I Get By With a Little Help From My Kitchen

May 27, 2016

On Sunday I got out of bed and made a frittata.

It was a semi-homemade version of the dish that’s already a semi-homemade dish, because we all put two things in frittatas; one is eggs, and the other is the collective “other stuff” that includes whatever tidbits of last-legs vegetables and near-dry corners of cheese are in the fridge. I couldn’t bring myself to unsheathe my knives and put them to use against a green pepper, but I could go one step beyond delivery. So Sunday’s frittata contained eggs and leftover saag paneer from my neighborhood Indian restaurant.

Photo by James Ransom

I stood at the edge of my stove, spatula in hand, a sports bra on my upper half and sweatpants on the lower half. Haphazardly striped grey and white like the coat of a brindle dog, the sweatpants were the kind that gather around the ankles, so I could see the entirety of the bare feet that supported me. Under each of their coverlets of skin, I watched their extensor tendons flicker as I shifted my weight from the left to the right. Okay, this body is moving. These feet are alive.

My lethargy can be explained: You know how too much sleep makes you sluggish? Imagine 48 hours of it. Like many New Yorkers, I’m the kind of person who goesgoesgoesgoesandgoes and then crashes, shutting the blinds for an entire weekend so I can rest and then gogogogogo for another while. I like to think that sleep is, to me, like water is to a camel; it can be stored up for use over the long haul. (No matter that scientists discovered camels don’t actually carry water reserves inside their humps, and that their ability to avoid dehydration is due in large part to the superior shaping of their red blood cells. I’ll use the folklore version of the truth for this exercise.) That weekend was one of those crash times. That, plus the zaps knocked me out.

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Brain zaps are a common adverse reaction to the use and withdrawal of prescription medications. Physiologically, brain zaps are not completely understood, but they feel as if you stuck your finger in a socket and electricity beamed straight to your head. Tremor, vibration, buzz, shake, and jolt are all words that medical literature has used to describe them, and all of those words are accurate. Brain zaps are weird.

Five years ago, I needed Cymbalta. I was in a valley in life and, in order to climb out of it and reach for my next peak, I required pharmaceutical encouragement. Combined with therapy, Cymbalta was the right formula—it worked. On with life I was able to go.

My intention was never to be on drugs forever, but I sort of forgot about that. I continued popping the pills every day without listening to whether or not they still served me. Fast forward four years to a new doctor, who figured the ratios in this cocktail could use some reassessment. He upped my dosage—my body did not like that—and then we, this new doctor and I, weaned me off of the Cymbalta over the course of a few weeks with intentions of clearing my system and starting it on a different antidepressant.

But off of medicine, I felt clearer than ever—like San Francisco at noon, right after the fog burns off. There was even a moment, walking down the street to my apartment in Brooklyn, when I actually felt my brain click back into place like an off-kilter teacup that, with the pat of a fingertip, reunited with its saucer. It felt like magic.

But withdrawal is a bitch. I’ve seen many people, my mother included, go through withdrawal from alcohol, but I naively didn’t think that a doctor-sanctioned drug would have the same sad effect. Alas, it is a drug. I placed 40 milligrams of a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor on my tongue and swallowed into my intestinal universe every day for five years. That’s some shit! And so the zaps came. And the headaches. And the funny bowel movements. And the irritability. I slept for 48 hours.

Photo by James Ransom

Then Sunday came. I stood vertically, I used heat, I combined the eggs and spinach with my spatula, I saw it beginning to firm up, I smiled. I ate about half of it and wrapped the rest of it in aluminum foil once it cooled. The next morning, I ate a couple more wedges for a leftover-leftover breakfast, showered and put on a clean shirtdress, and rode the G train to my office.

The Sunday after that, I threw a dinner party for four friends. One of them, another food writer with more experience in professional kitchens than I have, did most of the cooking, but I chopped—using my knives—and stirred and served. The menu was chicken thighs braised in stock spiced with a host of colorful powders from the Middle East and finished with green olives, flash-boiled spring vegetables, and homemade harissa and chermoula sauces. The texture of the couscous wasn’t right, but each component of the meal was hot when it hit the table and it was seasoned well and my guests seemed happy. I was happy, too.

Julia Bainbridge is our first-ever Writer in Residence. Tell us both in the comments: What are your go-to getting-back-into-the-groove dishes?

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Julia Bainbridge is an editor who has worked at Condé Nast Traveler, Bon Appétit, Yahoo Food, and Atlanta Magazine and a James Beard Award-nominated writer whose stories have been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, among others. Her book, Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You're Not Drinking for Whatever Reason, was named one of the best cookbooks of 2020 by the Los Angeles Times and Wired and Esquire magazines. Julia is the recipient of the Research Society on Alcoholism's 2021 Media Award and she is one of Food & Wine magazine's 25 first-annual "Game Changers" for being "a pivotal voice in normalizing not drinking alcohol."


Dan May 28, 2016
+1 on SNRI withdrawal being awful. So glad to be done with it.
Deedledum May 27, 2016
That sounds horrid. Did you come off them too quickly?