As a child, food was a thing of happiness. each meal was taken at a well-set table and its cooking had become essential for my childhood. Next to my mother, standing on a stool, I learned to carefully weigh the ingredients, cleverly separate the eggs and beat them furiously until they sit obediently in the snowy peaks, manipulate the dough with a light touch. Our kitchen sang with voices, was sweetly scented and was always hot from the oven often used.
It was a shock, then, when Mom succumbed to her first episode of depression, her hunger evaporated and suddenly our kitchen was silent and cold. My brothers and sisters and I ate straight out of the fridge, rummaging. When my mother rarely appeared in the kitchen, she was dumb and had red eyes and turned away all the food offered before returning to her room. I had to force my own food beyond the mass in my throat; to act as if things were normal for the sake of my little brother and my sister. For the sake of my mother. For my profit, BENEFICE.
Meals have always been an opportunity to build family ties. It's at the table that my mother recounted her childhood amidst the flavors of British India. She described a large veranda surrounding a high-ceilinged house; the sweet and salty sweetness of saffron yellow dahl; Home-made potato chips sliced and finely fried, they were better than those bought at the store. But when mom got sick, the time of meals, like food, like our life, lost its flavor; it turned into a sinister barometer to Mum's mood.
When it was obvious that Mom's misery was here to stay, and when we had spent months searching for elusive answers to recovery – on the psychiatrist's couch, at his counseling sessions, in the pharmacological cocktails of SSRIs and Lithium and tricyclic antidepressants – I have traveled the Internet for a solution. And the food, I read, could apparently be much more than just food.
Some foods – avocado, turkey, salmon, nuts – obviously had the power to influence the mood, I read. If the food made us happy, could it, in the right amount, the right composition, make mum happy again?
So I tried: I cut a lawyer in half, sprinkled salt with his sage flesh: "Try this," I say, giving it to him. Mom, curled up in a chair pretending to be sleeping, eating tea and biscuits so that she could always find her whereabouts by an incriminating trail of crumbs, ate her with a mixture of disgust and apathy, as if one could take some medicine – of course, I hoped it could be. The lawyer did not make any difference. I persevered. The ordinary turkey sandwiches made a brief appearance, the bowls of nuts became a perennial that mom picked unselfishly. All these foods are supposed to induce the onset of cerebral serotonin, pushing the endorphins forward to make us happy. They never did it. I should not have been surprised.
Michael Gershon, professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University and author of The Second Brain, is often called the father of neurogastroenterology for his work on the link between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain . He recognizes the connection between what we eat and what we feel, but says that it would be impossible to eat ourselves after a depressive episode: "One of the brain's emitters, serotonin, is made in the body from tryptophan, an amino acid. If you eat a steak (or a turkey or avocado or salmon), you get tryptophan. The more you eat tryptophan, the more the brain enters and the more serotonin you produce. But you would need to eat a lot of steak to raise serotonin significantly, it would not be an effective way to change mood, it would not be as effective as an SSRI. "
I had read that dark chocolate, the one with a high percentage of cocoa solids, seems to have the power to cheer up. Cocoa contains compounds called polyphenols that, according to studies, could reduce anxiety, a condition that often emphasizes and exacerbates depression. I've imagined bowls full of confectionery, soothing cocoa fat and energy sugars that sweeten mom's life.
Except that, as with steak, you can not cure depression by eating chocolate; Scientists at the Virginia Tech School of Neuroscience, who have observed the cocoa link, warn that their discoveries are only useful to the extent that the magic ingredients of cocoa may one day, in sufficient quantities, be used as additional treatment. Chocolate certainly meets an ephemeral need, but it is an ephemeral high that depends on the charm of taste, sensation and sugar. And then you crash, a consequence of the drop in your blood sugar – it's never a good thing if you fight the lethargy of depression. It turns out that chocolate does not provide a state of sustained happiness.
But of course, it was not just my mother's appetite for the food that was gone when she got sick, it was her appetite for everything, for cooking, for laughing, for living.
In his 17th century classic anthology entitled "The Anatomy of Melancholy", the British researcher Robert Burton wrote: "Do not be lonely, do not be idle". But when depression sets in, it is hard for those who suffer to stay busy. Instead of trying to find foods that miraculously heal and invite mom to eat, should I have invited her to make?
Our kitchen was cold and calm. Could food preparation for someone with depression be more helpful than eating? Terry Lynch, psychotherapist, author of "Depression Delusion" and other books on mental health, thinks so; "It's important to go step by step through the steps," he wrote in an email. He regularly recommends that people with depression do "often small steps; starting, working at the end. The person may feel a strong urge not to do it – but with the repetition of action, the momentum may begin to manifest, rather than the inertia that is such a recurring feature of the depression. "
And I am struck by the word "inertia". One day, I asked my mother, "How are you mom?" I'm inert, came the answer. There would be no cooking that day.
Camille Lassale, researcher in public health, aging, nutrition and epidemiology, who has published articles on the links between diet and depression, subscribes to the imperatives of "doing".
The diet, she says, can influence mental health in a positive or negative way: "An unhealthy diet can cause brain damage, which can be due to oxidative stress, insulin resistance, changes blood flow and inflammation. Conversely, a diet rich in anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant components can affect the brain by protecting it from oxidative stress and inflammation, which can disrupt the neurotransmitters responsible for regulating the immune system. 39; emotion. "
But, she says, depression is a complex disease "characterized by a lack of interest in activities, a low mood, changes in sleep and appetite." Mark Hyman, director of the Cleveland Clinic's Functional Medicine Center and founder and director of the UltraWellness Center, says, "Diet is not the cure for depression, but it's an important piece of the puzzle. Exercise, stress management, community, purpose, meaning, therapy, etc. are all important elements of depression management. People often look for this miracle solution that will solve their disease and, in general, there is none. "
The nature of Mama's illness meant that she came and went for decades. Nothing has preceded it, none has expelled an episode. But when that happened, his depression always disappeared with a speed that surprised me, sometimes even overnight. And I wondered how something that had weighed so long in our lives could rise and leave with such lightness, such speed?
Suddenly, one morning, my mother was just sweeping my room, dressed, smiling, her hair combed. "What we all have for breakfast today?" She asked. "Eggs, toast, porridge?" She was watching the sky as I opened my curtains. "It looks like a day for the porridge," she announced with a laugh. "Up you get!"
When the depression came, it took away her hunger. When that happened, she was consumed by greed: to feed herself, to cook.
For life, especially.