I bake almost every week, at least once. It’s not uncommon for me to show up at Liesel’s work (the rock climbing wall) with a piece of cake – not because I’m just a fabulous person but because I’ve baked and someone has to eat it. So I’ll put a piece of cake (because that’s usually what it is) on one of our few precious paper plates left over from a baby shower, grab a fork, and head over to the fitness center.
As I hand my ID to the desk attendant to scan in, I often feel the need to explain myself, wearing street clothes and holding one or more plates sugary goods: I’m not here to work out. I’m here to deliver food to the working class of America. I just baked, and I can’t eat it all. Here, you have a cookie bar, too. Don’t you love me now? Okay, please don’t judge me for not working out today.
Last fall I hit as close to rock bottom as I’ve ever been in realizing I was both depressed and full of anxiety. As a result, I went through more flour and sugar than ever before. I may have set records. Around Thanksgiving time, I baked 16 loaves of pumpkin bread and gave them to every apartment on my floor – and then some. You don’t even want to know how many eggs and cans of pumpkin that took and how many times I washed my limited number of loaf pans.
We ate hardly any frozen pizza last year. I cooked and cooked and cooked, trying to communicate through food. I love you, my roommate. I know I’m a bear to live with right now, but I don’t know how not to be. I can barely handle myself. Have some garlic. It will get better. Ohhh, let me sauté that for you.
It wasn’t even just about trying to prove that I wasn’t a horrible person – just a nice person going through a horrible time. I needed a way to cope, something through which to escape all the feelings I was having to deal with in and out of counseling. I needed to make something, to have control over something, to have something to show for my day. And actually, people are starting to say that baking is an effective treatment for depressed people.
The Wall Street Journal says, “Psychologists say cooking and baking are pursuits that fit a type of therapy known as behavioral activation. The goal is to alleviate depression by boosting positive activity, increasing goal-oriented behavior and curbing procrastination and passivity.”
Passivity. That’s kind of the opposite thing most people think of when they think of depressed people. You picture extreme sadness, don’t you? Weeping? That commercial where the woman has a heavy bathrobe she can’t take off – until she takes their particular anti-depressant? I pictured that before I became one of the number. “Depressed” is such a good word for it though, because basically, when I was in my darkest times, I felt like a pressed down version of myself, like I’d been deflated and put in a tiny Tupperware. It was hard to breathe, hard to do anything, and worst of all, I didn’t want to breathe or do anything.
But then there was the kitchen.
I didn’t realize until recently what a sanctuary it has become for me – even the mountains of dishes when I’m done with the actual creation. The satisfaction of watching my efforts – sometimes even deviating from recipes or cooking norms – become something edible and many times even tasty must be healing.
I don’t have any data to back that up. I don’t have statistics or dates when I started to feel better as a direct result of baking, but all I know is I didn’t feel like myself. But as I baked and cooked (and went to counseling and took medication and started talking about my emotions instead of bottling them up quite so much and journaled and sought out the company of people who would understand), I felt progressively more like myself. And I feel most like myself in the kitchen or at the table.
What a gift that not all therapy has to be electric shock or lobotomies. What a treasure that food can heal. I’m betting Jesus had something to do with that.