This weekend, I bought myself a new kitchen. By which I mean, I went out on Saturday and bought a new stove, a new fridge and a 5-in-1 Kenwood Chef food processor. And on Sunday, I went out and bought a new toaster and new microwave to match the new fridge and new stove, as well as a whole lot of essential accessories. Then, due to subsequent lack of suitable storage space, I placed an order with a local woodworker to make me a freestanding kitchen cabinet I’d seen and fallen in love with.
There are a number of reasons why the events of this last weekend are noteworthy enough to write a long overdue blog post about. People close to me would tell you that most notable is the fact that I don’t cook. I have been living in my home for nine years now, and the primary function of my kitchen was as a storage space for my four main food groups: chocolate digestives, wine, cheese, and highly processed carbohydrates. The only cookbook I own speaks to my general aversion to cooking, and I have mostly lived and eaten by the philosophy that, if it takes me longer to make it than to eat it, it’s really not worth the effort.
But the reason I am writing about my hedonistic display of capitalistic excess this weekend is because of what it symbolises in my life right now. Hang on. This is going to get deep.
Three months ago, I wrote about being in the throes of a depressive episode. Before that, I had written about my choice to come off a particular type of anti-depressant medication (SSRI) because its effects felt too high a price to pay for living a life un-depressed. Over the next three months, things got unimaginably worse. Friends and family and medical professionals began, gently, to suggest that I go back onto the SSRI I had fought to get off. Surely, surely, they said, it can’t be worse than this? And it was true. Being on the SSRI and feeling like a robot – which is to say, not feeling anything at all – was of course better than feeling every kind of torment imaginable. But even in the depths of it all, I had the sense that making the choice, then, to go back onto the SSRI would be a profound disservice to my future self. I was certain that, for me anyway, feeling too much, too painfully, was better than feeling nothing at all.
And then, six months after it all started, it all ended. The suddenness of the Getting Better, while welcome, was a little alarming. I started (yet another) new medication one Monday. The next Monday, I was still sitting in my bedroom counting pills out onto my bed, checking, again, if I had enough to kill myself. Just in case. And on Wednesday that week I woke up and thought, I don’t think I want to die anymore. This kind of rapid recovery is not typical in major depressive episodes. The coming out of it is usually more gradual, until one day you wake up and realise that you have had more good days than bad in the last month. But this time, for me, it was that sudden. From that day on, I have rather loved being alive.
It would be too easy to say that six months of my life have been lost. It’s certainly true that I woke up in May 2014 and felt like I’d last been outside, into the sun and into the world, in November 2013. But I don’t think you can go through something like this and not come out on the other side changed in some way. A common refrain I repeated to my therapist over those six months was that I didn’t want to go ‘back’ to my life or myself. And he, being the most excellent therapist, would say, “Well of course you don’t want to go back. Depression can be a sign that things need to change. You want to go forward, to a different kind of life.” (My paraphrasing may not do justice to his wise delivery). I think in part I meant that I did not want to go back to life on the SSRI. One where I was fine, and fully functional, but not quite alive. But I also meant that I did not like how I had been living my life, and often times who I was in it. I was also convinced that, after 36 years of living this way, it was impossible for me to change.
It has been about a month now, PD (post depression). I am no longer depressed. But here’s the really amazing part: I am feeling things. Regular emotions, like a regular human being. Frankly, I thought I was incapable, that I lacked the emotion gene. And then I started being moved by things; moved towards sadness and moved towards happiness and, in being so moved, moving towards people in my life, being able to really engage with them for the first time in over a decade. Every day, I feel a little amazed by this. And, yes, a lot grateful. This is indeed my different kind of life.
So, this weekend. There have been many times in the past few years when I have wanted to go out and buy new appliances, or new furniture, or new decor for my home. I have always found a way to talk myself out of it. (“You don’t really need a new fridge.” “There are people worse off in the world than you who have bigger needs” etc.). Here’s how my thinking went in the lead up to this weekend: I want to eat more healthily. I need to get a smoothie and juice maker to hide vegetables and fruit in delicious tasting drinks. I need a food processor, too, for hiding aforementioned in soups and stews. I’ll need to get a new stove to cook said soups and stews and secret-spinach-and-carrot-brownies properly. If I’m going to be doing all this cooking, I’ll need a new fridge with a freezer bigger than one tupperware to store all the food in. Hence the binge purchase of what is basically an entirely new kitchen.
Then I started thinking about it a bit more. About seventy percent of everything I have in my home I inherited as hand-me-downs, from my parents and my sister and various other family members. The other thirty percent is largely made up of things I got when I was an undergraduate student and first moved into digs on my own. So my pre-weekend stove was a little tabletop two plater that had two settings: burn or under cook. My pre-weekend fridge had a freezer that could fit one box of fish in it, which it would then rapidly encase in mountains of ice. And my pre-weekend microwave was, I’m almost certain, the first microwave ever sold in South Africa, which my parents must have bought when I was maybe ten years old. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to be making those zapping noises whenever I warmed something up in it. And here is my shameful confession. Upon purchasing a new kitchen, I then set about doing a monumental winter spring clean of everything in my kitchen cupboards and cabinets. Aside from being deeply satisfying, it was also deeply alarming. Some of the food I threw out had expired in 2012. Some in 2010. And some in 2006. 2006! For someone who claims to be OCD, this will not do. To be fair, I really don’t think that dried herbs and spices should be allowed to expire. But apparently they do.
This blog post has been swirling around in my head for a few days now. I knew that, before I could write it, it needed a name. When winter spring cleaning my kitchen this weekend and throwing out expired food, it came to me. Expiration can mean a couple of things. Death is one of them (and the first one I thought of, naturally). There has been a kind of death over the past six months. A sense of dying and a sense of coming alive. Expiration also signifies a coming to an end. I have a strong sense that an old, familiar way of living and being in the world has come to an end. It no longer serves me. It needed to be thrown out.
But perhaps most meaningful to me, in this moment, expiration is the exhalation of breath from the lungs. In relief. In release. In settling into the present.
One of the other things I wanted this post to do was find a way to thank the truly remarkable people who have shown up in the gentlest physical and virtual ways over the past few months. I quite literally was shut up in my house and in myself for six months. And I have never felt so connected. It really is true that in the darkest of times, the real treasures show up in your life. Every single day, unceasing in their support. How does one say thank you for that? I decided that this post, about this kitchen adventure, was the best way I could do that. What better way to say thank you for holding me onto life than to live my life with as much joy and relish (and a dried spice or two) as I am now, gratefully, able to experience.