When I was 21, I experienced an incredible depressive episode. I wasn’t new to depression. I have what amounts to a 99 year lease with depression and anxiety. Thankfully it isn’t a full time abode. It is more like a time-share but I don’t get to pick the dates when I am made to have a visit.
During this particular period, the dark monster made it very clear that I couldn’t drop it off on the side of the road or wish it away. God knows I tried. Instead I drifted around the edges of existence.
I didn’t do much. I didn’t even experience the pleasure of sleep. I couldn’t lay there like some tragic subject in a pre-Raphaelite painting as I was living with my mother and siblings (most of whom were still children at the time), and I had to be a part of the household. That meant making dinner.
I had always liked cooking and could be quite good at it but it was during this period that I developed a lot of confidence and found I could cook just about anything. I couldn’t face most people but I could follow the directions in a cookbook. It gave me control over something when I felt so far away from my own body and kept wishing for the end to appear before my eyes. It saved me. I discovered how deep my passion was in the kitchen and other people saw it. It was part of my identity for so long, the one who liked to eat and share how to make things. It was easy to be enthusiastic.
Then came another profound episode after the birth of my second child. Postpartum anxiety and depression stole most of the colour and light in the room. I would get up every single day and do the things I had to do but I couldn’t find any joy. It even touched how I approached cooking and eating. The thing that had once saved me, couldn’t help me now.
I remember saying to a friend one day, “Maybe this is all over for me.” Like a significant part of myself had died and I was to mourn it. I couldn’t sell off my kitchen as we still had to eat every single day. Instead I learned to become a reliable cook. It turned out I was still a pretty decent cook even without my ardent enthusiasm. People stuck around not just because I made them something to eat.
You can’t make anyone love you with a meal but you can take care of people with dinner. Sometimes you can even take care of yourself. I had to learn other methods of reviving my soul when it collapsed. The love of cooking and eating returned but it had a more mature and forgiving tone in my life. Some days I am giving my entire heart to dinner, and other days, it is fish fingers and chips and bish-bash, it is done. Both have a place and meaning.
This later became the grand theme of my book because we aren’t experiencing wild abandonment on the dinner plate every single day of our life (imagine the heartburn!). Every single time we sit down to eat -or even do it on the go, there is an experience that is filled with meaning and it can be honoured a million different ways. The most important thing is to show up -even when the dark monster has you locked in on the dreariest holiday full of grey and jig-saw puzzles with missing pieces.
Genevieve Jenner lives near Bude in North Cornwall. Chocolate Cake for Imaginary Lives is available from all good book retailers.
Twitter and Instagram: @gfrancie.
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