A month or so ago, after suffering something of a nervous breakdown that actually landed me in the hospital for a couple of days, I came to the determination that I desperately needed some time off of school. Two years' worth of health problems, relationship problems, money problems, living abroad problems, and just life in general had exploded like a giant pimple on the already pock-marked face of my psyche. I did finally get hooked up with an amazing psychiatrist and an amazing prescription for pills that make me feel more clear-headed than I have in years, but the initial side-effects of the medication, which take several weeks to accumulate in your brain to the level at which they'll be effective, were close to debilitating. I was constantly nauseous and my brain was doing imitations of Speed Racer on...well...speed, latching onto irrelevant subjects and whirring them around in my skull like a salad spinner. One day at the bus stop I noticed a girl wearing black-and-silver striped sequined ballet flats, which induced a panicked and literally horrified mental analysis of people's fashion choices and the philosophy behind the phenomenon of social interaction that lasted the entire trip home.
So I plead health issues and took the last few weeks of the quarter off. I'll have to make it up later - next quarter is going to be torture - but having the time to do nothing but rest, something I haven't allowed myself in years, has been nothing short of cathartic. The Zoloft is finally starting to kick in, and the combination of chemical-induced mental clarity and free time has allowed me to do a great deal of recreational reading, something else I haven't done in ages. The great irony of getting an advanced degree in literature is how seldom you actually get the chance to ...wait for it...read.
In the past three weeks I've read more books than I have in the past three years combined. It's been so long since I've had the ability to focus on anything that I'm finding myself pretty voracious where books are concerned, devouring everything I see with words on it. This includes return policies on the backs of store receipts, street signs, the insides of CD jackets, ingredient lists on cereal boxes, and the manual for how to use my microwave. I've read a monograph on New Testament textual criticism, a defense of atheism by Richard Dawkins, and a book on the research of the effect of Buddhist meditation in neuroscience; raced through books on reading and books on writing; finished three of the Harry Potter books and one imaginative retelling of the Wizard of Oz; and consumed (no pun intended) a large stack of books about food.
It's really a pretty interesting subject, food, for as mundane as it sounds. It's fascinating to see where our food comes from, and depressing to see how political an issue it turns out to be. I suddenly consider myself enlightened. That, and unwilling to die of cancer induced by food ingredients I can't even pronounce. Call me rebellious. As a result of my new education I've been drastically changing my diet, slowly cutting out anything at all processed and opting to buy organic and local whenever I can. I can't say the move impresses my boyfriend Jeremy much, who already finds me difficult to feed because of my veganism, and I'm almost always broke because real food is twice as expensive as the fake stuff. But for the first time I actually feel like I have a relationship with my food. Eating is a pretty intimate action, when you think about it; I don't know of anything else you can do that connects you quite so directly to the world around you.
I also kind of see the whole thing as a bit of a microcosm for life in general. Maybe it's the medication. Maybe it's finding hope at the end of an almost lifelong tunnel of depression. Maybe I'm just being a melodramatic hippie. I don't know. But I do know that I'm finding living to be a much more deliberate pursuit than I have in the past. Rather than viewing the days as a mundane succession of minutes to be tolerated - or my meals as a mundane succession of calories to be consumed - I'm starting to see it as a string of moments to be appreciated and meaningfully navigated, to be, if you'll forgive the metaphor, milked for all it's worth.
And to be used to read. And read. And read.