A while ago, I embarked on the difficult and strangely exhausting project of closing a gaping internal wound, the type many of us walk around with our entire lives, in constant pain and in constant denial that the wound exists: I went through trauma therapy.
Along with it, I spent four months or so eating mostly frozen food, supplemented with an assortment of vegetables and fruit, often also frozen.
It didn’t kill me or noticeably weaken me.
If anything, it gave me the time and energy to take care of myself.
I was not expecting therapy to be so physically exhausting, but it was. It was a lot like the exhaustion of internship. During my internship, I usually worked a 10 hour day, filled with the constant assimilation of new information, constant dredging up of old information I’d learned in the classroom years before, and constant anxiety about messing up. I came home a husk of myself, mechanically ate whatever food was put in front of me, watched 30 minutes of TV, made my lunch and set out my clothes, and then slept for as long as possible so my brain could sort through the wreckage.
At the start of therapy, I decided that feeding myself had to be as low-effort as I could make it. I knew that not eating at all, or eating irregularly, would undermine all of my efforts and made me sick in its own right, so that wasn’t an option. (In the distant past, it might have been. Yay, progress!)
I already cook simply, and usually our evening meals are homemade, or a mix of homemade and pre-made. This ensures that we actually make dinner happen, night in and night out, with extremely few spontaneous takeout orders and basically zero restaurant trips. But even this was too much for my trauma brain to deal with. So I decided to make my emotional health the priority and let cooking, aside from opening a package, fall by the wayside — while still feeding myself faithfully.
It worked well. I feel very grateful to live in a time and place, and to have enough money, to be able to outsource cooking to an assortment of ready-made products. It allowed me to solve a problem that in many people’s lives goes totally unsolved, and went unsolved in my own life for years. It also gave me back an hour of time at a critical time of day so that I could catch up on work, or lie down, or exercise a bit.
Over the years I’ve learned that when life crises (either positive or negative) happen, I am going to lose a bit of functioning in other areas. It is just not humanly possible to keep all areas of life completely together 100% of the time. When you unintentionally lose functioning – can’t sleep, can’t focus on work, can barely feed yourself – it’s very distressing, on top of the already-stressful thing that is happening. I’ve been through it enough times to know the horror of being reminded that you are, indeed, not totally in control of everything that happens in life. But learning to intentionally set other aspects of the great video game of life to Easy when you encounter a surprise Brutal Bonus Level is a useful work-around.
You can choose, on purpose, to make some things easy when other things are hard.
You can choose, a little bit, where to lose functioning instead of being ambushed.
The reason I’m writing about this is because of the pervasive guilt and wretchedness I see people get into when they contemplate the prospect of food that is somehow not-good-enough. It is true that food can be more or less helpful to your immediate functioning and long-term health, but the judgments I see people pile on themselves usually concern health only as a thin veneer over something much more troubling: self-loathing. Accusations of laziness, or immorality, or un-classiness, or ignorance and un-sophistication. Of not working hard enough to redeem themselves.
Let me tell you, being human is enough work for anyone. Being alive in a world where terrible and wonderful things happen at random to anyone and everyone at any moment, and the labour we put into mounting defenses against this reality, is a hard damn job. You don’t need to impress yourself or anyone with doing extraneous work just to get fed.
If it makes you happy, gives more than it takes, or adds brightness to your day, by all means, let yourself make that effort. If putting more effort into cooking is what nourishes you, do it and remember to thank your lucky stars. But if it doesn’t, if it adds one more vexing decision that must be made or one more hour of drudgery to your day, why not ask yourself who it’s really for? Because I promise it’s not you.
Cooking is not my primary joy or hobby, though I do take pleasure in it when I’m healthy. What I refuse to do is turn it into a moral obligation or a stick I beat myself with once I’m already down. It is not going to purify me or redeem me. At its best, it will feed me and feed me well, but I can get fed well enough in other ways if necessary.
Frozen food didn’t kill me, it gave me some time every day so I could tend to my most pressing need: to be with myself and to heal.