I cook, wash vessels. I am not talking about my specific responsibilities at home. This is how I deal with days when the all-too-familiar dark cloud threatens to engulf me.
I must make it clear that I never miss my daily medication; it is my oxygen. Experience and years of interacting with my psychiatrist have taught me that medication shifts focus from those negative thoughts, and parks them safely out of the way until they pass. Instead, my brain focuses on other things.
But there are days when depression does come visiting, despite medication.
A friend of mine often tells me, “You could have been such a huge success if you hadn’t quit your fulltime TV news job.” I had very good reasons for giving up a salaried job about 25 years ago. Depression, along with anxiety disorder and ADHD, contributed hugely towards missed deadlines and messed up projects. My psychiatric treatment of many years and medication were nowhere in the picture yet. I had no idea that treatment could help me.
Nevertheless, I quit the job and entered the creative lane. I am presently a writer, film-maker and actor. Acting, writing and filmmaking don’t pay big bucks unless one gets really good breaks. When my finances are low, which is very often, and I am physically weary, I land up comparing myself with my contemporaries. Their full-time jobs fetch them monthly salaries that even my annual income cannot match! And then I wish I had kept my full-time job and not chosen the creative route of filmmaking.
Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve…
And with that, I know it is going to be one of those days: bleak and hopeless. That’s when I roll up my sleeves, head towards the kitchen, and wash a pile of dishes. Slowly, carefully, and methodically. Scrubbing out burnt milk stains, oily pans and ladles. Something about all that lather and the clean, gleaming steel and glass dishes makes me feel immensely better. The final wiping down of the sink area and granite kitchen counter marks the end of my dark mood. I stand back, admiring my work with the fragrance of cleaning sprays lingering in the air. And then, I reward myself with an excellent cup of coffee, or ginger tea.
On days when there is no pile of dishes to be done, and the miasma of depression is creeping up on me, I swiftly make my way to the refrigerator, select a few vegetables, and begin washing, peeling, stringing, cutting and chopping. The clack-clack-clack of the knife coming down on carrots and radish calms me down. The piles of beautifully cut, colourful carrots, beans, tomatoes give me a sense of energy. Cooking brings back mellow memories of childhood for me. It makes me feel safe.
When I wipe my hands clean, and survey the seasoned vegetable dal, pallya and steamed white rice, the depression seems to vanish, just like steam from the pressure cooker. Who knows what the connotations of my kitchen therapies are to my brain? All I know is that I manage to keep depression at bay.
I have also found that exercise does wonders to my dark mood. I walk as briskly as I can, working up a sweat. It is quite easy for me, with the numerous dogs we have at home, always eager to get outdoors. They get me to put on my shoes and step out.
The other thing I do is allow myself a little depression. When I get thoughts about the paths I took, of the ‘successes’ I did not achieve, the wealth I did not amass, I just taste them all and chew on them. It is okay, I tell myself to feel these emotions. Aren’t there things you feel a little wistful about? It is allowed, I tell myself.
I have also accepted – in a positive manner – that life does pan out the way we daydream it. Like the fact that I was never an opening batsman for my college cricket team. I always went three down or four down. That I was a spinner, and not a fast bowler. I have had some great innings, but I have also had bad days on the cricket pitch. I look back at those low-score matches and feel wistful about how I played the stroke that got me out, or given away those winning runs with bad bowling.
The minute I start ruminating could’ve, would’ve, should’ve is when I go wash the dishes, clean the car, or cook. I am neither harsh on myself nor too easy calling it karma. Instead, I acknowledge that this is how the innings of my life are playing out. The wickets lost, the runs not scored, the catches dropped, the wrong casting of actors – what can one do about all that now? I can talk about it, happily or wistfully, laughing or smiling with chagrin, or become quiet and thoughtful. Life.