The Viral Recipe That Helped Me Through My Depression

published Apr 10, 2019
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(Image credit: Emmy Smith)

At the end of last year, as the Thanksgiving holiday was getting closer, I felt myself drifting away. Everything was cloudy and bleak. I couldn’t focus at work. I didn’t feel much like reading any of the books that sat waiting for me in a tall pile on my coffee table, or binge-watching any of the shows I’d been meaning to see. I couldn’t muster up enough energy to get dressed for the gym or a yoga class (yet alone get out of bed before 10 a.m.); it was clear that my depression was back.

I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. I started going to therapy when I was 13. In college, my depression played a role in me missing classes and bailing on plans, hiding out alone in my dorm room instead.

Now, when it comes roaring back, it disrupts my entire life. When I’m depressed, tasks like writing an email, going grocery shopping, or even leaving the house feel impossible. I sleep for most of the day, I miss deadlines and meetings. I don’t enjoy anything; everything feels like a chore. I retreat away from the world, losing touch with friends and loved ones, as well as myself.

For much of my adult life, I’ve taken medication to help manage these symptoms. During the first week of December, I learned there was a shortage of a medication I relied on daily. I had to switch to a new drug, and the transition was rough — one of those you’ll feel worse before you feel better kinds of experiences.

I felt no desire to cook — something I have always enjoyed doing, and something that’s an essential part of my self-care routine. When I go a whole week without cooking, I know that something is wrong. I feel ungrounded, out of touch with myself — like I’ve lost control.

During this time, I mostly laid on the couch after work waiting for the fog to lift — not cooking, not reading, not watching TV, not buying Christmas gifts, or decorating a tree — instead I regularly scrolled through my Twitter and Instagram feeds to see what everyone else who seemed to be enjoying their lives was up to. (Admittedly, not the best thing to do when you’re depressed.)

It was sometime in early December that Alison Roman’s spiced chickpea stew, otherwise known as #TheStew, had gone up on the New York Times Cooking website, and bowls filled with the bright yellow stew were everywhere. The whole internet seemed to be fighting over whether it was a soup or a stew, something I found to be a little ridiculous at the time. What could possibly be so special about a bowl of stew?

But as I looked it over, it struck me how simple the recipe seemed — minimal prep work, standard ingredients, and only one pot to clean up — and could almost see its appeal. Perhaps it would even be easy enough for an exhausted and depressed person like me to make. So on one snowy evening, I did.

(Image credit: Christie Bok)

The stew was relatively easy to make. The most energy I exerted was smashing the chickpeas with a wooden spoon to ensure there’d be a stewy, not soupy, final consistency. It was so bright and beautiful in my bowl, so flavorful and warm, with the right bit of heat — my first few bites literally awakened my sad, sleepy senses. This was a recipe that demanded my attention, the first thing I had been able to concentrate on since my depression had sunk in.

And so I made Roman’s spiced chickpea stew again a few days later once all the leftovers were gone, and then again the next week, and the week after that. Eating those turmeric-yellow chickpeas for a few meals each week brought a bit of brightness back into my world.

The stew got me back into my kitchen, closer to something that resembled my old cooking routine. When I posted about it on Instagram, my stew-loving friends messaged me about how much they loved the viral recipe too, and it felt good to share something with someone again.

Sometimes, in the frenzied rush of figuring out what to make for dinner, we forget how meaningful and transformational certain recipes can be. How cooking a meal for yourself can be the very thing that brings you — or one of your loved ones — back to life.

Little by little, I began to feel better, more hopeful that I’d somehow make my way through the fog.

And eventually, I did. A couple weeks into the New Year, my new meds kicked in. With a newfound energy and confidence, I began to cook more. It was bittersweet to make my first new recipe after so many weeks of spiced chickpea stew on repeat. Then I realized that by this point, I had it committed to memory should I ever need it again.