Baking up a smile
After the loss of my mother when I was just 16, I had spiralled into a deep depression and had developed bad social anxiety.
I was on strong medication that numbed everything. I struggled to hold down a job, a decent relationship, close friendships. I had no hobbies. I wasn't living, merely existing. After a failed suicide attempt I went back to the doctors and asked for stronger medication and was told then I would probably be on them for the rest of my life.
'But I've never baked a cake in my life'
I was recovering from an appendix operation after getting septicaemia when a friend asked if I would bake a cake for a Children in Need bake sale. "But I’ve never baked a cake in my life." I said. I decided to give it a go.
Off I went to the supermarket, picked up a packet mix, icing and squeezy coloured icing tubes and set about making a Pudsey face. I didn’t have a round tin, so used a square roasting dish. Halfway through making the packet mix monstrosity, I realised I had been smiling the whole time. I didn’t know what I was doing but I was enjoying myself. I baked the cake and decorated it to the best of my ability. I was so proud. I was so happy.
In the days and weeks that followed, I must have made in excess of 30 cakes. I loved it. I felt great and I was being complimented on how well I looked. "Happiness looks good on you," someone remarked. Every time I baked or decorated a cake, even if it went wrong, I was smiling.
The first thing I'd do is turn the oven on
I decided to set up a blog - She Who Bakes - to document my baking and recipes I was trying for myself. I kept it set to private as I didn’t think for one second anyone wanted to read about the fifth time I’d tried to perfect a Victoria Sponge. I would rush home from my day job in an office and the first thing I would do is turn the oven on. "What shall I make today?" It was a question that both excited and appeased me.
I write this now, as someone who has been off any kind of mood enhancers for two years and is out the other side of what felt like a dark and treacherous tunnel. Someone who still has bad days, still has duvet days, but who knows that those days pass, and great days follow.
"Chances are high, you’ll be on this medication for the rest of your life." I still hear the nurse saying those words in my head sometimes. How wrong she was. I am now an award-winning businesswoman with everything to live for. If I hadn’t found baking, if I hadn’t found blogging, I honestly don’t know where I would have ended up.
I sought out other bakers on social media and people in my situation and I found an awesome movement called The Depressed Cake Shop. They raise money for mental health charities through baking and they talk about the benefits baking has on mental health. I worked with them on a few projects and I am in total awe of their work. Baking has been the best antidepressant for me.
My passion has fuelled my career and will continue to do so. The days when I had nothing, I had my oven and my laptop and I felt like the richest girl in the world. I hope that anyone going through a similar situation can take some comfort in my words, it really can get better.
Tea & Talk
Our annual fundraising event Tea & Talk takes place on World Mental Health Day (10 October) every year. Find out how you can get involved.