Happy Sunday, friends! I know it has been a while since I’ve done a Self-Care Sunday post. Things had been pretty hectic for me this year, especially within the past few months as my mental health has gone up and down, mostly down, from various sorts of things. One of those things that I struggle with the most towards the end of the year is grief. It becomes extremely difficult for me to avoid thinking about people and relationships that I’ve lost in my life due to uncontrollable forces (such as death and disease) or mistakes I had made when I was young, naïve, and immature.
How many of you have problems with ruminating about the past? Events or situations in your life where you wish you could go back and make a completely different choice? I know that I think about these things often, particularly on my low days. The biggest things that affects me, and the main topic for today’s post, is losing my brother and losing the close relationship I once had with my parents.
** Please note: There will be some mention of depressive episodes stemming from grief and loneliness, a brief mention of suicidal thoughts, and discussion on a toxic parental relationship. Also note: I am not a medical professional in any sense. I am simply one person who shares their experiences with the hopes of helping others. Read at your own discretion. Thank you. **
My brother (he’s not a blood relative, by the way) passed away in 2010 to a failed heart transplant and I never recovered from it. I have found ways to manage my grief to the best of my ability over the course of the past ten years, but the longing and ache from losing my best friend and an individual who was very much like a parent to me, has never, ever gone away or softened. He converted to Islam when he was a young boy and because we had friends from a range of religions and faiths, the end of the year would be his way of getting everyone together and celebrating all of our respective holidays together as a giant family. Whether they were Christians celebrating Christmas, Hindus celebrating Diwali, or Muslims celebrating Eid (to name a few), we would rejoice all of these holidays at one time when we had the chance to devote to spending quality time together. This is one of biggest reasons I hate the holidays. After his passing, everyone broke apart and went their separate ways. He was very much the crazy glue that held us as one giant entity. I still speak to some of my friends on and off, here and there, but it’s never been the same.
The hole that he left behind always leaves me feeling so painfully alone, and that loneliness when coupled with my grief over his loss, come together to create a monster that is very emotionally and mentally taxing on me, occasionally to the point where I feel that living without him is a waste of my energy. Another thing his loss has taken from me is the whole family togetherness that seems to be fucking everywhere during the holidays, which is a constant reminder of what I no longer have and how badly I crave it.
Before I became involved with my abusive ex-husband, I had a pretty decent relationship with my parents. They were super conservative and I didn’t agree with many of their beliefs, particularly where the whole girls vs boys arguments lie, but they did everything they could to give me a good life, a life they didn’t have growing up, and I respected them so much for being kind, considerate, and compassionate people. But after I married my ex, he poisoned me against my parents slowly, bit-by-bit, to the point where I made some very shitty and stupid decisions regarding my interactions with them. Eventually I was disowned and kicked-out of the house and then I got married. During those ten years, my parents never cut-off ties with me. They stayed in contact because even though things had turned out horribly for our relationship with one another, they still cared. I was their kid and I always would be.
The emotional and mental toll of losing her only child, especially in a way that she never could have comprehended, caused my mother to utterly retract from life, for the most part. She went through a dreadful bout of depression herself and was on the brink of suicide. The only way to salvage her mind and her sanity was to essentially cut off her ability to feel things. She has a very difficult time processing emotions now, and this is something that I will always hold myself accountable for. I know that I played a part in this happening to her—whatever the size of it—and it’s something I’ll never forgive myself for. Yet, that’s neither here nor there.
After getting out my relationship with my ex-husband, my parents welcomed me back into the family and did their best to help me recover. However, they aren’t necessarily believers in mental illness, at least not in the sorts of conditions that I have. My mum understands depression only because she underwent it herself. Post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, agoraphobia—things like that are a bit too much for them to process. They don’t understand why Simple Solution A or B doesn’t fix the problem. So, because of this, they aren’t aware of how severe my mental conditions can get. Only Sir Besty is aware of the full spectrum of episodes and risks involved with my health. As I sit here typing this, I know that one day my mind will deteriorate to the point where I won’t be able to distinguish reality from fantasy, that’s if my heart condition doesn’t get me first. Until that time arrives, I plan on making the most of what I’ve got!
Because of their feelings on mental health, it has been a struggle to formulate a close-knit bond with them again. It’s far easier to chat with my father about emotions and feelings because on some level he understands it better than my mum. He’s also far more willing to listen to the whole story without ignoring the bits that he doesn’t want to hear. Due to everything I put my parents through when I first met my ex, eons ago, my mother had never really allowed me to forget the mistakes that I have made and the many ways they hurt her. Her constant victimisation of herself makes it excruciatingly difficult for us to get our tight-knit family dynamics back, which royally fucking sucks because it’s so obvious we both want it. Nevertheless, you can’t have it unless you’re willing to totally put the past behind you. My mum says she is, but deep down I don’t think she’ll ever really be able to let go.
This discord between me and my parents prevents us from ever feeling like a family again, and so when I’m down and feeling shitty about my brother, these feelings pertaining to my parents’ pop-up and just compiles into whatever fucked-up thing I’ve already had going on. Sometimes my mum’s voice echoes in my mind, in her familiar passive aggressive tones, reigniting my guilt tenfold. My mum brought up feeling very similarly this year and when we tried to talk about it, it turned into something very vicious and heart-breaking, which led to an extreme round of depression that kept me physically unable to move and, as such, horridly bedridden, as well as at severe risk for major heart attacks. Eventually this would lead to my return to blogging. I knew if I didn’t return to my full-time blogging status, or find some other means to constantly stay busy, I wasn’t going to live to see the end of the year. Blogging was my last resort after plenty of attempts at other hobbies. I go into detail about that experience here.
I went into detail about these relationships so I could properly express the level of grief and loneliness that plagues me every single year, which is further heightened from late October to mid-February. Even when I was married, I always felt lonely and isolated. I never fit in with my ex and his family, but when you consider they were all bigoted racists in one way or another, it makes sense that I’d be sitting by myself in the corner.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, shortly after fleeing the toxicity of that life, that I started to think about comfort foods, specifically comfort foods that my mum, or dad, or brother would make in order to help them feel better with whatever fuck-shit they were dealing with. Maybe it wasn’t stress, just sickness from the season. That was when I realised that making comfort foods that my parents and my brother used to make might help me feel closer to them in a way that can help me process my loneliness and grief, and possibly even bits of my guilt.
You know what? I tried it and it worked miracles for me.
There is power in food. This is something that my brother used to tell me all the time, and even my mum once upon a time. For her, good food can always make you feel at ease, especially if you’re cooking it. My mum cooks as a way to deal with stress, and my brother liked to feed his friends good food as a way to help him feel more fulfilled after dealing with shitty clients (he was a criminal defence attorney). He strongly believed in the joys of cooking experiments. However, my appreciation and gratitude for seeking comfort in delicious meals doesn’t stem solely from them. It’s something I also learned from Sir Besty. After moving in together, I learned how much they adore cooking, particularly trying out different spices and flavours to see what works and what doesn’t. It reminded me so much of my brother that it kicked-off my practise of using comfort foods as therapeutic source for managing grief and agonising loneliness.
Since I know that the holidays can be tough for many people, for all sorts of reasons, I wanted to share some of my favourite comforting dishes with you guys today! Maybe you can feel a bit inspired to seek out comfort in an act that is wholeheartedly simple yet rewarding, something you never realised could be therapeutic or cathartic to you, and it doesn’t have to be limited to cooking by far.
With a couple of the dishes shown below, the comforting aspect of it was trying to figure out how my brother would spice it up, or how he’d try to get creative with it if he were here. The experimentation portion of the process is probably one of the best facets of this act of self-care. Along with making me feel connected to him, it also helps me to escape all of the negative and damaging thoughts so that I can give my 100% full focus to the act of creating. During this period, my brain is far too occupied to be an asshole to me, which is a delightful change of pace.
These are some of my favourite comfort dishes. The only one I wanted to include but couldn’t because I didn’t get a chance to make it this year (yet) is spicy crab curry. My dad usually makes the very best and it’s always during the cold season to help keep us warm. Sometimes he’d make it during the summer as well and it always tasted wonderful while sitting under a big fan. Then we’d have ice-cold melons for dessert afterwards.
As you can see, there is a great sense of relaxation and calm that can be found in things we enjoy the most, or things that have wonderful memories tied to them. While it can’t bring us closer to them, or replace the comfort of having those we love close by, or in our lives after they’ve passed, I think being able to experience what they meant to us in such a fashion can be heart-warming, and maybe help alleviate a bit of the ache from their loss in our lives.
The next time that you find yourself feeling down and miserable this season, try to think of something that is basic yet hold great meaning to you, whether a specific film or a fun meal, and go watch it or cook it. Let it bring you a sense of ease and companionship where there otherwise may be none.