This week, I scrolled past an Instagram post that really touched me.
The post shows before and after kitchen photos. In the first photo, the kitchen is covered in dirty dishes. In the second, the dishes have been cleaned and put away. The caption reads,
It made me want to cry. I think most people who have depression can relate to the insurmountable difficulty of completing normal, everyday tasks, dish-washing included. But the accumulated mess and disarray of a depressive episode doesn’t always get much attention.
I shared the post in my stories and was moved to tears once again when a reader messaged me to affirm its truth. She said that the post was totally relatable. She went on to share,
For me, clutter and languishing household chores are one of the most shameful parts of depression.
A few months back, I’d been busy with a lot of cooking and photography. In the middle of that, a short but intense depressive spell hit me, and I didn’t get around to putting away my camera setup or washing a bunch of my dishes.
Around that same time, a friend and I were supposed to meet up for lunch. Thanks to a miscommunication, she came over to my apartment to pick me up, rather than meeting me where we said we’d go to eat.
I was on my way out of the episode at that point, which is why I was well enough to keep our plans. But my apartment was still a mess.
When my friend showed up, I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t bring myself to let her in; I asked her to wait outside. And I never really found the language to tell her the reason for my flustered, panicky reaction to her unexpected visit.
For many of us, perhaps especially those of us with histories of perfectionism and workaholism, the incapacitation of depression can feel worse than the despair. The fact that my home space was once so consistently—even aggressively—neat and tidy makes my shame about messiness and dirtiness even worse.
I wrote back to the reader who commented about her sister’s pitching in with household chores. I admitted that I can’t imagine ever asking for that kind of help, not even from someone whom I love and trust.
She said she understood, of course. The shame is terrible, she said. So is the exhaustion.
This is a tough topic to write about, but I wanted to mention the exchange today because it was so beautiful in its vulnerability. There’s nothing I’m not willing to share when it comes to my eating disorder history, but a lot of my struggle with depression remains cloaked in shame.
The post that I shared and the DMs I got in response reminded me that there’s healing to experience in putting the struggle into words, in having another person witness and validate all of it.
Another reader messaged me about the same IG story. She said,
I let her know that it wasn’t my sink but that it could easily be, when I’m depressed. I told her I understood completely and thanked her for sharing.
These moments remind me of why I started blogging in the first place. To quote the great bell hooks, who passed away this past week,
Happy Sunday, everyone. Here are some recipes and reads.
A beautiful citrus, avocado, and date salad—so perfect for winter.
Love the looks of these Sicilian-inspired Brussels sprouts with pine nuts, raisins, and red chili flakes.
Can’t wait to make this broccoli rabe grilled cheese.
Wholesome, cozy barley risotto with squash and chermoula.
What pretty sugar cookies. And they’re gluten-free, with a vegan option.
1. David Ramsey’s tribute to Fontella Bass and her famous song, “Rescue Me,” gives the reader a wonderful glimpse into Bass’ life and legacy. But it’s also a meditation on the power of celebrated songs and the experience of hearing them, whether for the first time or the five hundredth, together:
2. Elizabeth Kolbert, who has written extensively on climate change, reports on the scientists who are tinkering with photosynthesis in the hopes of preventing a global food crisis.
3. A powerful New York Times op-ed from Ezra Klein on our treatment of farm animals, which he calls the “defining moral failing of our age.” Klein spotlights organizations that are working to help.
4. I loved Ted Scheinman’s essay on reading Petronius’ Satyricon and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby during the pandemic. It’s a sweet, hopeful reflection on the consolations of great literature during tragic and tumultuous times. Scheinman’s closing graf feels so timely:
5. I’ve read a number of tributes to bell hooks this week that stayed with me. This one, by Barbara Ransby, was one of my favorites. She writes,
There’s the power of vulnerability and transparency, again.
Again and always.
Oftentimes when I read about the importance of saying no and setting boundaries, the advice seems to assume that the things being declined aren’t all that desirable: unmanageable amounts of work, exhausting social commitments, and so on. This week, I learned how hard it is to turn down things that might be very enjoyable, but yet feel like too much. As soon as I was on the mend, I wanted so badly to connect with friends, get back to work, and feel more…
“When you don’t know what to do or how to move forward, stand still.” This is a piece of advice that my mother gave me during my post-bacc years. That time in my life was marked by a lot of indecision and agonized choices–most often, the choice of whether or not to keep going with my program for another semester or not. I’d receive yet another poor score or a discouraging comment or simply be hit with a spell of burnout, and I’d doubt what…
When I woke up this morning, just before 6, I immediately started to slide my feet out of bed. I was feeling more foggy than usual, thanks to my allergies, and I started to run through the day’s schedule and to-do list. What time were my clients scheduled for? How many meal plans were on the docket for that morning? Where was I with my freelance projects, and did I have any substantive writing to do this afternoon? A moment or so later,…
Happy Sunday, friends. Hope the weekend has been good to you. My big news this week is that my new cookbook, Power Plates, is officially available for pre-order whenever books are sold! The on-sale date is January 23, which seems far away now, but the time will fly, and it’s incredible to me that it’s all becoming real. At this time last year, I was still in the thick of the recipe testing process, my kitchen a perpetual gauntlet of dirty dishes. It felt…
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Thank you for this, Gena. These exchanges were indeed so brave and touching and I’m honored you would share them here. They are the best kind of Christmas gift, said the person with a mostly perpetually messy house–or cozy cluttered. 🙂 Also, I had to go listen to Rescue Me–and move. Love you