"I Didn’t Feel Like There Was Anything To Look Forward To...Until I Started Baking."
Three years ago, I began my descent into depression. I was then diagnosed with bipolar disorder 2, a mood disorder that makes you feel both the bad and the good things in life harder. I was told that these bouts of depression would be a regular occurrence, coming like the inevitable seasons of rain. During my depression, it was hard to wake up, shower, stand up, eat and even breathe-I couldn't move. My bones felt heavy, seemingly sinking me even deeper into the mattress. I didn't feel like there was anything to look forward to in life: until I started baking.
One Valentine's Day, there was a bake sale at my sister's office and I decided to join. Just two days before, as I planned everything, I was already panicking. I didn't think I could do it! I've never aimed to bake so many goods in such a short amount of time. My panic and and anxiety threatened to take over and I almost gave up before even starting. Then, with one snap decision, I gathered all my strength, tied my hair up and began cooking.
One of Happystress Pastries' first box sold and delivered.
Baking Therapy: According to Science and My Experience
As I followed my recipe, from gathering the ingredients, measuring them, mixing them in the right way and order-I was unintentionally practicing "Mindfulness." Mindfulness, I came to learn later, is a technique taught to people who have a hard time handling their emotions, people with mood disorders like me. Baking demands all your attention, needs all your senses. Because of baking, I was channelling all my energy into something productive. The noises in my head melted into one cohesive song: a cup of flour, salt, baking powder, sift, sift, sift together. A cup of sugar, a half cup of butter, mix, mix, and whip together. A whiff of vanilla, then crack two eggs and incorporate...
Instead of all the harsh things my overactive brain would be saying to myself at night, I began to dream about flavor combinations, textures, all the other recipes I've yet to try. My world expanded with possibilities. It was like therapy without a doctor I needed to pay, instead, I was getting paid.
Happystress Pastries Was Born
Baking built my confidence. As I took out batches of chocolate lava cupcakes and vanilla cupcakes, I saw and smelled that the fruits of my labor were beautiful. It made me feel useful. When my family bit into my desserts and when I heard of my customer's reactions, my heart jumped for joy-joy I hadn't felt for years. It made me feel I was good for something. All the stress that I had to endure from planning, buying my materials, it was all worth it. Baking made me happy.
Turns out, even science can back me up on this. Baking works just like art therapy, giving people a way to communicate and express themselves. Baking for others is also an altruistic deed that helps you feel better. On top of that, baking helps build relationships as food is the universal language of love.
"I Was Not Alone"
Through Where There is Hope, an organisation who caters to people with mental health issues through scripture, art, and community, I met Liza Quiray, who experienced the same thing. She came to a point in life where she had given up all hope. During that phase, she would repeatedly run away from home. One time, she disappeared for more than two weeks. Then, when she went back to her love of baking, it saved her. It was a love that survived it all, that welcomed her back with open arms.
Liza started loving the kitchen from the early age of six, cooking a pre-mixed box of pancakes with her mom. Since then, she would save money to buy boxed mixes for cakes, brownies, and anything else available. By fourth grade, she upgraded to working with cookbooks. During high school, she started to experiment with her own tastebuds, churning out recipes from whatever she could find at home. There were baking failures, but she was able to make her own recipes for cakes, cupcakes, cookies, frostings and even bread. By the time she entered second year college, she had opened an online business for her cupcakes: Sweet Surrender by Liza Quiray.
Today, Liza's a lot better. Her mind, spirit and life is a lot stable. She credits it to her loving, and supporting fiancé, but also to her love for creating food. It's given her a creative lens to look at life. Whenever she watches TV shows related to food, her initial reaction is always wanting to replicate or tweak the dishes.
Baking to her is a form of art and expression, not just something for money or fun. It's a passion to her that has never burnt out. It was her therapy for times of boredom, stress or instability. In those times of mental difficulty, baking was the only thing that she felt like doing. It's that love that keeps her going and helps her heal.
Sunshine in a Cup
Like Liza, baking is something that makes sense when my mind stops making sense, like sunshine lighting up a dark path. From both of our experiences we recount having a feeling of clarity, focus during baking-something short of a miracle when your brain is foggy with depression. Perhaps it's owed to the process of baking. Before you even pick up your tools and ingredients, you already have a vision, a picture of that adorable and delicious cupcake, and clear, concise steps to get to that goal. Succeeding in that goal means sunshine in a cup for you, your loved ones and your clients.
I dreamt of making Piña Colada Brazo de Mercedes cupcakes for months, planned for months, and when the day came, I treated every step with love and care. Sliding in that tray of fluffy meringue into that preheated oven was an act of faith-I'd done my best, the rest was up to God. As I piped up my cupcakes and sprinkled coco sugar on top, my heart was bubbling in excitement. My hand was doing its best to steady itself. When I shared my creation to others and it made them smile too, it was indescribable.
Baking, in all it's scientific preciseness, also allows you to make mistakes in a safe environment. The world won't crash, bills still get paid, nor would you lose a body organ when you overcook your cookies.
Baking has taught me a lot of things in life. Just like in baking, our life is made up of ingredients that sometimes don't make sense on their own: you can't eat flour on its own, cream of tartar sounds weird, egg whites look and feel like saliva. But together, with knowledge, wisdom, heat, and help from our loved ones and friends-we come up with something beautiful.
So if you're looking for something to cheer you up, this new hobby just may be it. It can also be the way you reach out to that loved one, friend, family or community. When words fail you, cupcakes will not.
If you are looking for a mental health community and safe space who use art as therapy, look for Where There is Hope Org on Facebook.
Call the Crisis Line for free and anonymous counseling through: 893-7603, 0917-8001123, or 0922-8938944. You can also join SOS Philippines on Facebook, a support group founded for survivors of suicide loss and Filipinos undergoing mental health ailments like depression and bipolar disorder.
If you think you may have depression or know someone with depression, you can contact the Department of Health's 24-hour suicide prevention hotline, Hopeline, 804-4637; 0917-5584673; and 2919 for Globe and TM subscribers.