When a stranger starts the I’ve just met you cavalcade of questions about my hobbies or what I do “you know, for fun?!!!” my reply, often tainted with bitter old-lady sarcasm, includes two if not all of the following topics; sleeping, eating, drinking and cat-times. Deep down in my lady-guts I’d much rather quote Charlie Kelly and just say “Magnets”. Alas most people would smile, nod and back away slowly.
After all, what they are really asking is what I choose to do outside of the things I have to do for money or family. They want to know what I do that brings me joy or peace or contentment beyond the claw-like boney fingers of adult life which oppress, repress and stop most of us from dressing as a Labyrinthine Princess/Spaghetti Cowboy/Giant bunny each day or from taking our cats to the park to conversate with the birds while wearing a sweater adorned with a portrait of said cat.
Earlier this year I took on a second mental health professional (yep that’s right kids, I’m crackers enough to be under the care of TWO fully trained mental health professionals!) with the intention of learning some new techniques in my on-going battle to manage my anxiety and agoraphobia.
Oh yes, it’s all about mindfulness these days! It may be a buzz word to many people and I’m not above confessing that the simplicity of it has in the past been a little over my head, that is until I put it into action in a logical, tangible way. The American Psychological Association defines mindfulness as “a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment.” (www.apa.org 2014) (QUOTE! fuck yeah, I’m an academic lady, I do shit proper-like). In every-day speak mindfulness is the act of being in the moment, the opposite of multi-tasking, focusing on what you have right there in your face, under your nose, to smell the roses in the god damn field.
For me, the process involved making a list of the things I do which grant me the ability to exist in the moment, not thinking too much, not worrying about future fuck-ups or fretting and beating myself up over dumb shit I have done in the past few days. The list was rather short as most of the time my brain runs off the rails like some cartoon Acme TM Coyote-squishing engine, smashing through my life and leaving me as a flat outline in the dirt. Showers, jigsaws and skin picking (dermatillomania and trichotillomania, which are really not great, a form of mild self harm so they were quickly crossed off as positive relaxation methods) were my only initial thoughts until I remembered my love of cooking and more specifically my love of baking.
As a child each Saturday I would find myself drawn to the 641.86 (showing my mad-sick Librarian skillz there with a bit of dewey knowledge) section of the public library to perv at the cake decorating books. I remember my first attempt was a cake for my older brother. As a virgin in the art of sugar fondant, it was supposed to be red Porche but ended up more of a pink Beetle. It was really a bit shit but the thought was there and I recall he did appreciate of my meagre efforts.
To manage a feeling of inner calm and the ability to live in the moment is one of the most wonderful experiences for an anxious person and as hard to come by as a Miss World contestant who isn’t in the competition with the express intention of saving the starving children of the world while gaining her Phd in Bio-Chemistry.
I am able to gain a little of this feeling when I bake. Cakes, slices, bickies, anything that is sweet and/or tasty and (mostly) cooks in an oven.
I have learned that for me to be mindful, I need to do something that combines all the important bits of my mind and body. I have to engage mentally, intellectually, creatively and physically to relax and let my poor old brain have a rest. Hard to come by don’t you think?
Running/exercise/sport are an outlet for many people to vent their inner most stresses but it’s never quite done it for me. Exercise has never been enough to relax me because my creative mind is still left to wander, wantonly and lonely in the blackened corridor of my mind while the other bits of my brain are sweaty and having a treadmill party while watching shit TV. I really wish she’d come to the party because an obsession with exercise would mean I’d have a bangin’ bod rather than a baking (doughy) bod…
Baking gets all my brain bitches in a row. Combining my love of food, science (baking is just a very basic form of chemistry after all) logic, creativity, physical effort and mental alertness (because who hasn’t forgot an ingredient or put the wrong one in at the wrong time or, as I do frequently, over soften the butter leaving you with melty mess rather than foamy white creaming). On bad days I will use the anxiety, rage and build up of tension I feel inside to rage bake away my cares. Kind of like Hulk SMASH but more dough with an often prettier outcome.
It does of course help that I love to eat and give out beautiful baked goods to people. You don’t ever see many people much happier than when they have a nice piece of cake in on hand and a fork in the other.