Sweet Potato Project: Holding ground, moving forward

Some days, when the hunger feels almost unbearable, I don’t have the energy to try something new at the metaphorical restaurant.  I don’t even have the energy to read the menu.  The best I can manage is to order my hamburger and make myself eat it slowly enough that it doesn’t make me sick.

And that’s okay.  On Wednesday, I’d planned to leave the house in the morning, bike to a local coffeeshop, and meet a friend to get work done together for our respective jobs.  I ended up spending the day watching a silly TV show and doing rote (but necessary) work on Akkadian.  But I made that choice deliberately; I assessed my mood and energy, and I decided that it was better to choose to do something low-key but mildly productive than to spend the whole day trying to do something more ambitious, and berating myself when I didn’t do it.  I don’t feel bad about Wednesday.

Today started reasonably well; I made breakfast (hot cream of wheat with maple and mixed nuts) and took myself and the spousey to our respective therapies.  As is sometimes the case, today’s therapy made things worse in an immediate sense, because it forced me to stop and confront certain situations and mental habits.  It didn’t help when, afterwards, I spent two hours wrestling with moronic health insurance representatives and phone trees and pharmacy bureaucracy, just to try to get the spousey the meds he needs in order to function.  I came home beaten-down and exhausted.  I knew that an evening home alone wouldn’t help, but I effectively had to bribe myself to get out of the house for the evening.

I’m glad I did.  My bribe (and my New Thing for the day) was a half-hour soak at a local spa that has a large community hot tub.  The hot tub was delightful, but at least as rewarding was my reading material: an introduction to behavioral analysis, a gift from a friend.  I’m still working through it, but its fundamental message, which I really needed to hear, was this: behavior can change.  People can be trained.

On a day when I felt hopelessly overwhelmed by my perceived brokenness — my inability to focus and achieve things that I want, even things that should be enjoyable — that message, and the accompanying techniques of behavioral science to facilitate change, helped immeasurably.  I had dinner on my own, continuing to read the book between bites, and I picked up some “supplies” at the grocery store on my way home: I want to try to train myself into better habits.

Hope comes in different forms.  Perhaps the meta-lesson of today was this: too often I look for an instant fix to the listlessness and despair of depression, something to magically Make Me Happy. But the fact is, I’m doing this Sweet Potato Project because I don’t know how to accomplish that.  I went out this evening expecting to enjoy a nice hot tub soak, and I did, but the biggest breakthrough of the day came because I strayed from my normal reading material and habits.  Here’s to continuing that wandering.

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Sweet Potato Project, Day 3: Cooking and bedtimes

So hey, the depression’s been pretty crap lately, but I’ve been trying to continue the project.  Two new observations from the past few days:

  • Cooking in itself doesn’t make me happy, but it has two advantages.  First, if I have a specific plan and a cleanish kitchen, I can do it even when the brain weasels are acting up a lot.  Second, the results of cooking (tasty food, pride in accomplishment, praise) can often be happy-making.
  • Going to bed early (which for me means by midnight) doesn’t make me happy.  Getting up earlier helps a little, because it means I have more daylight hours doing stuff.  But probably the biggest advantage is that I avoid the awful zone from 2 to 3am when I’m inevitably achingly lonely and feeling hopeless about it.  So that’s a thing.

Just so I have them down somewhere (someday I’ll start doing a real recipe blog, with photos and more concrete amounts), here are the three things I’m most proud of cooking over the past couple of days.

Brazilian collard greens and sausage: Brown and cook spicy sausages in a large skillet.  While they’re cooking, remove the central stem from the greens, then cut them into thin strips.  Blanch them in boiling water for one minute, then drain.  Add some olive oil to the skillet if necessary, then add a large spoonful of minced/crushed garlic and stir until fragrant.  Add the blanched greens, salt and pepper them generously, and cook, stirring regularly, for a few minutes, until everything’s hot and fragrant and well-distributed.  Sprinkle with red wine vinegar and serve over rice.

Papua New Guinean sweet potatoes: Poke holes in whole sweet potatoes with a fork, then bake them at 350 for about an hour, until they’re soft and oozing sweet juices.  Cool, peel, and mash the sweet potatoes with coconut milk or cream and salt to taste.  Sprinkle with chopped roasted peanuts, then bake until browned.

Bolognese pasta sauce: Brown a pound of beef, drain it, and put it in a slow cooker with a large can of tomatoes, broken up.  In the same pan, after adding some olive oil, sautee chopped onions, finely minced carrots, mushrooms, bell peppers, and garlic (in that order), then toss them in the slow cooker as well.  Add half a bottle of red wine and deglaze the bottom, bringing it to a simmer, then adding it to the cooker.  Add a little more oil and sautee a can of tomato paste, then add the other half of the bottle and stir until the mixture is totally smooth.  Add to the cooker, along with thyme, oregano, basil, black pepper, salt, and a generous glug of cream or half’n’half.  Stir and cook on high for three or four hours, stirring occasionally.  Taste, adjust seasoning, and serve over pasta, with optional parmesan.