It’s still a cloudy day in my head, but the clouds roll and drift enough to let sunlight peek through more often. A few months ago, it was pitch black, and cold. I found myself in the thick of deep depression for the first time in my life. I was no stranger to anxiety, I’ve worked through it and alongside it since my first year of university, but this- this was new. No bursts of manic energy, no overthinking, over-planning, no heart palpitations pulsing in sync with rapid typing -nothing. Just cold, uninterested silence.
Anxiety is my double edged sword. It’s uncomfortable, sometimes painful, but it was the fuel that kicked me out of bed at 6am to work out, to keep adding things to my plate, to burn out in secret over the weekend and come back fresh faced Monday morning, ready to take on 19 hour days on 4-5 hours sleep all over again. I had a love-hate relationship with this fuel, it made me “accomplish” a lot, but it also made my head spin. When I finally laid down at night, I’d have to recount all the “productive” things I did that day to be able to fall to sleep. Did I workout? Check. Did I read for book club? Check. Did I meal plan? Check. Check Check Check. If I was missing a check, I wouldn’t be able to sleep until I made a note in my calendar for the next day to “make up” for it.
The decline didn’t start right at the beginning of the pandemic. I re-channeled this nervous energy into “projects”, signing up for free classes, building a workout schedule, buying 4 books, downloading podcasts - the next day after being furloughed from my job. I still had to “check” off the “productive” things I had done each day to be able to go to sleep.
Depression seeped in slowly, each time a place I attached my identity to closed. I realized my “identity” was stapled all over the city. “Mia” was a culmination of: Fit Factory workouts, event association networking events, client meetings at restaurants where I knew all the staff, the classroom at George Brown I taught at, the front left speaker at Electric Island, my dining table where I hosted dinner parties, my friends’ couches and living rooms and balconies. They all got stripped away, leaving me with, “well, who am I?”
Now that I have perspective, I realize that a loss of identity was at the core of the slide down to numbness. I was constantly in a whirlwind of to-do lists and racing from one place to the next, possibly to avoid sitting in my own feelings. With nowhere to go, and no-one to see, the anxiety became deafening.
I talked to my doctor and decided to try a SSRI anti-anxiety medication to help quiet the buzzing panic. Let me start by saying I am not anti-medication: but I learned a LOT through this journey, the most poignant lesson being that everyone’s journey is different.
The adjustment period is hard. I was nauseated, all the time. I fainted. I started sleeping pretty much all the time - I’d wake up and it’d be dark outside already. Yes, the anxiety was no longer present, but it was instead replaced with complete and total numbness. I really don’t know if the depression was medication - induced, or if it quieted the anxiety long enough to reveal the depression hiding underneath. I just couldn’t text people back, couldn’t explain why, I just couldn’t. I’d read the messages, then get so tired, roll over, and go back to sleep. I couldn’t watch anything that I had to invest mental energy into - I literally just put Love Island or The Office on the TV, zone out long enough until it was time to go to bed again. I even stopped cooking, eating mostly cereal every day. Bed, couch, cereal, bed, couch, cereal.
There was one weekend where I ran out of the med, and I was out of town, and missed 3 doses - and suddenly every negative feeling flooded in with a vengeance. I felt everything, hard, and loud: my loss of identity, guilt, fear. It was the deepest despair I’ve ever felt. It was terrifying.
I talked to my doctor and decided to wean off the SSRI very slowly. As I did, I started to feel my spirit lift. It started with cooking again. I posted a few photos and people would ask for the recipes, but I never wrote anything down.
I started playing with my food, going down the rabbit hole of Youtube plating videos, pinning everything that had a puree or garnish on Pinterest, and googling plating kits and kitchen tools. I tried looking for fancy recipes that were in actuality very easy, but I either got one-pot-wonders or incredibly complex 3-day recipes that had a prerequisite of owning a fully stocked professional kitchen. Nothing in between.
You know how you just lazily type-yell random words at Google when you’re looking for something? I typed “fancy cookbook plating pretty easy” and nothing really came up. So I spent around $20 on the domain “www.thefancycookbook.com” and thought it’d be like a diary, a place to save the recipes that were floating in my head. I created an Instagram account for it too, because it wasn’t taken.
I started to feel a spark come back, and instead of groggily getting out of bed at 3pm in a zombie like state, I started to brush my hair, respond to texts, have coffee during daylight hours. I slowly started waking up earlier and earlier, excited to try a new recipe or plating idea.
Curiosity took over, that’s how it all started.
I wonder how much it costs to register a business. What?? Under $20??
Before I knew it, I had an email signature with my very own email address domain. I still felt like a kid with a hobby project, but I was having fun.
I got a DM on Instagram from a tahini and hummus company, asking if I’d be interested in recipe development using their products. Being half Lebanese, I already use tahini and hummus a lot and without thinking about it, I emphatically replied “yes!!!” (Yeah I even used multiple exclamation points in the email)
And here we are. Curiosity, cooking shows, and playing with my food made me realize I very subtly, very slowly, pretty unconsciously pivoted careers (albeit there are a lot of parallels between writing a meeting schedule and writing a food photoshoot schedule).
In terms of medication for mental health, I want to be clear: it's a process, and just because the first attempt didn't "work" for me, doesn't mean I think it doesn't "work" at all. I started with temporarily giving up alcohol, ate food that was plant based and not processed,exercised frequently and still felt swallowed by anxiety, and that is when I called my doctor to begin the conversation surrounding medication. Sometimes the first medication is the best fit. Sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's short term, sometimes it's long term. There's no one-size-fits-all. Now that I've weaned off Cipralex and feel more clear-headed and in control, I'll start to think about whether I want to revisit the conversation about medication with my doctor or not, but for now - I am still exploring my own reactions and emotions. I don't regret trying Cipralex, it was a catalyst to many realizations. What I do know is that the whole process starts with accepting yourself, accepting your mind, and being honest with yourself, releasing any guilt or shame you might be harbouring, rather than pushing everything out and away.
I don’t know what the future holds, and I don’t know how far I’ll take FCB, but for now - the dark cloud of depression is starting to lift, I feel purpose and direction again, and WOW does it feel good to colour code stuff again. Throughout the grieving process of feeling a loss of my identity, I learned that my self worth is not attached to what I crossed off my to-do list. It’s so cliche when people say “you grow through what you go through” or “one day this will all make sense” or - best one - “everything happens for a reason!” but - hear me out - they’re cliche for a reason. I'm revisiting what identity means to me, outside of places and titles and lists. Opportunities rise out of inevitable change.
I'm Maddi and Im a full time student (studying Child and Youth Work), Here I have my blog and my shop, I hope you enjoy!