Saved by Cake

I remember hearing about Marian Keyes having a bad time but beyond feeling sympathy for her, I didn’t think too much of it at the time. Then over the last couple of years my own problems kind of took over everything.

Marian KeyesWhen I saw a copy of Saved by Cake on the shelf in Waterstones, it drew me in first by the gorgeous cover with its retro colours and style. Then I noticed the author and remembered her having troubles, which led me to pulling the book down and reading the intro, and flicking through the recipes. I then spent the next two weeks either drooling over the pictures I had seen or feeling drawn to Marian’s brutally honest description of her depression and her warm and witty way of writing until I got the book for myself yesterday.

I spent all evening reading every single recipe (when I was allowed to; Emily shows every sign of inheriting my penchant for cakes and insisted on looking at every picture herself. Two or three times…) and trying to restrain myself from rushing straight out to Sainsburys and buying a list of ingredients and cookie cutters (do read her take on cookie cutters. I love it!) a mile long. I decided to limit myself to trying a recipe a week (well, maybe two…) and this morning bought the ingredients for the first one to do some time this week, probably at the weekend.

Then this afternoon I went to a parent and toddler group. Now, I’ve mentioned my social anxieties before. They make these groups a particular kind of torture, and I’m serious, I think I get through the entire group without more than 5 words spoken to anyone except Emily. I spend all the time I’m not talking feeling miserable and anxious about not talking and it all goes horribly wrong. Emily goes home bouncing because she’s had time with new toys and I go home ready to burst into tears, every bad feeling about myself confirmed again and again. So this afternoon when I came home, I thought ‘Why not, let’s give Saved by Cake a go,’ and did the Blondie cupcakes (white chocolate and macadamia nut…).

Now, there’s a funny thing about baking as therapy. I do have a tendency to comfort eat, but that’s the weird thing. I found baking these cupcakes (and most of the cooking I’ve done over the last few weeks) unbelievably calming. I feel much better and I’ve only had half of a cupcake (just to test, y’know). It’s not the end result that’s the point of doing this, as nice as it is; it’s completely about the process.

It’s not like I’ve just discovered baking through Marian Keyes, I’ve been increasingly keen on cooking and baking over the last couple of years and it’s picked up madly since we moved house and I got a really nice oven (my last oven was no good for baking as the flame went under the floor of the oven and burned the bottom of stuff before the top was cooked. I daresay a good cook could have managed with it; I’m not that cook). I’ve done a few nice cakes lately, mostly plain sponges with cream and strawberries, and a couple of packet mixes – highly recommended for a quick and cheap cake fix eg for Sunday tea as they’re very light and tasty and did I mention cheap? But Marian Keyes’ book has opened up a whole new world of flavours and possibilities, both classic and traditional as well as more exotic like Chocolate, Cardamom and chilli tart, and it’s totally about the process, like I said earlier. If you want a cake for the sake of eating it, buy a packet mix or even a ready made one. If you want to bake and be Saved by Cake, buy this book and start exploring.

And incidentally, her simply wonderful voice shines through and has made me into the latest Marian Keyes fiction fan. Now I’m off to snuggle down with a Blondie cupcake and a novel.


Lighting the Darkness: my story of depression

I’ve been debating with myself whether to blog about this for a while now. I’ve touched on it in a couple of posts, most recently Why I sold my iPhone but wasn’t sure whether to be more open. But a series of small incidents have convinced me it won’t do any harm, and might even do some good. I have been spurred on by Glamour magazine’s mental health campaign; I highly recommend you have a read.

I have been struggling with depression, certainly since last summer but I think that was rather the height of something that had been building for a few years. Over the past thirteen years or so I’ve had my share of life traumas, life events, whatever you want to describe them as, and to top it all my last pregnancy with my little girl made me very, very ill.

I’ve never been suicidal but pretty much every other symptom of depression you can name, I had. Have. The worst of it all, other than feeling ridiculously down and teary at the oddest moments, is the complete disconnection. Disconnection from time, people, activities. I have lost time – I looked back at the beginning of March and actually could not remember what happened during most of February. I’ve closed myself away from the friendships I made on twitter and in SCBWI. Not on purpose, I just wasn’t able to connect. I haven’t written, properly, in weeks. Maybe months. I’ve done the odd diary entry (“Today I did… Today we went…”) and the odd blog entry, but actual writing? The kind I long to do, where I take words and turn them into stories? The kind I used to think I could do? Nada. Nowt. Nothing. I look at my pen and notepad and files and can’t actually bring myself to pick them up. I know many people get a therapeutic kind of release through writing; I wish I could.

I’ve just started reading again. That’s when I know I’m going downhill again – when I can’t read. I mean, I can read, I can look at a word and understand what it means, but I don’t connect – there’s that word again – them together into the big picture, the whole book. Often I just don’t even pick up a book, and then when I come out of it I get greedy and get tons from the library or drool over Waterstones’ shelves.

And then there’s the physical symptoms. Which tend, I think, to get discounted or at least not given the respect they deserve. For me, it’s my legs. I suffer from plantar fasciitis anyway, which leads to excruciating pain in my left heel, but I also get pain in my knees, my ankles, up and down my calves. Tiredness, too. I’ve been tested for diabetes, iron (which is now fine) and my thyroid levels have been checked, but they’re pretty well monitored anyway as I’ve been hypothyroid since birth. I’ve come gradually to realise that it’s my depression. I know I have small children, but there’s lack-of-sleep-tired (which I am well-acquainted with!) and there’s something-is-wrong-tired, and I know the difference.

So what am I doing about it? Well, this. I’m talking, or trying to. I’m talking to my long-suffering husband. I’m talking to my GP who is going to strongly encourage me to talk to a counsellor. I’m blogging, in case anyone else is thinking they might be suffering from something similar. I’m inspired by Sally Brampton’s book Shoot the Damn Dog where she is brutally frank about her suicidal depression, and by this article which I read this morning. And by Glamour’s campaign here, which I mentioned above. I’m trying to think about what I want out of life, what would make me happy, and how I get it.

And I’m asking people not to give up on me. I will make those connections again, I will write again and I will be myself again. I will.

Stuck in the Mud

The woman tried to move her feet. However much she wriggled and jiggled her legs, they wouldn’t free. She stood up straight, hands pushing into the small of her back, closing her eyes with a weary sigh.

On every side the world moved around the mud puddle. Children danced and ran, energy pouring out of them and towards her in torrents, but the torrents died away to drips before they reached the mud puddle. Busy busy people power-walked, focused, in a straight line towards a goal she couldn’t see. Where their so-straight path crossed her puddle, it veered around the outskirts, as if repelled by the negative power like a magnetic forcefield.

She tried again to get free but her struggles only seemed to suck her further in. The mud crept up her leg, cold and dark, and she shivered. She started to call out for help. She called louder and louder; no-one heard, although every now and then someone would stop and look around them as if bothered by something they couldn’t quite work out. Shaking their heads, they always moved on.

To her left she saw, out of the corner of her eye, a dark cloud beginning to crawl over the sky. She sobbed once and the breath caught in her throat with the cold. Her legs were aching from the effort of holding her increasingly heavy body up, and she slumped, her hands resting on her thighs taking as much of her weight as they could. Shallow breaths turned to droplets in the damp air. As she began to give up her hands slid down her legs. She jerked herself up for one last look at the world around the mud puddle and saw, in the distance, other people stuck in their own puddles. One caught her eye and they smiled humourlessly at each other. He waved at her, and began to raise his leg. She watched him wobble as he managed to free first one foot, then the other, stepping out of his puddle and striding away, mingling into the crowd with only a watery brown mudstain on his clothes as evidence of his entrapment.

She gritted her teeth, grinding them until they hurt and her jaw was locked in place. She stared down at her legs and willed her foot to lift free of the slime around it. It began to move; still sucked under the surface but starting to shift slightly. At the edge of the circle the man stood waiting; he’d returned for her. Every ounce of strength was forced into that obedient leg and it juddered free. She took big sticky steps, wading through the treacly mud with aching slowness until she finally stood with one foot poised to step into freedom. She looked back over her shoulder at the ever-present, threatening dark cloud and then turned, put each foot in turn onto solid ground.

She stretched in the sunshine and revelled in the warmth seeping into her skin, like a lazy cat on some Mediterranean tiled roof. Her eyes narrowed against the brightness and the colour.

Then she walked away.