the people around you, and live.