Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald, a novelist and award-winning journalist and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment — and a tested recipe.
Degrees of Depression
— Beer? asks Fiona.
— To beer or not to beer, there is no question, says Neil.
Fiona grins and hands him a bottle.
— I’m glad you decided to skip the hockey game, she says.
— I wanted to go, says Neil. Mostly so I could hang out with Luc and Gavin — he’s such a great kid. But this cold’s a killer. Thank god, Mom’s got friends in town. I don’t think I could handle her tonight. She could start a fight in an empty house.
Fiona snorts with laughter. What a sense of humour! she thinks.
— I don’t know how you can live with her.
— I’m mostly an absentee tenant. I see her at supper and she goes over her list of things I have to do — hence the cheap rent — and encourages me to eat. I never actually talk to her about anything.
He grasps the roll of fat at his waist.
— I do my bit for the team. Other than that, I’m in the basement working and she never comes down. But the one-on-one during Christmas is a killer. And she rises to the occasion, going after you.
— Nothing’s changed, except I don’t have to put up with it full time. Do you ever think about moving out?
— I know, I’m such a loser; thirty-four and living in my mom’s basement. A walking stereotype. But I did live alone for a while, remember in college? I didn’t like it much. I like having someone else in the house. I don’t actually get out a lot, so if I work alone and live alone, it’s just too much. It makes the down times tougher.
— Down times?
— You know, the times when you feel down in the dumps. Most of the time I’m up. Cheerful guy, laugh a minute, but we all have our flip side.
— Sure, sure. It’d be unnatural to be one way or another all the time.
— It has been a bit lately.
— What do you mean?
— Extreme. I stay in a lot.
— What do you mean by a lot?
Fiona’s inner alarm bells are going off. He lives at home, doesn’t go out, barely talks, even to Mom. Is he depressed?
— Well, I work mostly, says Neil. I’m the most productive guy in my unit. I went and saw a movie in November. And I met some of the guys from college for a Christmas drink, but that’s about it in the last while. I play a lot of video games. Watch television.
— Are you depressed? Or are you just lonely?
— A bit lonely. Depressed? I don’t know. That’s a big word. And doesn’t one feed the other? How do you separate them? We’re inherently social creatures, so what happens when we deny that part of us? Does it adversely affect our serotonin levels?
— Serotonin? thinks Fiona. He’s been reading up on it.
— There are different degrees of depression, says Fiona. I mean for some people it’s debilitating, but others, maybe like you….
— And what’s with the drugs, interjects Neil. They may — researchers aren’t even sure — they may have an effect on the serotonin in the central nervous system. But eighty percent of serotonin is in the gut. So even if the action is right, they aren’t hitting the g-spot.
— But Neil, drugs help lots of people.
— Do they? I went online. There are these massive reviews of antidepressants that found that no conclusive proof they’re any better than placebo — except for people in really dire straits.
— I don’t know, says Fiona, shrugging. Drugs have really helped a couple of people I know. Not friends, but colleagues and that.
Neil breaks into a coughing fit. Finally he takes a sip of his beer.
— It’s like soma in Brave New World, he says. Do you know ten percent of Americans are on antidepressants? That’s twenty-seven million people. We’re probably worse in Canada, with our long winters and all.
— Now you’re contradicting yourself, Neil. On the one hand, they don’t work. On the other hand, we’re a society of zombies for taking them.
— Well, whether they work chemically or not, there’s still the placebo effect; that accounts for about a quarter of the response. Bottom line is I’m not interested in taking them.
— Is someone saying you should?
— Doctor Farr….
— He must be a hundred and eight! Are you even allowed to be a doctor at that age?
— What gets me is that he keeps up on everything. He’s online all the time, the whole bit. You gotta admire him. Anyway, he sort of suggested I might try Paxil or something, plus some talk therapy. But I told him I wasn’t interested in the pharma.
— What does he think the problem is?
— Never heard of it.
— It’s a mild type of bipolar. Sometimes hypomanic, then mildly depressed. Or it could be bipolar, straight up.
— Oh, Neil, I didn’t know. So what happens now?
— I wait. I have an appointment to see a psychiatrist in May.
— May! That’s ridiculous!
What if things get worse? she thinks. What if he can’t wait? But she doesn’t want to alarm him.
— Why don’t you go see a psychologist, says Fiona. A behavioural therapist. You might like that better anyway. It’s more practical.
— Yeah, and it’s two-hundred a pop and I don’t have insurance. Besides, we already pay so much for our so-called free health care. I’ll wait. There’s no rush.
— Cheap-ass! You could afford a few sessions. It’s your life we’re talking about.
He blows his nose vigorously.
— Yeah, yeah. I’ll think about it.
— That means you won’t do it. In the meantime, you could try to get out a bit more. That might help. You still have friends in town.
— Yeah, it’s just…. Well, everyone’s so busy. Or married.
— Life doesn’t end when you get married, you know! People still like to go out. It might be easier if you set up something regular, like a poker night or pool night. Then you don’t have to arrange things all the time, it just happens.
— Pool might work. If I can get some people together. I used to go out on Saturdays to Murphy’s. You know the place. There’d always be a few people I knew. But then I stopped going. I don’t even know why. If I did that and had another regular gig during the week … that might be just the ticket.
— But no computer talk! Promise?
— Now you sound like Mom.
— Yikes! Okay enough of this conversation. Do you need another beer? Or would you like a hot rum toddy*? It’s great for a cold, says Fiona.
— Good idea. One of those and you don’t even care if you have a cold!
*Hot rum toddy
2 ounces rum
2 teaspoons honey
Juice of half a lemon
- Put rum, honey and lemon in a coffee mug.
- Top off with boiling water. Add more honey if needed. Drink.