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Chasing the Light

Chasing the Light

It’s been a long time since I’ve put pen to paper, finger to key, derrière’ to office chair. But my how I’ve missed the gratification that comes from recording our memories. I’ve never been diligent at keeping up with baby books, so my personal blog is the place I would go to record little anecdotes of our life. But, after tucking the kids into bed, lately I’ve wanted nothing more than to bury my head in a pillow or veg out on the couch with some dark chocolate covered almonds.

But good things happen when I fight the urge to watch BRAVO and make the choice to create—editing a batch of photos, baking something for an early morning surprise, sitting down to write. Those nights when the house was sleeping and I would sit at my desk, illuminated by the glow of my computer screen and a favorite candle—I knew I was doing something good for my family and something valuable for myself.

I stopped writing about a year ago. I had plenty of reasons to quit writing, but the lack of confidence topped that extremely unsound and destructive list. Fast forward to last week when Mamalode contacted me and asked if I would write something for them. After I confirmed that they indeed contacted the right person, I let it go straight to my head—you know, I told my family I couldn’t go to dinner because I was “working on my article.” “Not now kids, Mommy has an article to turn in.” “Oh, what am I doing, you asked? I’m working on my article.” The funny thing is, all I did was sit and stare at the computer during this important time I carved out for my writing career. I was stuck. I had nothing to say. So I typed the very thing that was on my mind: “Shit. I need to fill this page,” and let it sit there for three days.

Courage came, as it usually does, and this time in the form of a phone call from a friend of mine. Before my friend could even say hello, I heard her talking to her kids, “No treats until after you eat your lunch,” and then some muffled whining and sad pleas from her energetic and very persistent children. I get it. I so get it. This is a typical phone exchange between myself and most of my busy mama friends. When she turned her attention back to me, I could hear the exhaustion and anguish in her voice. She spoke quickly, but quietly. “Heidi, are you ever sad? I’m so sad. I’m overwhelmed and I don’t know what to do. I’m sad and angry all of the time and I can’t shake it. Are you ever angry? I need to go to the doctor, but every time I go to make the call, I hang up. I’m ashamed that I need medicine to make myself feel better. And I cry a lot. Do you ever cry?”

Although, we had been on the phone together for a less than a minute, it felt like so much longer. I gathered my thoughts and quickly picked up the pieces of my broken heart and fought the urge to cry. A hot flame of familiar shame enveloped me. I continued to listen to her inquiries of how I seem to keep it together so well. “You always seem so happy and nothing really stresses you out—you’re always out doing something with your kids. Don’t you ever get sad or overwhelmed?”

In that moment, I wanted to be Yoda. I wanted to say the most perfect thing that would instill peace and magically transform the situation with wisdom. However, the truth was, I was no different than my friend. If there was a contrast to be noted, it was that she was being brave and open and honest, and I envied her strength in doing so. In that moment, she gave me permission to accept my own sadness and anxiety. I realized that the most important thing I could do to help her and lighten her burden was to tell her the truth.

As the Florida sky darkened with one of our September afternoon storms, I sat on the rug next to my bed and decided to tell the truth of my own battle with anxiety and depressions—unwelcome guests whose arrival materialized after the deaths of both of my grandparents and the birth of my last baby. Unfortunately, at the time I was hesitant to share my painful inner battle with grief and shame so I let it consume me. I stopped being happy and started pretending that I was. Looking in from the outside, everything was really good. We had three healthy kids—a new baby, food on the table, a safe home to live in, great friends and a world of opportunities.

In theory, I had nothing to be upset about. I had been the happiest and most content I had ever been in the months leading to the birth of my last baby, but a switch had been flipped on and not by me. Almost overnight everything changed; I felt like a passenger on a ride...a roller coaster that I was being pushed into riding again and again. I wanted off but I was locked down. I felt out of control and desperate to go back to the way things were.

“I shouldn’t be sad. I have no reason to be so sad.”

These words and variations of them played in my head on repeat. It didn’t stop and neither did the pain. Not until I was honest with myself and the people closest to me. It has been a journey and one I am grateful for.

I wanted to help my friend with insight and ideas on how to make things a little better but really it was she who taught me the true benefit of being vulnerable. The only way to rid you self of that skeleton-in-the-closet is to shed some light in the darkest corners of your life. Give others a flashlight if the task seems too daunting.

There are many ways to cultivate good mental health and a happy and healthy life. For me, cooking and creating new recipes and feeding my people make me happy. Taking photos, nesting one room at a time to make our home comfortable and soothing, sharing time with people who push us to be better—this is my comfort food. And sometimes it takes a little more than that.
And it turns out Yoda has some good advice for us: “Named must your fear be before banish it you can.”

My fear is vulnerability, not having it all together, saying the wrong thing, failing, stumbling off the path of happiness again. But you know what? I’m learning more every day how to nurture myself so that those fears don’t have power over me. And that’s how I’ll fill my page.

*****
When I’m not focusing on nourishing my mind and heart; my favorite place to be is in the kitchen replenishing my family with good, healthy food. This quick and easy meal is a favorite of my three little ones who tend to be very choosy eaters. I firmly believe in a NO RULES approach to cooking, so add and subtract fresh ingredients as you wish. This is my favorite way to add new recipes to my collection.

Bowtie and Spinach Pasta:

1 pound bowtie pasta
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 beautiful ripe tomato, diced into 1/2” pieces
1 healthy handful, about 1 cup baby spinach, julienned cut (the only my kids will eat it)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2-3 chicken breasts, diced into 1/2” pieces: I used leftover grilled chicken. It had marinated in olive oil and my favorite dried seasonings for about an hour before I threw them on the grill. You could also pan sautee’ or use rotisserie chicken.
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesean cheese
1 tablespoon lemon zest
kosher salt
black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the bowtie pasta and cook while checking in often to stir the noodles and prevent them from sticking. I like my pasta firm. I cooked my noodles for about 8 minutes and then drain them quickly. No mushy noodles here. Transfer pasta to serving dish or back to original pot. Coat noodles with cheese. It seems a little non-traditional adding cheese directly to the pasta, but I love the layer of melted goodness it adds to each noodle.

Heat oil and butter in a large, heavy pan over medium heat. Add the tomatoes to the pan and season them with salt and pepper. Saute’ tomatoes long enough to allow them to soften. This will release the juices that will help develop your sauce. Add the baby spinach, stir together and let soften up a bit. Add cream. Add chicken and let simmer for 10 minutes. The cream will cook down into a richly colored, slightly thickened broth. Remove pan from heat. Pour sauce over pasta, add lemon zest. Top with fresh basil and more cheese. Serve.

*Mama likes it hot, so I add red pepper flakes to top of my heap of noodles.

Enjoy.

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Categories: essays

Heidi Darwish

Heidi Darwish is a photographer who lives in Naples, Florida with her husband and three children. Her kitchen is her happy place, and cooking is her love language.
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