The Depressed Cake Shop is an initiative by Emma Thomas (aka Miss Cakehead), aimed at raising awareness about mental health issues by offering a platform for reflection: a series of pop-up shops that only sell grey cakes, where grey’s the colour of hopelessness, of the lives from which all colour has been washed away. I got involved too, and baked a batch of vegan cookies for the London shop. Writing this post felt slightly uncomfortable at times, and you may find it will get a little personal, but if you’re interested in knowing more about the initiative, and why I joined in, chances are you’re in the right place.
“When panic grips your body, and your heart’s a hummingbird
Raven thoughts blacken your mind until you’re breathing in reverse
And all your friends and sedatives mean well but make it worse
Every reassurance just magnifies the doubt
Better find yourself a place to level out”
This quote comes from a song by one of my favourite artists. Every time I hear it, I catch myself nodding in agreement, a gloomy grin on my face. I have been feeling like this several times in my life, and particularly during the past month.
There are good days and bad days, and on the good days everything is fine. I may not like my workplace, but I am loved, and my life outside the office is a happy one. I remind myself that I’m young, with a whole life ahead of me, and if I keep working hard, I’ll be strong enough to fulfil my aspirations. On the good days, I firmly believe in all of this, because at my best I’m a positive person, who lives to share happiness with others and keep smiling at the world.
Such optimism may last entire months, but it only takes one very bad day to take me back to square one, where I completely forget how to love and trust myself. That’s when the “raven thoughts” crop up again. I feel stuck in a workplace that sucks all energy out of me, and gives me nothing but evidence of how petty humans can be. My passion for writing becomes proof of how useless I am: if I was any good, I’d already have achieved something out of it. I feel like a good-for-nothing; getting out of bed looks like the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced, even though I don’t feel like sleeping. And I cry: on the tube, on the streets. It only lasts a few minutes at a time, but that’s enough to make me wonder if anyone noticed the mask of composure crumbling down and falling off my face. I often find myself hoping someone did, and encouraged me to talk about it.
This isn’t happening for the first time, although in the past it happened for different reasons. My family hasn’t always dealt with it well, but I have grown to realise they care and want to support me, and I feel blessed for having the most extraordinary partner I could ever hope for. Still, I can’t help feeling clueless on how best to help myself, or help them help me. Every time they ask “What can I do for you?”, I have no better answer than “Stay with me. Stay strong with me”. There’s little else I feel I know anymore.
I sometimes wonder if this is a red flag. The beginning of a mental health issue, or perhaps a fully fledged, undiagnosed one. But I prefer to not go down that route: maybe I’m really a perfectly healthy girl, who only needs a way out of an overwhelmingly negative situation. Maybe things would improve greatly if I left my confidence-shattering job. Maybe my crazy urge to drop everything and start looking for a (unstable, financially insecure) writing career again simply means that I’m not doing what I’m good at, and what I love doing, as much as I need to. Maybe I’m not one of those 1 in 4 people who suffer from mental health problems at some point in their lives, but because of the way I feel, I may well be a step closer to empathising with them.
Mine is not the only story that matters: I’ve seen many more loved ones struggle. What keeps us running are the amazing people in our lives, the brave ones who hold our hand while we walk the thin line between sanity and insanity, so we don’t fall on the other side. But not everyone can count on such people, or realises they can; and things get quite hopeless, when you can’t tell a helping hand from a push into the black hole.
When I’m at work, cultivating my fantasies of escape, I only wish I could talk to someone. Someone who understands how it feels to not fit in with the shallow world around you, to reject its expectations, to need something you don’t feel entitled to even think of. But that’s a lot to ask for, in a place where fitting in is a goal for most people. And if this is true for me, I can only imagine how dark life looks to those who think that seeking help will drag them further into the black hole, instead of helping them out of it.
“There is still massive stigma encountered by the mentally ill, and it’s mostly discussed as something that happens to other people. Some of us lose jobs even for admitting there’s a problem. Some people never seek help because they’re afraid to admit to a weakness. Some of us learn to shut up because if we once admit it to someone, or if a suicide attempt is leaked to ‘friends’ and family by someone well-meaning, we have to endure the pity – even if intended as sympathy – of others. […]
If these pop-ups tell only one person who was feeling desperate that there is help, and that it’s OK to need it, and gives them the means to access it, or gives them the courage to speak up so someone else can help them get the treatment they need instead of topping themselves, I would personally consider that a bloody good result.”
(Melanie Denyer, owner of Suzzle Cakes)
I’m proud to be part of this, and to contribute through the thing I always turn to when I need to restore positivity and balance: baking. I’ll be bringing grey vegan cookies to Suzzle tomorrow, hoping that biting into them will help someone reflect on the struggles that may lie behind the words “I’m fine”.
You will find the recipe in my next post. In the meantime, come pay a visit to Suzzle tomorrow. All proceeds will be donated to CALM, and to the establishment of a new charity to provide baking therapy.