It was the smell that did it – the rich, sour, nascent yogurt smell, rising up from the bowl where I stirred the mixture gently. The scent was surprisingly familiar and held in it all the many times I’d made yogurt in my previous yellow kitchen as well as all the many months it had been since I’d attempted the task. But it wasn’t a reproachful smell – it might have even been hopeful.
When I first got my yogurt maker, I’d been delighted by the weekly work of turning soy milk into soy yogurt. It left me feeling very accomplished. And at that time, I desperately needed something that made me feel accomplished, like I was capable of something productive. I was deep in the obscuring grey of depression, consumed by both apathy and mind-numbing panic. Getting out of bed was a daily battle with every protesting molecule in my body, and fearful tears threatened to overwhelm each minute of the day. I functioned, but only on a minimal level. Medication eased some of the pain, but I still felt like I was standing on the edge of some endless and terrifying sheer drop. Making yogurt was grounding and normal and gave me something to eat when my energy was sapped and I couldn’t even contemplate turning on a burner.
Then school began again, with its endless parade of books and papers and projects and meetings, and eventually I gave up yogurt making – I barely had the time and energy to eat anything at all. Every once in a while I’d see my neglected yogurt maker in its kitchen drawer and envision some new, bright day when I would feel well enough to use it again.
In April, the date that marked a year since the recurrence of my depression came and went. I was still slogging slowly through the disease. I was still on a yogurt hiatus.
This summer, things began to shift. The why and how of my recovery from depression, which is still ongoing, is fodder enough for its own slew of posts – a myriad of things worked together to clear the fog. And every experience entered with interested and strength has been one more mark of returning wholeness.
So this week, knowing I had extra soy milk in the refrigerator, I pulled out my yogurt maker from its new location in my new kitchen. I opened the box, enjoying the clink of the jars against one another. I measured out the soy milk and located my kitchen thermometer. When the milk just started to boil, I poured it in into my great grandmother’s mint green ceramic bowl, and I completed chores as I waited for it to cool down to the proper fermenting temperature. Then, when it measured just under 110 degrees, I poured the cooled milk into the yogurt starter. And that’s when the smell began. It pulled me briefly from the present moment and returned me to frightened but determined moments in my old yellow kitchen. But the present was strong and real, and I sniffed and stirred the mixture with contentment. The sense of accomplishment that rose up came not simply from a need to prove my worth or my health but mostly from the joy of engaging in small tasks. Every whiff of the yogurt and ting of glass said to me you made it; you are here. You came through a hellish year and made it to the other side, made it far enough that now you can make yogurt – because you want to, because you have the energy to, because you can enjoy the smell of fermentation and the experience of feeding yourself. And you even have the wherewithal to write about it later.
My journey to healing is far from complete, but the simple ritual of yogurt making, at once so familiar and so new, felt like a small practice of resurrection.