Depression and the Kitchen

There’s a major side-effect of depression that all of those tra-la-la, aren’t-these-cute-cartoon-people, take-our-pill-and-get-happy-again antidepressant commercials don’t get into—something that, if you’ve never dealt with severe depression you might never know, something that can make recovery extremely hard—and that’s the deterioration of the living environment of the depressed person.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been a neatnik. I was the kid who was constantly being told to “clean up this pigsty of a room”—but it was usually just from laziness (dropping dirty clothes on the floor instead of in a hamper, leaving books and papers and accessories lying about all over the room, etc.). However, when I started experiencing severe depressions in my early 20s (I have cyclical depression), this was when the reality of the effect on my environment really started to take its toll on me. Yet I always thought it was just because of me being who I am—i.e., just a “messy kid”—and that I was just lazy, disgusting, and hopeless (really great things to be feeling when battling depression, right?). It wasn’t until I saw this scene in the Season 7 episode “From Childhood’s Hour” of Criminal Minds that I finally realized that I couldn’t keep beating myself up for it:


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As an adult, even though I live alone (maybe especially because I live alone), I’ve tried to make more of an effort to keep my house at least somewhat organized and clean—enough so that I wouldn’t be embarrassed if a friend decided to drop by unannounced. However, as I started cycling down into this last depressive cycle—so severe that for the first time in my life I had to go on a prescription AD due to self-annihilative thoughts—my ability to keep up with even simple housework tasks fell by the wayside.

It’s been about two years since I came off the AD prescription—mainly because I was starting to experience side-effects from it, meaning my body was rejecting it because I didn’t really need it anymore to balance out the chemicals in my brain—but since then, I’ve still been struggling with the apathy and mental/physical exhaustion that come with depression. And one of the main reasons for that is because of the squalor that I’ve been living in for the last four or so years.

All that to say, that 2015 is my year to take the final steps I need in order to put this bout of depression behind me. And a major step in that goal was to purchase a “real” (full-size) dishwasher. Even though I live in a house, it’s a rental, so I’ve been making-do with a countertop dishwasher for the past fourteen or fifteen years. It didn’t hold much, and for the past year or so, most of the dishes were coming out dirtier than they went in. That, combined with the lingering effects of the depression, is why my kitchen ended up looking like this:

Depression's Effect on My Kitchen

It looks gross, I know. but everything was at least rinsed off and dry—no mold or creepy-crawlies, no stagnant, smelly water sitting in anything.

Because my parents are wonderful, overly generous people, I was able to purchase a full-size (portable) dishwasher for Christmas. I ordered it online while still visiting family over Christmas break and was so excited about it that I talked about it for over a week—and was completely bummed when I found out that delivery would be delayed by several days because of a backorder in the warehouse. But finally, Friday morning at 8:30 a.m., it arrived:

My beautiful, new dishwasher!

My beautiful, new dishwasher!

I’m sure that most of my family members thought it strange how excited I was to get it—especially my parents who, I’m sure, remember teenaged-me agreeing to doing the dishes by myself for a week as a punishment once (there were only four of us in my immediate family AND we had a dishwasher—but to me, it was a punishment because it was a chore I hated above just about everything else). However, I’ve known all along that being able to get my kitchen cleaned up and reorganized was going to go a long way in (a) getting me over the biggest hurdle toward full recovery from this almost-four-year-old depression and (b) helping me get back on the road to health by enabling me to start living a low-carb lifestyle again—because low-carbing is nearly impossible (for me, anyway) when I’m depressed and when I can’t cook my own food.

So, in less than 48 hours, my kitchen has gone from that gross mess above to this:

Now, this is just one side of the kitchen—there’s another half to be dealt with—but that’s mostly just getting it organized and cleaning the surfaces. And then . . . MORE COOKING AND MORE RECIPES!!!

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About Kaye Dacus

Kaye Dacus Academic Editor (at NCU). Published Author (11 novels, dozens of articles, essays, poems). Prolific Procrastinator. www.kayedacus.com
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16 Responses to Depression and the Kitchen

  1. caring58 says:

    The after picture-Kitchen looks great! I know you are going to feel more productive now that it’s clean. I hope the dishwasher really helps with keeping it that way and in turn continues to give you a lift in the direction of healing.

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  2. Judy D says:

    Wow, I love the kitchen after picture. You did a great job.

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    • Kaye Dacus says:

      Now I just need to organize the island, the shelves over it, and the pantry rack. I’ve planned out my meals for the rest of the week in a way that works around not being completely organized yet, but I want to be able to really dig in with pre-planning and moving forward next week.

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  3. April says:

    OH, Kaye! I know just what you are saying. I’ve been clinically depressed for years but have never been able to come off the AD for any length of time. It’s mostly apathy and lack of motivation that hits me now. I thought for a minute you took a picture of my kitchen when I was badly depressed….but then I realized my counter is not tan. LOL 🙂
    I commend you for being truthful…that is the hardest part. Believe me, I know. Some may not understand, but that’s ok because many, many of us do. And, we would be the ones to stand by you when you need a friendly voice!
    I just came clean with my food addictions (sugar and wheat) because I’ve tried to live WITH them for years and years. I have to give them up totally forever. Can I do it? I don’t know, but I’m going to try.
    It’s just wonderful that you now have a dishwasher. I could not imagine trying to create recipes without one. It’s hard just to cook without one to help on the cleanup! That’s hard, so don’t cook good meals like I should. That’s ending…I’ve got menu’s and motivation at the moment!
    I’m looking forward to your new creations.
    Hang in there; you are going to do just fine. 🙂
    ~April

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    • Kaye Dacus says:

      Sugar is my biggest and worst addiction, but I’ll binge on just about anything that tastes good/that’s a favorite. Doesn’t matter if I’m not really even hungry. I get that release of feel-good brain chemicals and just keep eating an eating. And then, after I’m done, I feel that much worse about myself. So, yeah, it’s hard to try to live with the worst of the addictions. For me, sugar is the hardest to break—I actually have physical withdrawal and craving symptoms for it in the first several weeks. I cannot imagine what people who have alcohol or drug addictions go through in order to get healthy!

      Let’s do this thing together this year! I know that I’m going to need the moral support.

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  4. judydacus says:

    You’re welcome 😉 I’ve only had the depth of depression that you have one time (Alaska) and I remember standing in the kitchen crying because of the dirty dishes (and they were dirty, not rinsed) and I remember it looking a lot like your before picture. But around that time I read a couple of things that (when I apply them) help me. One is to set at timer and see how much I can get done in some ridiculously short amount of time. So when I’m heating my sausage in the morning (2 minutes) I see how many things I can put away from the bottom rack of the dishwasher. Since that’s the big stuff, I can generally get most of it put away if it doesn’t need drying. The other was to do the easiest job first that will make the most impact. So picking up all the paper around my desk and making one neat stack and maybe filing one or two obvious things. Or, in your childhood room, picking up the dirty clothes and tossing them in a basket. Maybe these tricks will help you, maybe not.

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    • Kaye Dacus says:

      I have a box filled with slips of paper with “little” household tasks listed (wipe down bathroom sink, vacuum area rugs, clean off chair-side table). The idea was to pull one out, set a timer for 15-20 minutes, do the task, and then go back to whatever else it was that I was doing (writing, watching TV, knitting, etc.) for an hour—or the length of an episode of whatever series I’m binge-watching on Netflix or Amazon—then do another task for 15-20 minutes. I may pull that back out this (THREE-DAY) weekend and see what else I can get accomplished.

      Right now, my living room, while not “clean,” is in the best shape it’s been in years, since I had to be sure the delivery guys could get from the front door to the kitchen with the dishwasher. So the floor is completely clear, except for a couple of boxes of books and a few empty coolers (from my Enbrel shipments) under the table and an overflowing recycle box of stuff that needs to be shredded. It’s been swept but not mopped. I really want to concentrate this weekend on getting the kitchen and living room, the two rooms where I spend the most time, in tip-top shape. Then, because that shouldn’t take more than a day doing the timed activity model above, I should be able to concentrate a day on deep-cleaning the bathroom.

      Later, I’ll attack my bedroom and the spare room—which is the worst, because it’s become the storage room for everything that either needs to be put away or given/thrown away. But right now that’s all out-of-sight, out-of-mind, so it’s a big help emotionally/mentally for me to just be able to ignore it for the time being.

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  5. Noelle says:

    I’m glad you are feeling better and that you have gotten that new dishwasher. I think that it is an awesome gift and can understand your excitement. The after picture looks great! Sounds like 2015 is starting off great for you!

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    • Kaye Dacus says:

      I am loving the dishwasher. Before I started cooking last night, I put the few remaining dishes in it, then, after I put the pork chop into the fridge to marinate, I went ahead and cleaned up what I’d used and put it in the dishwasher.

      If I can just keep up that level of “clean while I go” and make it a habit that I don’t really even have to think about, I shouldn’t find myself in that dire of a situation again!

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      • tigerfans4 says:

        I usually clean as I go which definitely makes the task of cleaning up after dinner not so daunting!! So glad you are happy with the dishwasher. I couldn’t live without mine! 😉

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  6. Tracy Latour says:

    Good luck in 2015, Kaye! I love your blog and recipes. I have never experienced depression myself but I have had loved one who surfer and I just want to offer a huge cyber hug.

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    • Kaye Dacus says:

      Thank you so much, Tracy!

      It’s so hard to speak out about depression and all the side effects, like this, that arise from it because I’m never sure how people will react—and because, as a natural-born pessimist, I always assume it won’t be a good reaction—so it’s such a blessing to receive words of encouragement and support from people I’ve never even met!

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  7. Anna says:

    Keep it up Kaye! Enjoying your posts and honesty as I try to get on track again myself. One day at a time my friend. Blessings to you!

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