Inadvertently, my high school instructor bestowed upon me an enduring motto: ‘When you believe you despise everyone, indulge in a meal.’

In this series, writers share the best advice they ever received and how it impacted their lives. Growing up, mental health was the family business. Generations of our family tree were crowded with psychologists, psychiatrists, councillors and neighbourhood agony aunts. Dinnertime conversations are dedicated to debates over CBT versus schema therapies, the role of analysis and when medication or talk therapies are more appropriate.
We haphazardly diagnose each other like most families play I-spy. Complaining to my sister about a petty grievance she’ll nod sagely and declare, “It’s because you have trauma.” When my mum runs late because she can’t find her phone, one or more descendants will shout from the car, “Your ADHD is interfering with your executive function!”
As one of the members without a mental health degree, I keep up by mining my own years on a therapist’s couch. Chirping in where I can with a, “My shrink says … ” But for all this intergenerational conditioning, when I feel overwhelmed or stressed I don’t immediately practise progressive muscle relaxation or attempt a little cognitive restructuring. I remember one rule: If you think you hate everyone, have something to eat. If you think everyone hates you, go to sleep.
Despite all the headshrinkers in my proximity, that memorable line came from a gently worn-out high school teacher. She threw it out late one afternoon in an attempt to quell a sea of raging teenagers. I don’t know if anyone else present that day is chewing it over decades on, but for me it became a mantra.
Whenever I find myself slipping into a state of despair or anxiety, I pause and ask, “Do I need something to eat or do I need to go to sleep?” I consider myself a complex woman, surrounded by challenges and mounting responsibilities. Still, it’s almost embarrassing how often my existential angst is soothed by a banana or a nap. Blood sugar and serotonin balanced, my woes often seem less desperate. A muesli bar might not demolish all my problems, but it does help me feel more ready to take them on.
Of course I need to pause and acknowledge that life is often too serpentine to be mollified by a complex carbohydrate. I’m a huge advocate for therapy, medication when needed and an intersectional approach to mental health that examines all parts of existence and takes a lifetime of commitment.
But also, sometimes, sitting at one of those family dinners, I can be swept up in the notion that I am an impossibly tangled being. One so weighed down by my own history and synapses that I’ll never be able to think clearly. Then I tell myself, If you think you hate everyone, have something to eat. If you think everyone hates you, go to sleep, and am reminded that life is often simpler than I allow it to be. And I, no matter what my screeching brain might protest, am also a simple being. One made up of a miraculous but knowable mass of blood, bone and tissue. A miraculous mass that does, often, just need a banana.

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