I am not a spectacular cook. I cook well and have been complemented enough times on my ability to raid the fridge and make something delicious. I cook because I love to eat and have sadly come to a realization: some time in the past five years of living in the US, food became my go-to pick-me-up
Two years into my collegiate career, things became very tough for me. A lot of things began to go wrong. Too many issues were beyond my control and I found myself crumpling under the burden. I have an aunt who in her own way tried to do her best to make right for me, the things that she could. One such thing was food. She always made sure that I had enough to eat. And so, I began to measure my level of personal well being by how much food I was eating. I could not afford to eat out but that was no problem as I always had enough food to make up.
I remember one Friday evening a couple years ago which could serve as a template for many others. As usual, I had put up for "pin-up" review, designs that were so predictably sub par--according to my professors-- that the reviewing jury took a considerable amount of time ripping into me. Choking back frustrated tears and weighed down by the foreboding knowledge that it did not matter what grades I got in other courses, my GPA was not climbing anywhere higher, I dragged my sorry self to my dorm room.
My suite mate was getting dressed to go clubbing and she proffered the perfunctory invitation. As usual, I declined. Girlfriends with whom I had hung out with as a freshman had slowly taken me off their social lists: a heavy academic workload coupled with my recluse-type behaviour meant that I was not honoring their invites and they too stopped asking; so that Friday, like all others, no one was looking for me to do anything.
My other classmates from architecture school called me to tell me they were going drinking. Our studio was split down the middle with half being budding alcoholics and the other half stepping that up to smoking weed. Each group usually retreated behind their individual comforts when stressed. Since I did none of those things, and could not afford to do anything else, I went into my room and closed the door.
Then I cried a bit. It sometimes helped.
Then halfway through blowing my nose, I realised that I needed to pee. I got up and headed for the bathroom I shared with my suite mate. As I walked out of my room, I caught sight of two plantains, sitting on top of our fridge. They were turning black. I told myself that I needed to fry them immediately lest they become so rotten that they could not be salvaged.
As I sat on the toilet bowl, I toyed with the idea of eating just plantains. As I washed my hands, I mentally browsed through the contents of my fridge. Twenty minutes later, the suite was filled with the smell of frying peppers and steaming rice with onions. Less than an hour later, I climbed on my bed with a tray laden with food and cold, sweet drinks. I was alternating between shoving my face with food and changing the channel when I caught my reflection in the mirror and froze. There was a slight, imbecilic smile on my face and for the brief moments, I had forgotten that I had been crying.
All it had taken to bring up my spirits was hot rice with fried fish stew, fried plantains washed down with cold soda. Food had become my comfort.
I think, after that, i became very cautious about how I saw food. Unfortunately, the system had been set in motion. Till now, I fight a daily battle not to mask/ bury my emotions with food. It does not matter what it is, as long as I am eating something.
A forty pound weight gain coupled with skin that has become a new colony base for acne have been just two of the repercussions. Lethargy, fatigue, join the list.
I am working on it. We all battle depression in different ways. I have used food. Others use even more destructive means. Talking about it was not an option at the time: no one would have understood and family would just have told me to go into prayer; which is fine but sometimes, you might feel so down that you cannot hear God speaking to you. And that is why God made professional mental health practitioners.
It is 10.56 pm. I am craving something to eat. I am not sad. Or depressed. Just hungry.