Brain Salad

This post was inspired in equal parts by Ken White of Popehat, who has eloquently and forcefully advocated for more frank discussion about the experience of living with mental illness, and my own entrenched solipsism, which figures that, since I can’t think about anything else, I might as well pretend that other people will have any interest in the inner workings of my brain.

Humans have a knack (and a need) for creating narrative structures to illustrate their understanding of the world. Which is why, despite the fact that a person’s impression of their own mental health is perhaps the ultimate subjective experience, I’ve been groping for an applicable metaphor to illustrate the way my brain has been working. After lots of aimless pondering, I think I’ve finally hit on one.

Imagine that in your hands you have a bowl. In that bowl is a pile of nondescript iceberg lettuce, the kind that combines the crunch of wet cardboard with the taste of a damp dishtowel. If you nudge back one of the leaves, there’s a little dollop of Thousand Island dressing that came out of a packet you found under your car seat. It’s a pale, baby aspirin orange, with flecks of some anonymous seasoning that will be completely undetectable to your taste buds. That bowl is the nadir, the bottom of the barrel, the worst of all possible salads. It will keep you alive, but you’re not entirely sure it’s worth the trouble to eat it.

Such salad. So vegetables. Wow.The obvious solution is to get a better salad, right? There are all kinds of ingredients that would improve your experience. Rich greens, fresh veggies, savory proteins, an endless variety of dressings. (I bet you didn’t know that many kinds of crouton even existed.) Clearly that’s what everyone else is enjoying. They’re into their salads in a way that, if there was such a thing as a state legislature in this metaphor, would swiftly be made illegal. You should throw that bowl over your shoulder and go join them in a revelatory salad experience.

What depression does is tell you that you can’t. There isn’t enough salad for you, you don’t deserve it, and anyway you’d probably just spill it all over yourself. Those other people with their different, better salads? They clearly possess some ability or worth that you lack, otherwise you’d have a great salad too. Depression says that you’ve got a perfectly serviceable salad right there, and no amount of effort or desire on your part is going to result in any improvement.

On good days, you recognize that this isn’t true. Sure, nobody is going to just hand you a better salad, but you can get your hands on some veggies, and you’re capable enough to make them into something tasty. You might try a combination that doesn’t work so well, but that doesn’t mean you won’t hit on something fantastic if you try again.

On other days, you’re convinced that your shitty diner salad is all you’ll ever have. You might as well eat it, and stop thinking about improving the experience in any way. Not only will you fail if you try, but you’ll probably end up losing your lousy lettuce in the process, and then you won’t have anything at all.

The salad represents pretty much anything you can think of. Your job, your relationship, your living situation, your health, your stress level, any of the things in your life that you might consider working on, but which require some effort (and some hope) to really change. It represents fun, creativity, productivity, any activity that you might find enjoyable or fulfilling. No matter how bad or good your actual situation is, depression will make you feel like growing or improving or finding fulfillment is completely beyond your ability.

Everybody gets down and discouraged on occasion, but depression takes that feeling and makes it chronic. Feeling hopeful and capable becomes a fleeting experience. If this resonates with your experience, you’re not alone. I don’t have any great coping strategies at this point. If I come up with something, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, if having someone to talk to would help, I am happy to listen, with no judgment. Thanks for reading.


OMGDSM Bonus – The Heart of a Seed

Chaden Halfhill is the founder of Silent Rivers Design and Build and Indigo Dawn, a green urban development company. Cosette Boone is a staff certified nurse mid-wife, and the owner and founder of Willowsong Midwifery Care. They’re the husband and wife team behind Green and Main, rehabilitating a former corner grocery store in the Sherman Hill neighborhood to house Healing Passages birth and wellness center. As you’ll hear, there are a lot of interesting ways in which the two ideas complement each other. Learn more about the project and join the community supporting it at The Heart of a Seed.

Click here to listen or download.

If there’s a topic you’d like to suggest, you can email, share it on social media with the hashtag #OMGDSM, or use our handy suggestion form.

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OMGDSM #005 – Art Month DSM

OMGDSM is back! K.O. and new co-host Sara Neppl explore some of the impressive list of arts events happening around Des Moines in June. Click here to listen or download.

Thanks to all of the guests who shared their perspective:

If there’s a topic you’d like to suggest, you can email, share it on social media with the hashtag #OMGDSM, or use our handy suggestion form.

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Things I Can No Longer Pretend to Care About

(a continuing list.)

The taste of terrible-tasting things.

Q) What (aside from being liquids that exist on a bewilderingly wide continuum of pricing) do tea, coffee, beer and wine all have in common?

A) They’re all drinks that evolved as delivery systems for mind-altering chemicals. By various trials and errors, our ancestors figured out that treating particular plants with specific combinations of heat and water and microorganisms resulted in miraculous concoctions that could affect your energy level in pleasant ways, take your mind off your grinding subsistence poverty for a fleeting moment, and maybe help you avoid the waterborne illnesses that came along with lots of people living (and shitting) in close proximity to their source of drinking water.

They’re also all drinks that objectively taste bad. Alcohol and caffeine and their byproducts aren’t naturally palatable. They’re bitter or sour or some combination thereof, and we have to talk ourselves into actually liking them.

How can I generalize so broadly about drinks that are so widely and faithfully consumed across cultural and socioeconomic divisions? I’ve seen what happens when children sneak a sip of any of them. They make that face that looks like they’re trying to harness the power of sheer regret to squint themselves back in time to the moment before they took that sip, in the vain hope of correcting the first of many unfortunate life choices.

But the real clue is the ridiculously complex set of rules and rituals that have grown up around what constitutes “good” vs. “bad” versions of these things. Sure, your bitter black brew is bitter and black, but did you get the kind that was shat out by an ocelot and roasted by a beardy Brooklynite and brewed in a hand-blown carafe to get just the exact right nuances of bitter and black? Okay, your wine is kind of sour, but can you smell the cud of the cows that ate the berries that grew in the field next door? Sure, your beer tastes likes something that yeast would shit out, but has it been so stuffed with hops that you could almost imagine being reincarnated as an overripe grapefruit? Nothing that was simply, objectively enjoyable would require that kind of stratification.

Friends, I have grown weary of pretending that I give a desiccated rodent’s scrotum about the particular intricacies of these drinks. There are types and tendencies and trends that I favor, but I can no longer feign an energetic devotion to any particular iteration. Let’s stop pretending that any matter of taste separating different versions of them is more sophisticated or enlightened. (If you need a caste system to enjoy your drink, are you really a connoisseur, or are you just looking for an excuse to feel superior?) Instead, I propose that we celebrate the ingenuity and persistence that it took to develop these complex, multi-step procedures, and the original intent behind them: to very slightly fuck up our brains in pleasant and/or useful ways. Cheers.