Tag Archives: remission from depression

The Anthony Bourdain Memorial Ice Cream Crawl. Cause you gotta have food at a wake.

At the cheese counter I ran at A.G. Ferrari in Berkeley, 1998.

The cool comes from under the trees in the Berlin summer nights, from the leafy plazas and million parks and the green breathing lung of Tiergarten.

You catch a vegetal blast of air that feels almost icy, the way passing the 72nd st Transverse used to feel on CPW in August. We’re pretty far north in Berlin, and it stays light til 10pm. The day Anthony Bourdain killed himself I took the U-7 to Eisenacher Str. at 7pm; the long twilight hadn’t even started.

On the train an American was explaining what Currywurst is to another American. “And the place we’re going is the most famous currywurst stand in Berlin,” she said. I came out of the station by the church and walked along Akazienstr to my favorite Habibi falafel cafe, the one with the strange fountain full of sunken amphorae.

Where the guys are brusque and the line is slow but it feels so much like Mamoun’s.

And the falafel is damn near as good. In 1981 my boyfriend Paul and I used to scrape up change from under our bed and walk from the West Village to Macdougal to get falafel at Mamoun’s. I would ask for “extra, extra tahini” and they would laugh at me but fill my falafel til it dripped creamy tahini sauce. Paul slashed his throat with a razor blade in our bedroom when I was fifteen and was hospitalized at Bellevue. My first suicide attempt was two years earlier.

Before i visited Paul at the psych ward I would go to DiBella Brothers and get a Stuyvesant sandwich and marinated artichokes stuffed with blue cheese and eat them on the lawn of a high-rise in the East twenties. I would sit on the grass in that spring of 1982 with a book – Madeleine L’Engle, I was rereading the Earthsea books – and breathe in the good news that I was alive, still, and could feel pleasure.

The first gateau marjolaine I ever made, in 1992 or 1993.

In Berlin on this summer night I had slabs of roasted eggplant smeared with baba ganoush, cauliflower caramelized at the tips of the florets, cinnamon-scented chicken schwarma, pita dredged in green olive oil.

I breathed in and out in the warm cafe, as people came and went and bought baklava at the counter. They don’t make it there, of course, but it’s so good. Pistachio only, no walnut. Also delicious: the basbousa, drowning in sugar syrup.

I didn’t get any baklava, because I was planning to get ice cream, and i can always come back another day. I ate roasted carrots cut slantwise, soft as sweet potatoes. Mint leaves. Again green oil, soft pita. Again mint.

Fresh mint leaves are the single most luxurious affordable luxury item in the world.

I sat for a bit after I finished eating, looking around, breathing.

Cakes, tarts and mousses I made for a party I gave when my first Star Trek comic came out in 1994.

Hand-sculpted gold-leafed marzipan penguins I made for a wedding cake at Dean & DeLuca in 1996.

My breath is safe in my lungs, moving safely, freely. In 1987 in my tiny bedroom the paramedics yelled into their walkie-talkies, “Put a rush on that bus!”. My boyfriend Richie hadn’t been able to wake me up.

My heart ticks over smoothly. In 1996 in Adams-Morgan I stood up, stepped one step to turn on Victoria’s oven, stepped one step back to the kitchen table, and called the hotline instead.

I was working at Dean & DeLuca Georgetown in 1996, manager of the bread and pastry and fine chocolate departments. I had the most beautiful food in the world at my fingertips.

It was like a museum of food, our store, and I would cry in the bathroom in the basement.

Here in Berlin, I left Habibi’s and went down the street to Eisfee. Eis means ice cream, and Fee of course is “fairy”. I had Berliner Bar, a vanilla eis with karamell and brownies. The flavor is amazing but the texture was a bit chewier than usual. I walked slowly up towards Gotzstr. eating ice cream with the sky still, still light. It seemed like the sun would never slip over the horizon, like the city was holding it against the skyline.

The first wedding cake I ever made, white chocolate with white chocolate buttercream and handmade marzipan roses.

The charming streets of Schöneberg are lined with restaurants and cafes, and their outdoor tables were full. People were eating together, waiters were bringing full plates. I smelled fish skin sizzling on iron, and lemon juice, outside a taverna. I smelled cilantro and green curry, and basil crisping on top of margarita pizza in a wood oven. I smelled tandoori lamb, and roasting doner kebab. Berbere and sumac. Cumin, the scent of life.

I walked up to Jones Ice Cream, and waited in the line, which was no worse than the Bi-Rite line on a Tuesday night in winter.

Bûche de noel with meringue mushrooms and crème brûlées, Christmas 1994.

Jan Diekmann at Jones Ice Cream

Jan Diekmann at Jones Ice Cream

Jan Diekmann, who runs the line, saluted me when I came in. I only make it over there every couple months, but I have made it clear how deeply I value the quality of the ice cream. I had a scoop of black sesame ice cream on one of their absurdly good white chocolate cranberry cookies.

It was a serenade of salty, buttery, umami-rich sweetness, yet with a grassy and floral creaminess. I love the way you taste the grass in good cream.

I will go ahead and say Jones Ice Cream has better flavors than Bi-Rite. At Jones each flavor is actually even more superbly calibrated, but Bi-Rite beats them on texture. I ate very slowly, paging through “Sweet Berlin”, a book of Berlin pastry chefs, confiseurs and chocolatiers. When I was done I dodged through the line, and thanked the counter staff quickly, as I often do at such times. “Vielen danke! Sehr lecker, lecker-lecker!”.

And then got out of there, because you don’t take up people’s time in the evening rush.

Gateau mârjolaine with white chocolate gates and handmade marzipan roses, and petit-fours, made for my first wedding in 1995.

I walked up Goltzstr to the St. Matthias Kirche, which is being repaired, like every other fucking building in Berlin. I smelled a breath of lilacs at the edge of the small park there, though it’s past their season, and I saw that among the wild roses there is a little cherry tree, laden with shiny fruit.

There was a tiny path worn through the loose flowering bush, but I left the cherries for the kids who will come to the Markt am Winterfeldplatz tomorrow.

At the Markt am Winterfeldplatz I once bought a handmade praline of milk chocolate ganache dusted with bee pollen; my friend Monique bought flaxseed oil they grind as you watch.

In 1987 I was sitting in the Cocolat cafe on Fillmore st., eating Alice Medrich‘s three-chocolate mousse cake and drinking a split of ice-cold Piper Heidseick I had shoplifted. I was high on heroin and I was still absolutely fucking miserable. I said to myself, fuck, if this mousse can’t make me happy, drugs really must not work for me anymore.

I went to my first recovery meeting just a couple days later. It was another eighteen months before I got sober, but that moment was the beginning.

I went back to San Francisco in 1991, two years sober, and went to that Cocolat and bought Mme. Medrich’s cookbook, Cocolat. It was the first serious cookbook I bought as an adult, and I made that three-chocolate mousse cake for the opening of my first art show at school.

I spent my tweens reading Vladimir Estragon’s Waiting for Dessert column in the Village Voice and Craig Claiborne in the New York Times. But it was Innumerable hours studying Cocolat and The Cake Bible in the 90s that formed the beginning of my professional food career, which put a roof over my head when none of my other skills could.

I walked up to Nollendorfplatz, where I picked a sprig of lavender and sniffed it over and over as I waited for the bus, as the sky darkened at last, as everything turned blue.

Astringent, spicy soapy, floral, herbal – lavender is everything. I can’t believe I’m alive. I am stupidly fucking grateful to be alive. In Culver City in 2005 I was curled up on the floor of the bathroom of my husband’s corporate housing, cradling the phone, holding on to the hotline. I had taken the scissors, the sharpest blade I could find in the place, in there with me.

Holding on to the hotline like a subway pole. The hotline was the only dignity in my pain, the only justification for my existence now that I was discarded by my life partner. I was experiencing the worst emotional pain I had known since I got sober, and I wanted so badly to be dead, but the hotline held me. They told me I had value when every particle of my brain was telling me otherwise.

Halloween cake with hand-sculpted marzipan and royal icing bat, raspberry mousse heart and vanilla Bavarian brain for Halloween, 2001.

When food doesn’t make me happy, I know I’m depressed.

Gateau Marjolaine I made for my 50th birthday, Berlin 2017.

I don’t mean pleasure; as a libertine, a person with lifelong disordered eating, I can use sugar and carbs to get drug-like comfort even when I’m deeply depressed. I mean happy – that sense of exhilaration and wonder, at the alchemy of flavor.

At the mystery of how the elements of the food come together.

For me, eating is reading a story, thinking about where the food comes from on the planet, the food traditions of the culture. About the antecedents and variations of the dish.

I never eat pasta without remembering my training at The Pasta Shop in Berkeley in the late 90s.

Coulibiac of saumon made for Daria’s 30th birthday in 2017, recipe from The Pie and Pastry Bible.

We learned that microscopic corrugations in the surface of the century-old bronze dies give the best extruded pastas their sauce-grabbing power. We tasted forty-five-year-old balsamic, syrupy thick, and Cowgirl Creamery fromage Blanc made that day, and there was always Acme Bread.

The cheese period of my Pasta Shop education was especially precious. I trained with a Neal’s Yard cheesemonger. She taught me how to break an 85 pound wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, and taste the first flake from the heart of the wheel. The head chef at the Pasta Shop was a joyful grey-haired Deadhead who ate kimchi for breakfast every morning. She was wonderful. Amazing food women have guided me all my life.

The summer I was 24 I worked as a cook in a restaurant on a boat on the Mississippi River, with a group of other women. We would bake off the night’s desserts in the hot afternoons, music playing, the windows of the boat all open, cutting whole flats of ripe peaches, until everything smelled like ripe peaches. Cooking with those women are some of my most cherished kitchen memories, even though one night a body washed up in the inlet next to our boat.

Making flourless chocolate cake for Daria, 2017.

When Spalding Gray’s body was found in the East River in 2004, I thought it was a sign.

Depressed people think crazy shit like that. I had been so depressed for so long, it just seemed like I couldn’t possibly find the strength to keep going. I thought, what is the point of making it another decade and then giving up anyway? I thought, he fought it all that time only to lose in the end. I was tired of calling the hotlines, of hiding how I felt from everyone. I felt like I would get better, then get worse, and each time I was sick I was more exhausted.

But then I got to leave my toxic job, and I started painting again, and I got on Wellbutrin, and by 2005 I was doing great – until my husband left me. Between that, the Great Recession, losing my house and losing my art business, I was down for the count until 2011. And yet, that wasn’t the end of the story. I thought my story would end like Spalding Gray’s, a long battle, the appearance of making it clear of the weeds, and then losing after all. That isn’t the story I got.

The story I know today is the story of the miracle of not being depressed.

My story today is that I have been in true, complete, uninterrupted remission from my lifelong depression for almost six years. It is the story of smelling green curry from a cafe table and feeling it as a celebration of life and human magic. Instead of feeling it as a rebuke.

Once in 1995 I was standing by a pond in a park in Hartford, looking at some ducks on the water. My comic book had been cancelled, I had no apartment and my stuff was in storage, my first marriage was coming apart, my student loans had just defaulted and I had been severely depressed for a year. I felt really pissed that there was this beautiful scene, that I was supposed to appreciate, when all I could think about was how many Tylenol it takes to kill yourself.

It seemed like a cruel cosmic joke, those fucking ducks. That’s how the world feels, when you’re depressed. It affects every part of your worldview. I remember the relentless negativity and hopelessness of most of my life quite clearly. But I’ve never operated from that system of feelings, despite dwelling within it for the majority of my time on the planet. I’ve always, always proceeded as if things were gonna get better, as if I would be ok someday, no matter how bad I felt.

Vegan chocolate cake with vegan chocolate mousse. Photo by Daria Rein.

Vegan chocolate cake with vegan chocolate mousse I made last month. Photo by Daria Rein.

I was always blessed with a dunderheaded amount of what has turned out to be, surprisingly, justified faith.

Thanks to my extremely high resilience score, and the love and support I’ve been blessed with all along, I believed a possible future without depression. But I felt the pain of that worldview most of the time, and the pain and pressure of it were unbelievable. It’s only now, having been released from it for almost six years, that I can begin to understand how pervasive and relentless and exhausting it was.

I fought like a lioness to save my body, my soul, my work, my love.

I would never say I won, because I have no idea what will happen tomorrow. Luckily, I already had pretty good skills for taking chronic illness a day at a time when I entered remission from depression. Twenty-nine years of sobriety, and three rounds of cold turkey heroin withdrawal before that, have given me certain abilities. One of them is the ability to be fucking grateful not to be in pain. SO grateful it’s like a whole emotion, like being in love. Another is the ability to relish reversals of fortune.

I never imagined I could be this deeply, consistently, profoundly happy.

It can get better, and statistically, it just plain WILL for some depressed people. Happiness has a U-shape for many and you can age out of depression, or get better through treatment, or heal. I have no idea how to share that truth with those who are suffering, to get it in under their aching chests where it can grow.

Suzanne Forbes photographed at home by Mirella Frangella May 2018

Suzanne Forbes photographed at home by Mirella Frangella, May 2018

I only know my story, the story of walking around on a summer night so glad to be alive I feel like I won the lottery. Eating ice cream.

I wrote here about how Longterm Remission from Severe Depression  is Fucking Possible.

And here about how Depression is a Disease, and Most of Us Aren’t Doctors.

More writing about my fancy-food career here and converting US recipes for Europe here (Guerilla Peanut Butter Pie) and here (Five-Car Fender-Bender Flapjacks, GF).

Resources:

In Berlin,

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, the Berlin Crisis Service (Berliner Krisendienst) offers telephone and in-person help in English at nine centres throughout the city: www.berliner-krisendienst.de/en/

The NHS.

The National Suicide Prevention Helpline.

Rob Delaney’s amazing post on depression and getting help.

The Trans Lifeline.

Longterm remission and recovery from severe depression IS FUCKING POSSIBLE.

This November marks my four-year anniversary of complete remission from severe, long-term Major Depressive Disorder.

Photo by Julia Wolf 2015, licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Photo by Julia Wolf 2015, licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

glucklich in berlin Suzanne Forbes 2016Despite the US election, despite my fear for my loved ones and my horror and grief at injustice and cruelty, I am deeply happy.

It’s not just that we moved to Berlin and have a better life. I felt better for several years before we left.

I entered remission in November 2012, thanks to my partner who got me on new health insurance, my mom who found me doctors when I didn’t have the strength, and a doctor who changed my meds fearlessly.

I can’t even understand how happy I am these days.

meandmaria-by-sabine-sept-6-2016I’ve been happy much of the time, and deeply content, and gleeful, and terrified, and traumatized, and overwhelmed with grief, and sick with fear, and bursting, bursting with love, the last four years. I’ve spent many, many hours in the pure flow zone of creative work. I’ve been exhausted, A LOT.

What I haven’t been, for a single day, is depressed. If you have depression, you know the difference.

I haven’t had a single day when I wanted to kill myself.

Miss Cat DVine by Suzanne Forbes July 2016Not a single day when I thought obsessively about killing myself. Not a single day when killing myself seemed like gravity, like something I was fighting every day not to be pulled into.

I haven’t had a Plan for four years. I actually almost don’t remember what it felt like to want to drink Drano or to check the windows of the car for leaks. In the last four years, there has been only one moment when I looked at the headlights of the oncoming train and felt a dizzying pull. It was two or three seconds, during the most frightening part of our move, when things seemed hopeless and like we’d have to go back to the US.

If you have long-term suicidal depression, you probably can’t imagine this.

I lived in the Bay Area for eighteen years. By the time we left, there wasn’t a single street I hadn’t driven down wanting to kill myself. I had calculated the speed I’d need to go off every embankment, through every safety rail. Every tall building and dark water had called to me. But the last two years and four months we lived there, I was indifferent to them. I had no business with them.

I tried to kill myself for the first time when I was thirteen.

photo John Garetti 1977

Paramedics had to come for my drug overdoses twice before I was twenty-one. Near the end of my years in the Bay, in January of 2012, I was very briefly 5150’d in the ER at the Kaiser Hospital for suicidal impulse. (They were super nice and they put warm blankets around you. Definitely go there if you’re in Oakland and want to harm yourself!)

I’ve been seeing therapists since I was EIGHT YEARS OLD. I have moderate OCD, Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, PTSD and a bunch of other stuff. Oh and I’m a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict sober 27 years.Suzanne Forbes Rachel Ketchum NYC SVA id 1988

 

I’ve been in in-patient treatment for chemical dependency, spent four months in a halfway house, been through the Kaiser Family program co-dependency outpatient program, been through the Kaiser outpatient program for depression, spent five years each with two therapists doing PTSD work and dozens of visits with other therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and doctors.

Most significant of all, I have spent decades in recovery communities and support groups of all kinds, which have been the biggest resource I have to grow and change.

I HATE being mentally ill.

goat by Suzanne Forbes 2007

Goats for no reason.

I never wanted to be sick and I have fought all the diseases of the mind I suffer from fucking tooth and nail all my life. I know you have too, if you have them. I know you’re not lazy, not weak and not sorry for yourself. You are incredibly brave.

You are courageous beyond words and stronger than you should ever have had to be.

You are a superhero, in the secret identity of a person who has had to spend thousands of days on the couch with a blanket. I know you don’t want to be on the couch. I know you hate it. I believe you when you say you want to be better and that you have tried everything.

I beg you, get someone to help you try one more thing.

Pony rides by Suzanne Forbes Dec 20 2015

Ponies from last December.

I would never tell you to “fight harder”. I know you’ve been fighting as hard as you possibly can your entire life. What I beg you to do is to beg someone who cares about you to help you with your life and death struggle. I didn’t have the strength, when my crisis hit its peak in summer 2012, to find new doctors.

I was exhausted by the cycle at Kaiser, where they couldn’t offer me one-on-one therapy and wouldn’t take me off the Wellbutrin/Celexa cocktail because I “wasn’t stable enough to risk it”. I was on new insurance, in the summer of 2012, thanks to the company my bf worked for including domestic partners. But I couldn’t go through the nightmare rounds of trying to find a therapist, trying to find a psychiatrist who was taking new patients, navigating the phone trees.

My mom did the phone calls for me, and it saved my life.

ugly-hippie-sandalI went to a new psychiatrist, who I did not like at all. But he was daring (or close to retirement and just didn’t care); he stopped the Wellbutrin/Celexa cold turkey and switched me to Cymbalta. Which at the time was under patent and cost like $200 bucks a month. Lucky me, I had insurance.

He said it might take longer to kick in than I thought possible. He made me wait, showing up at his office dull-eyed or weeping quietly even though I felt totally creeped out by his old feet in their ugly sandals.

Sometimes he said, wait one more day, then call me if it’s not better. I sustained my sanity during this period by reading the excellent psychiatric medicine website CrazyMeds, where they can help you “Find the Options That Suck Less”. (Sadly, the forums are not currently active as the site owner is very sick and lacks spoons to move the site to a newer host.) Reading about other people’s dogged persistence in finding medicine for their depression helped me hang in. I read about other people who Cymbalta had worked for after longer than they wanted to wait. My mom found me a therapist, and I went back to weekly therapy. For the fourth time? The fifth? Who fucking knows. I hate therapy.

One day the meds kicked in. It was as simple as that.

esdip Berlin summer illustration students Aug 20 2016 Suzanne Forbes

Drawing on the bus with my students, summer 2016.

I was following the oft-described “Most Effective Treatment for Depression”, combining medication and talk therapy. My therapist was warm but tough, and we did a fair amount of cognitive work.

I have no more information than that. I do know that nowadays I feel like I have a scaffolding of cognitive training that keeps me from destructive thought patterns, but I could never have stopped those patterns long enough to develop new scaffolding without the meds. I’ve been on Cymbalta, same dose, for four years. I”m fine, truly and utterly fine. And being fine is WONDERFUL. I make art, teach drawing, care for my husband and our cats.

Don’t think recovering addicts who take anti-depressants are really sober? Come at me!

photo-of-rachel-ketchum-1986-by-possibly-david-seligI forget to take my meds constantly and always have. I have to put them in a 14-day pill dispenser and keep it on my worktable in front of me. I don’t know about you, but I never forgot to take my drug of choice. And I was a pill-freak, I totally fetishized and obsessed about pills. Here’s a picture of me on some downer pills in 1986*. You can see the difference between me then and me now, right?

The meds are totally neutral to my addictive brain, I’ve never wanted to take more of them or abuse them.

I have never been free of depression symptoms for this long in my entire life. Predictably, once my brain got better, my body fell apart. I had to have surgery for fibroids, I had terrible problems with anemia (even now, even though I’m on the cusp of menopause now), I’ve been through crazy perimenopause symptoms. I hate being hot, and I have had three years of hot flashes.

bead embroidered corset by Suzanne Forbes 2013I got calcium crystals in my ear and developed Benign Positional Disorder, an illness of the inner ear that makes you feel like you have the drunk spins. I had to go on disability from work! I had to have physical therapy for vertigo at the Vertigo Clinic in Oakland! Who even heard of such a thing? Isn’t that fucking ridiculous?

And the whole time, when I would stand up and cups of blood would pour down my legs, when all I could do was lie on the couch and hold on, I was fine. I was grateful, actually, and content. I wasn’t in pain and I was just weak like a Victorian invalid. I could embroider, I could watch Supernatural on Netflix, I could go to my half-time marketing job most of the time. I was making beautiful things like this bead-embroidered corset with every ounce of strength I had. Just not being depressed was such a delicious, rapturous, heavenly feeling, I didn’t care about anything else.

Not being depressed feels exactly like being on heroin when you are depressed.

aklamio 5 year anniversary party berlin by Suzanne Forbes June 17 2016They told me in treatment in 1989 that I had been self-medicating as best I could for the variety of symptoms I had, since I was thirteen. Now that I’ve been in remission from depression for four years, the longest period since I was seven, I have a glimpse of what life is like for people who don’t have depression.

It doesn’t mean my other symptoms went away. Actually, this summer I had totally insane PTSD symptoms. Nightmares where I kicked my husband awake or kicked myself out of bed fighting off dream attackers. Intrusive flashbacks. Obsessive thoughts. But it didn’t depress me or make me want to die- it just hurt, so I cried.

Life hurts, life is scary, sometimes I cry.

suzanne-forbes-self-portrait-berlin-fall-2016-editedThe horrible results of the US election wiped both me and my husband out; we average 14 to 18 hours of sleep in our house. My fatigue problems have cycled back. When I wake up, when I’m strong enough to sit up, I run to the work table or easel and work on art. My head is absolutely full of ideas and visions and creative projects, and I do what I can of them, as I can.

My heart is full of love. I love our life, our home, our city. I cherish my loved ones. I thrill to the cuteness of our cats, to the sound of rain, to the taste of ice cream. I am truly, truly not depressed, and it is amazing. You can get better.

You can be helped. Things can change. I promise.

Resources:
RAINN’s links for recovering from sexual violence.

The National Institute of Mental Health. Links to clinical studies, info on ECT– hey, I was desperate enough to try anything, and if you’re reading this, you might be too. Suicide Prevention. Hotlines saved my life so many times. If you don’t like the person you get or they don’t feel safe, hang up and call back to get someone else.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The NHS resource page, if you’re in the UK.

New Zealand resources.

Rob Delaney’s amazing post on depression and getting help.

Allie Brosh on depression. Her experience of depression differs from mine, but this powerful and beautiful work of art seems to help many depressives feel understood and to help people understand depression.

* I believe the photographer who took this was named David Selig, a guy who lived in the East Village in the 80s. He took some devastating, beautifully honest photographs of me.