I wanted to title this blog post ‘how baking saved my life’ but I didn’t want it to sound too dramatic, too over the top. But really, it probably has.
A few years ago, after what I thought was battling through my bad anxiety and depression, I had to take a break from university where I was studying to be a mental health nurse. My time off made my anxiety worse and old behaviours slipped in; not going out, not eating well, not coping. I couldn’t see a way forward and everything felt like it had fallen apart. I was spending my days alone whilst everyone was out working, lonely, utterly depressed and feeling unable to motivate myself to do anything.
Baking has always been something I’ve loved, and something that has got me through hard times. As a teenager I spent far too long at home, not able to go to school because of my anxiety. Over Christmasses I made hundreds of mince pies to give to friends and family, spent afternoons baking flapjacks with my friends and also made copious amounts of french onion soup (which having reached adulthood I think I’ve only made once!). It was my escape, my time in the kitchen where I didn’t have to think about what I wasn’t doing. It took away the guilty feelings of not making it to school and at the end of it, produced something I was really proud of.
My mum suggested that baking might be something I could do as a business. Friends and family might like to buy some cakes from me and it would give me something to do. In that moment it felt like there was this thing that could possibly help. We met with a friend with business knowledge who might help see if it was viable, it seemed it so we put plans in motion. For the first time in a long time I felt like I had a little bit of purpose.
In the months that followed, my mental health reached peak levels. I was in such a bad place, I felt unable to do almost anything. I was feeling lost and suicidal and like there was nothing that could bring me out of this situation. With orders coming in, I had to do them. It forced me to get up, to get going and to get on. There were times when things went wrong where I literally sat on the floor and cried, my mum had to come and physically drag me up off the floor. This wasn’t a one-off thing, it happened on the regular; if I’d dropped a cake, if I’d burnt something, if I’d baked the wrong thing. There was anxiety around money, if the orders were worth it, if people would like them. But I kept going.
Through the toughest period of my life I had something to do. And when things in the kitchen went right (which was most of the time, despite my mind telling me otherwise) I really enjoyed it. It took me back to 14 year old Jess who was in the kitchen at home when everyone else was at school, doing the thing that I was good at. Baking is my thing. I’m not a bubble bath or meditation kind of person. My anxiety feeds on quiet moments and when I’m really poorly I do just have to do something. Baking is that thing for me, and I’m so thankful for it.
My anxiety is still at pretty much peak levels, and aside from the business there’s not much that I do. I haven’t been further than the co-op a couple of hundred yards away in well over a year. I have awful panic attacks just at home, not doing much. And I know I have a long, long road ahead of me. But in terms of coping, I’m doing better, and I know that it’s because of this business. It has taught me to be resilient, to learn that it’s okay to make mistakes. To get back up again when I fall down and that there’s always a way to make things better. I have achieved things that I never thought I would, and it gives me hope that maybe I can do that in life as well, not just in business.
I say it a lot, that people’s custom means the world to me. I hope this story really puts more meaning into those words. Because baking has saved my life, it’s helped me out of a really dark pit and it keeps me going day after day.
If you want to know a little bit about how I live (and try) and cope with my anxiety, I’ve added this little bit to the bottom. I know it’s not for everyone, but I really want to try and bring the awareness to this. And if I can help just one person by explaining or telling my story then it’s worth doing.
Living with anxiety
From the minute I wake up, to the minute I go to bed, my anxiety is there. Sometimes it’s a quiet murmur in the background and other times it screams so loudly it drowns everything out.
I suffer with both general anxiety and a phobia which cause me to get anxious about many a thing. A lot of the time, I don’t even know what I’m anxious about. I suffer with panic attacks which sometimes are small and manageable; other times are horrendous and can last for hours. They can cause me to feel unable to breathe properly, feeling sick, getting very warm, shaking, muscle tension and can often feel like something really awful is going to happen, but not knowing what. The worst for me is the fact that I experience these at home, in my supposedly safe place, and at times when they don’t stop they make me feel so hopeless and helpless.
I don’t like to talk about this one much, mostly because it genuinely feels me with so much anxiety even thinking about it. However, I’m sure if there’s someone reading this who has it, it will help them to know they’re not alone. Emetophobia is the fear of vomit. I wrote the word out, which is one of the hardest things for me to do. The thing I most get when I tell people this, which is why I’ve stopped mentioning it is “well no-one likes being sick, do they”. No, I know they don’t. But most people don’t worry about it constantly. Most people don’t let it get to them. Most people don’t wash their hands countless times to make sure they’re clean. Most people don’t not eat certain things or not eat out. Most people don’t fear going out in winter, most people don’t over-analyse every bodily feeling they’ve ever had. This phobia is the most relentless and enduring thing I have ever had to face and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. It can feel so lonely and so isolating, as no-one around you understands just how difficult it is.
Find things that can help you
I’ve struggled with these anxieties for more than half my life now, and have built up my toolkit to try and cope with them. There’s a lot of things that people suggest people with anxiety should try to help them and that’s good. But not everyone is the same, bubble baths and scented candles don’t help everyone. The best thing you can do if you’re struggling with anxiety is to find the things that work to help you. Whether it’s watching a movie, doing some exercise or running that bubble bath. It might be things like making sure you’ve told someone you’re feeling a bit anxious, finding an activity to take your mind off things or just writing down what it is your worried about.
Most of the time, anxiety for me isn’t logical, so it’s all about doing those things that ground me. For me it is lighting a candle, making a cup of peppermint tea and putting my heat bear in the microwave. If I’m busy baking or something it’s about taking a step back, sending a text to let someone know I’m struggling a bit and taking a breather. There’s so much on the internet about what can help, but really it’s about what works for you. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. And if you’re struggling then please reach out, whether it’s to a friend, family member or to the GP.
There should be no shame in having a mental illness, or struggling at any time with any mental illness or symptoms of them. Remember that it’s okay not to be okay. That these things don’t define us, and that there are brighter days ahead. Jess xx