I made soup today.

This post is about soup and depression. It is about ups and downs, highs and lows. This is about happiness, sadness and how to embrace both. It’s about mental illness and taking each season in stride. It’s about cherishing the moments when I feel okay and learning to be gentle with myself in the moments I don’t.

I made soup today. Homemade spicy black bean Mexican soup. I chopped and stirred and taste tested more than I should have. I added spices and tasted again. After it was done I chopped up avocado, picked cilantro and sprinkled on some cheese. Then of course, I took an aesthetically pleasing picture of the soup because I’m a culinary genius. It’s in my blood but it needed to be documented. I’m not just bragging about my ability to cook. Not entirely, at least. The soup is important because I don’t cook when I’m sad and I haven’t cooked in weeks. I’m lucky if I managed yogurt or cereal or if I was feeling really fancy- toast with butter.

For the last 6 months to a year, my anxiety and depression have been all over the place. I’ve dealt with them before but normally in conjunction with being sexually assaulted, my eating disorder or major life changes (not that I’ve had any of those this year). Somehow though, the last few months have felt different. Worse. The anxiety hit hard, then the depression, then the anxiety again. I’m working with a counselor, exploring the option of medication and slowly figuring out what the heck is going on. The process is slow, frustrating and sometimes discouraging.

The last few weeks have been awful. After a short period of feeling great I was knocked down by a wave of depression unlike anything I had felt before. It was dark, deep and disorienting. I was stifled by the paradox that I was endlessly exhausted but could not sleep. Weeks upon weeks of only sleeping an hour or two. I was drained. Vulnerable. Raw.

I had to force myself to shower and most times I ended up sobbing on the floor of the shower. I was too exhausted to stand and so confused by why I felt so sad, numb and guilty all at once. How can someone feel so sad when life all around me is so good? I am thankful for my life, my jobs, for Steve. I felt guilty for still feeling so dark even when there was beauty everywhere. I was sensitive and emotional. I broke into tears many times. The shower, the line at giant, at my desk, the Starbucks bathroom, just to name a few. I was irritable, sad and disheveled. An all-around ball of fun, really.

I also was so confused by what I was feeling, I didn’t share much with many people. I talked about medicine changes and anxiety but for some reason uttering the word “depression” seemed like too much. If I wasn’t careful with how much I shared, I was met with, “What could you possibly be depressed about?” or “But you’re so happy” or my personal favorite, “It’s all in your head, have you tried yoga?”

The end of last week I woke up feeling lighter, clearer and not nearly as sad. Slowly, it felt like the fog was lifting. As the week began, it felt like the color was returning to my world after weeks of grey. I started to notice the warmth of the sun again. I felt energy fill me up and was able to smile and laugh a genuine laugh. There will be lows again, I’m sure of it but today was good, yesterday was okay the day before was great. I laughed hearty laughs with good friends and ate burgers. I didn’t cry and willingly showered, baked and went into work. My mood is still all over the place and I am still feeling ‘off’ in some ways but being on the upswing is a huge sigh of relief.

I do not share this for pity or for any other reason than to give a voice to the maze that is mental illness. The thing about mental health is that it seems  like the only illness in which you are demanded to have justification for. Mental illness is odd and confusing. I can’t explain it away or provide reasons why I feel the way I do. I can just tell you that it is real, scary and sometimes all-consuming. It’s not impossible though.

If you’re struggling too, you are not alone. You may feel so utterly and painfully alone but you are not. Reach out, if you have no one else, you have me. Talk about it. Write about. Scream about it. The only way through these things is together. I know that there are highs and lows. Embrace the highs. Do not be paralyzed with the fear that they won’t last but instead be thankful that the lows don’t last either. I cannot promise that the hard times will go away or that they won’t completely knock the air out of you. It’s a continual battle and sometimes all you can do is be as gentle as you can with yourself while you wait out the storm.

However, I can promise that the highs are worth braving the darkness. You may feel darkness now but there will be light again. You will make soup again. Whatever ‘making soup’ is for you. You will sing with the windows down. Laugh with your friends. Snuggle with babies. Eat fried chicken. Ride roller coasters. Go on breakfast dates. You will feel joy again, I am sure of that.

Last week I felt nothing but darkness but today, I made soup and danced in my kitchen.

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