I made butternut squash soup today. It’s was ridiculously easy.
Peel, clean and chop a butternut squash. Do the same to a green apple. Throw in in a Vitamix with chicken broth (or hot water and bouillon), milk or cream, hot honey (or honey/light brown sugar and cayenne), soy sauce, garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, sage, cumin, olive oil and pumpkin seeds. Turn on the soup setting. Soup in under 10 minutes.
I’ve been reading up on serotonin lately. As someone who lived in a protracted state of depression through much of her late 20’s and early 30’s, I can tell you that depression sucks. Mine was due to multiple causes, but medicine never seemed to work for me. In fact, it dulled my brain to the point that I was taking speed to counteract all the other stuff just to be able to get through the day. I spent entire years on a couch, watching TV, wondering what the hell had happened to the bright, dynamic, take no prisoners person I had been before.
I was able to get off almost all of the drugs (with doctor supervision/cold turkey suicide attempt that led to no drugs in the ICU or mental hospital). And then life just sort of got better. I spent every day of 2016 forcing myself to sit in the sun for at least an hour a day. With the help of a therapist and a life coach, and the knowledge that I couldn’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results, my life started coming together. A lot later than I’d hoped, but better late than never.
None of this is medical advice. I can’t tell you what worked or why it worked. I can only tell you that life got remarkably better. My moods evened out as I learned that depression was not a part of me but a malfunction that needed to be addressed and treated as the unwelcome visitor it was. It going to the point where I’d forgotten what depression felt like.
It took trying Molly (Ecstasy, X, E, MDMA) twice this winter to remind me of what depression felt like. It dulled everything. My senses, my brain, my motivation. “Fuck that!” I thought. I worked too hard to get away from that to use a drug recreationally that made me feel marginally better than I already felt naturally. But I also realized that a lot of people are doing recreational drugs to feel the way I feel pretty much all the time. So that pretty much quelled any curiosity I had about doing what the cool kids do…with the exception of nitrous oxide at the dentist for some reason…the jury’s still out on that one…but it’s been incredibly helpful with deep insight. Don’t worry, I’m not about to start using whippets.
Moving north to NYC also had an effect on me. Lots less sunlight in the winter to make Vitamin D. I try not to take supplements. They’re not verified or tested in a way that makes me comfortable, and I’d rather address things through diet as much as possible. In Tucson, I never cooked, even though I’m an amazing cook (thanks PBS!) and I had a giant kitchen and every kitchen tool known to man. I basically existed on gummy bears and Gatorade. I lived a really unhealthy life. My place was a mess. I never exercised. I cared about very little except my next trip to NYC. I wasn’t living. I was existing. Even after all the help.
I gained 20 pounds after moving to NYC. My old roommate (good riddance to that gaslighting hippie harpie) didn’t want either of us using the kitchen. She wanted to turn it into a solarium/cafe/greenhouse. I got the flu the first week I was in town. I got edema in my feet from sleeping on half a couch for over 20 days. And plantar fasciitis from walking around in Birkenstocks. I had a lump in my breast. I live in Bed-Stuy, which is a food desert. I was ordering bad delivery and eating junk. My heart, which is prone to palpitations, felt weak, my anemia was awful and I got winded easily.
And then the harpie moved out at the end of October. I was already drinking tons of water because summers here are a bitch and the tap water is pretty clean. But now I was eating healthier, too. I started grocery shopping in other neighborhoods and kept the fridge/freezer/pantry stocked all the time with plenty of options so cooking didn’t feel like a chore. I cooked actual meals for the first time since my early 30’s. Lots of eggs, butter, olive oil, full fat milk, cheese, tons of fruit (fresh/frozen), vegetables (fresh/frozen), mushrooms (fresh/frozen) and legumes (mostly canned), dark chocolate (rarely), coffee (again, rarely), quinoa, steel-cut oatmeal, chia, flax and pumpkin seeds, cacao nibs. Chicken, beef, pork in moderation. Not a lot of sugar, but some. If I did get the urge to order in, I could usually make whatever it was I wanted to order and guarantee it would be cheaper and better anyway.
I started reading Epicurious and Bon Apetit looking for inspiration. I started taking notes on meals I wanted to prepare so that my mind didn’t draw a blank when it came time to grocery shopping. I bought every spice and condiment I could use because I wanted food to be a pleasurable experience. Repeated enough times, it became a feedback loop. “Wow, that meal was good. I guess I don’t hate cooking or washing dishes.” And then I stopped even having to motivate myself to cook.
My skin, which I’d always thought was naturally dry, felt completely different. My hair felt great. I had energy. My face thinned out and my clothes fit better. I got on a scale in January for the first time since July…and I’d lost 30 pounds. I’d also cut out lithium around the same time, so that might have contributed to the weight loss as well.
My blood sugar is great. My blood pressure is great. They can get low sometimes. Part of my particular experience with autism is that I don’t feel thirst or hunger the way most people do and I can forget to eat…sometimes for days. There’s a lot there that I don’t want to write about right now. The point is that I make myself aware to take care of myself now because I finally have a life worth caring about and I want to be in the best shape to enjoy it.
So I started reading scientific articles on nutrition. I got interested in serotonin production. This article on tryptophan, serotonin, mood and cognition is pretty comprehensive, if not definitive. It tells me a lot of things. It tells me that the scientists don’t know everything, but that eating healthy is never a bad thing and there might indeed be a gut/brain connection.
So the pumpkin seeds. Omega-6 fats, protein, antioxidants. High in magnesium…so it’s great for heart health, blood sugar, maintaining healthy bones. And high in tryptophan. They’re convenient to throw into creamy soups. Again, I’m not giving any dietary advice to you. I don’t know your situation. This isn’t about my diet. I’m telling you that since I actually care about myself now, I’m doing everything I can to keep my body and brain in top form by reading, preparing menus, shopping, cooking, and reinforcing good habits with delicious food that makes me excited to eat instead of anxious and stressed.
The point isn’t to lose weight. The point is to be mindful of what is going on in my body because it doesn’t come naturally. And the results have been really remarkable. Moving to NYC has been such a jarring experience in so many ways, but this has been an unexpected good side effect of taking charge of my life.