What does broccoli really mean when you think about it? It looks like a small tree but instead of individual branches it has more small trees growing out of it. Heck, some small children would probably prefer to eat a small tree from the garden than an actual Broccoli. And always when I attempt to write the word I default to one ‘c’ and two ‘L’s until the red squiggly line tells me I’ve got those the wrong way round again.
So, some might say Brocolli, oh for fuck sake, BROCCOLI is my nemesis.
And those ‘some’ would be correct; broccoli has come to define my experience with depression.
Yes, that is exactly what I said. If you wanted an animation of what my depression is, it would be a giant broccoli looming over a really small and cowering me.
At my worst a few years ago, before tablets and therapy, even in the early stages of tablets and therapy, a trip to the supermarket was an insurmountable task. I would attempt it because we have to eat food and in order to eat food we have to buy food, right? Not when you have flatmates with a never ending supply of cereal…sure, it can cause friction if you permanently steal cereal from your flatmates and don’t even wash your dirty incriminating bowl after because the effort of washing one bowl is enough to make you have a full blown panic attack, but it will be worth it if you can avoid a confrontation with broccoli.
Normally these supermarket trips would come at the end of a day at work pretending to be just fine. I would be totally and utterly physically and mentally spent from trying to hold actual conversations, so by the time I would get to the supermarket my brain was literally unable to process anything else.
And the first aisle I would attempt would always be the vegetable aisle. Staring at me all menacingly would be a broccoli, all green, plush, healthy and incriminating. That’s right, incriminating. One little look at it’s multiple tree head and I would know that I was not up to this job. “You don’t know what to do with me.” It would whisper, I didn’t know what a broccoli meant. What am I supposed to do with it? If I buy it, what else do I need to make it into a meal? What do all those little trees mean?
Of course I am dramatising for comedy effect but it was always the broccoli that had me stumped. It was a vegetable I used a lot before, I would easily go into a supermarket buy a broccoli and then some green beans, a steak or some fish, maybe some pasta or more veg and there would be the bare bones of a meal. But now, and this I don’t exaggerate, I had no idea what to do with a broccoli.
All the items in the supermarket became individual things that I couldn’t piece together, which was much like most of the thoughts in my head or the words I listened to as people tried to converse with me. Your words lost all meaning, I could hear them, I could recognise them, but once they were inside my brain I couldn’t put them together to make sense of them. My brain had simply stopped processing information. I was locked inside it, desperately trying to understand very simple things, like what goes with broccoli. Pretending that I understood people all day at work meant that by the time I reached the supermarket, broccoli was as complex to me as Einstein’s theory of relativity.
What would start out, as an every other day attempt to tackle the supermarket would be felled, literally, by the little tree head that is broccoli. I would dash past it to the pizza aisle, passing the wine on my way. Half a pizza, half a bottle of wine a night. Some days, they didn’t have my preferred pizza so I would exit with wine and steal cereal from my flatmates once safely behind the closed doors of my flat to avoid having to think what else I could eat.
Then I would sneak upstairs and hide. I don’t even remember if I watched telly or listened to music. I don’t remember much, but the most vivid memory and the thing I always go back to when trying to describe my depression, is that relationship with broccoli. How broccoli simply lost all meaning.
Recently I wrote an article on running the marathon with depression, it was my first experience of being edited and I found that a bit fraught, as I am sure is natural, but there was one thing that was removed in the final draft, that had survived all previous drafts, and that was a joke, written in brackets after a sentence about how difficult it was to navigate the supermarket “(because what does broccoli even mean?)”
A few people who read my pre-edited draft said it was a shame that joke had been removed so at first I thought I was smarting over it because it was funny. But I couldn’t seem to shake this feeling that something massive had been taken from my article. Which is ridiculous, it’s an aside at best and one the Editor could have no way of knowing was so important to me, especially as I hadn’t realised it was so important to me until it was removed and by then it was already published.
Really, what was the big deal?
Well, it’s the only way I can make sense of what happens inside my brain when depression takes hold. It’s the way I describe thoughts not going together, it’s the visual image I have in my head any time I feel the tiredness inside my brain that comes with depression and it’s a really easy and funny way to describe something that isn’t funny. Even the act of using that as a way of demonstrating the inner pain and panic of your brain not working is an example of how a person with depression deals with it every day, by laughing on the surface. Since that article was published I have had a lot of people tell me they had no idea I had depression, that I have always been good at putting one foot in front of the other, that I come across as so confident, that I am funny. This is because everyone with depression puts all his or her energy into hiding it. So we joke and laugh and talk as if we really understand what you are saying to us, but it’s a mask. And a joke about broccoli is another mask. Because in actual fact, there is nothing at all funny about staring at a piece of broccoli and not knowing what it means.