A while ago, I was having a conversation about food, and trying to explain to someone why I didn’t like many foods. When I was a kid, medical studies had not yet shown, or gotten widely distributed, the link between second hand smoke and ear infections in children. Since I grew up in the 70s, when it seemed like just about everyone smoked, I was around an awful lot of second hand smoke. I also had a rather large number of infections as a child.
It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I discovered the damage that accompanied those ear infections. Oh, I’ve known for years about the hearing loss. I’m close to 50% deaf in one ear, if you even seem me in person you’ll notice that I normally overcome that by only holding the phone to my left ear, or leaning in from the left side in a crowded room to hear someone talking to me. But it was only later on that I discovered the studies showing the link between childhood ear infections and damaged taste buds. I always thought I was just a picky eater. I had no idea I had damaged taste buds until the one day my wife and I were discussing Sweet Tarts. She said something about liking one color over another, and I was utterly confused. Seriously, up until that point in time, I had absolutely no idea that the different colors had different flavors. They all taste exactly the same to me. I even made her close her eyes and tell me the color as I handed different colored candies to her, to prove that there was a difference. She did.
Anyway, fast forward a number of years and while talking about food, I had to explain that my “picky” tastes actually make perfect sense if you think about it. It’s not that I simply don’t want to try new things, or I am unsophisticated, food literally does not taste the same to me as it does to you. Think about it this way. Much of the exotic, or ethnic food that you love, you love because it has a combination of flavors and you love the way they work together. Now imagine, if you will, that you aren’t capable of tasting just one of those flavors, so the delicate balance that is designed to be part of the food, is completely unbalanced in your mouth. You might then find some of this food to be kind of disgusting as one flavor completely overwhelms the others. This is what I taste. This is why I tend to like simple foods.
Why do I blog about this here? Because depression and mental illness are a lot like my taste buds. If you’ve never had to deal with either, it’s easy for you to look at someone dealing with depression and say they should do this, or that, and generally just get over it. Much like all those well-meaning people who tell me that I just need to try this or that, without realizing that I am physically incapable of tasting what they taste. You can’t imagine what it’s like to have a mixture of flavors in your food and only be able to taste one or two of them. When I was suffering from depression, I was incapable of looking on the bright side, laughing, or enjoying the things that we all normally enjoy. I couldn’t feel contentment, or joy. I wasn’t physically capable of it. That “taste” was overwhelmed by the sadness and lethargy that dominated my mental palette.
Depression is an illness that blocks the ability to enjoy the things that normal people enjoy, or even the very same things you used to enjoy before the depression hit. Your friends and loved ones who are dealing with it are no more capable of “getting over it”, than I am of telling you the color of a Sweet Tart by taste.