It’s no secret that I’ve been having a rough few months — a rough year, even. (Well, you, dear reader, might think it’s a secret, because I’ve been so non-existent here on my blog. But, I promise you (and me) that that is going to change.)
I’d forgotten, living in Southern France for five years, how the winter here in the North Country really grinds me down. I’d forgotten what weeks upon weeks of 8 hours or less of weak and measly sunlight does to me. I’d forgotten how the prices of fresh vegetables skyrocket and how me, being the horrid cheapskate that I am, can’t bear to spend $4 on a tiny head of lettuce, or any money at all on tomatoes that don’t taste like anything but mushy nothingness. I’d forgotten what a steady diet of dim light, canned beans, joint-aching chill does to me.
I’ve had the winter blues since I was a child, and no one here, myself included, ever gave me a specific diagnosis. “Eat more oranges,” one doctor said. “Try not to be so sad,” a family member said. “Sit in front of a bright light,” another doctor said. I didn’t know it was possible *not* to feel this way — like every single act of moving, thinking, or doing was like walking through thigh-deep water, every movement of my body and thought of my brain dragging against me like so much sucking muck at the bottom of a lakebed. Snarling at people, out of nowhere. My memory shot to hell, unable to recall what happened on Thursday, unable to remember what I’d eaten for breakfast. Unable to finish a crossword puzzle, or read more than a few pages of a book at a time — me, a self-professed word nerd and crazed book enthusiast. Wanting nothing more than to crawl back under the covers and not exist — not to die, never that; just not to have to go through the motions of living.
In France, I got a slight reprieve from this. I still had the blues, they just weren’t debilitating. I still had to fight my instincts to get myself outside to walk the dog, or go to the market. But I had the city waiting right outside my front door, no snowbanks to scale over, no bitter cold to contend with. I could be nearly anywhere I wanted by foot, by train or by bus, in thirty minutes or less. I was free.
Here, it’s a twenty-minute car ride to get anywhere. The road outside my house is a major trucking route and right at a speed limit change (from 40mph to 50mph) which means that impatient folks generally decide to use it as a passing zone — I’ve had at least three cars “miss” the pass and wind up in my front yard instead… so there’s no way in hell I’m going to walk, or bike here. There’s been no snow, so skiing or snowshoeing out my back door — not happened. My mobility has been severely limited.
A week or so ago, a family member and I had what I call a “Come To Jesus” talk. A frank, somewhat brutal discussion about how my mood, ability to follow-through on things, memory impairment and general malaise has been affecting not just me, but the rest of the people around me. I admitted how scared I was that my brain didn’t seem to belong to me anymore, that I couldn’t remember what we’d had for dinner the night before, that I couldn’t remember words, that the wrong words would come out of my mouth at the wrong time (I would intend to say “Please hand me that frying pan”, and instead would say “please hand me that toothbrush.”) It a very frank discussion, somewhat lacking in tact and affability, but chock full of concern, love and honesty. Something needed to change, and change soon.
In his way of loving me, he went out and bought me all the truly healthy groceries he could think of that might help me. Avocados and salmon, to boost brain power. Lavender oil, to help me relax and sleep. Leafy salad greens, high in iron and vitamin c and B. And a huge paper sack full of the first tomatoes of the season. Back in France, we’d eaten a tomato salad almost every night with dinner. Tomatoes there are in season from March through December. And they have a glorious taste and a glorious texture, and we’d eat them in our special green ceramic bowl, with fresh basil and olive oil from Provence and balsamic vinegar from just over the border and some mozzarella from the buffaloes two towns over.
My body went a little haywire, with the first bite of tomatoes. I don’t know if it was just the remembering of better times eating tomatoes, or if it could have been in response to the compounds in the tomatoes, but I was compelled to eat the whole bowl. I felt an easing in my chest, I felt a little bit lighter. I googled “tomatoes and depression” and found there are studies linking tomatoes with an easing of depression. (that’s an awkward sentence, dear reader. The studies linked -lack- of tomatoes in one’s diet, with depression.)
Several articles mentioned vitamin B deficiencies with mild-to-moderate depression, as well as vitamin D deficiencies. Since my doctor in France had prescribed vitamin D to me during the winter months, I knew that would probably help me again. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to get an appointment with my doctor for several weeks (potential vitamin deficiencies are not high on the appointment-getting priority list) and not willing to categorize myself as such an emergency that I needed to be seen right away, I took my collective self into my own hands, and decided to try some vitamins on my own. (And yes. I have since made myself a doctor’s appointment to discuss these things…)
Dear reader, it is day four of my new vitamin regimen, and I can barely begin to believe the difference they’ve made. Every morning, my eyes pop open with the alarm, and I’m ready to get out of bed, rested and ready to go. My appetite is back, and craving all the right things (salad! tomatoes! bananas! yogurt! avocados! pineapple!). My brain is back under my control — my concentration level is rising, I’m no longer stumped for words. My memory is back (I had yogurt and granola for breakfast this morning. The yogurt was strawberry, low fat, expires on the 24th of April and is currently resting on the second shelf (on the left side) of my refrigerator. Friday night, we’re having pork souvlaki, for which I need to make the marinade this evening, and the ingredients are… (you see? Memory. Not a thing I need to worry about for the moment.) I actually couldn’t stop myself from whistling while I did the dishes yesterday morning. Laughter and jokes are bubbling from my lips. Loving kindness for myself and others.
I feel vibrant. I am vibrant. I feel (and see) colours. I feel energetic, and excited, and intelligent. This doesn’t feel like any previous pseudo-mania I’ve ever felt. This is not a high before the crash. This is stable. This is good. I’m resisting worrying about the other shoe dropping, about all this tumbling down around me. I’m going to keep feeling like this — I know I will. I have to. I will.
What does this have to do with gardening?
Gardening is not one of my things. It’s my husband’s thing. The garden breathes a sigh of relief when it sees him coming — he knows what to do for plants, how to make them thrive, what grows best next to which, and the plants seem to love him. When it sees me coming, the garden hunkers down with a gritting of its teeth – ‘oh god, here we go again.’ I don’t have a green thumb – I have a black thumb. Plants wilt in my presence. At times, I’ve had the feeling they do it on purpose.
But this year, it’s going to be different. The garden and I, we are in it together. I need time outside in the sunshine (Vitamin D, baby. It’s the best.) and to do something. I may not know which plants need acidic soil, or what to do for roses, but I am a damned fine weeder. I can weed and weed, and rarely get sick of it. Sure, there’ll be a whole new crop of them next week, but for that afternoon in the sun, I’ve made measurable and distinct progress. I can identify the 97 different types of grasses that seem to sprout up around here in the blink of an eye. I can identify poison parsnip, and dandelion root, and lilac shoots and willow whips, and that strange flat cabbage looking weed that no one seems to be able to give me a name for other than “oh, yeah. That weed.” I have no fear of being dirty, or muddy, or of parking my butt in the damp mulch. I know better than to pull weeds with my mouth open (A second mouthful of dirt, and HA! Fooled me twice, but never again) and all I need are my gloves, my little rake and my foam pad to kneel on. Oh, and a hand spade. And my cowgirl hat.
So. I’m a not-gardener. But finally, a vibrant, feeling, laughing, not-gardener.