When It Pays to Panic

via Daily Prompt: Meddle

As I mentioned in an earlier post, cooking is a form of therapy for me—a way to determine my purpose in life and center myself after those overwhelming days. Most nights it isn’t a challenge to whip up a fresh batch of cookies or broil salmon with a maple-rosemary glaze for dinner. But as all those who spend time in the kitchen know, sometimes there are moments when nothing seems to be going right.

I was making flourless pancakes with a blueberry compote last week when disaster struck. Everything was going well. I zested a lemon with ease. The perfect mix of bananas, eggs, baking powder, and salt pureed in the blender. A generous splash of coconut oil went into the skillet, and it was time to pour the batter. And that’s when something went wrong.

The first pancake was flipped too soon and resembled something straight from a Dr. Seuss classic. A second clouded the small kitchen with smoke, inciting panic on my end. Hurriedly opening the first-floor windows, I prayed the smoke detector wouldn’t go off. One hour passed, then two. I eyed the pancakes sizzling in the pan with intense concentration and held my breath as they were flipped.

After three pancakes were placed on each of the five plates and generously covered in the blueberry-lemon mixture, I slumped in a chair.

Maybe cooking just isn’t for me.

But as soon as that thought crossed my mind, I reminded myself why cooking was so important to me. It provided a fresh start, a chance to “do it all over again” and discover what I love. And like all chefs, amateur or otherwise, I need to start somewhere.




How Cooking Reminded Me to Take My Mental Health off the Back Burner

These small achievements give me the courage to fight what makes it difficult to keep going at times.

I was diagnosed with severe depression, anxiety, and PTSD in the fall of my freshman year of college. After a rough two semesters, I left my campus with the worry that the struggles I faced would creep back into my life sophomore year.

Cooking dinner every night began out of frustration. I made a promise to myself at the start of the summer that I would do something with the few months I was home. No eating chips on the couch, no lying in bed all day due to a mental state resembling grief. I was going to make something of myself. But obsessively counting calories and exercising at all hours of the day turned me into a wreck by the second week. This wasn’t what I imagined it to be.

Even after donning an apron for the first time this summer, I was skeptical. My relationship with food is tenuous at best, and I’ve struggled with maintaining that balance of health and confidence for as long as I can remember. I was “that chubby kid” in middle school—the girl who used food as a comfort during an often turbulent time. Though I slimmed down in high school and continue to maintain a thin frame, I worried the seed of self-doubt would again be planted.

I then had a thought. My preoccupation with food and its impact on my mental health was really about something else. Though it is sometimes difficult to feel in control with a mood disorder, I wanted to exercise ownership over at least one aspect of my life. After all, mental illness has the capacity to take so many things away from sufferers. Identity, independence, accountability. And those are just some of the big ones. The others—the willpower to get out of bed in the morning, the desire to eat real meals, the ability to tell someone you need help—they may be ripped away from you. For me, overcoming those obstacles is huge, because the little victories become incredible ones.

And so it began.

I love the way I can perfume a house with the smell of ginger and garlic cloves. I love how the scent of smoked salmon seeps into my hair and clothes long after dinner has been made. These small achievements give me the courage to fight what makes it difficult to keep going at times.

I still wake up in the morning with that all-too-familiar feeling of dread. I still lapse into a mindset that sometimes seems impossible to crawl out of. Anxiety whispers phrases and plans repeatedly in my head until my brain feels like it is going to implode on itself. And, occasionally, when the fog hasn’t lifted and my heart beats a million miles a minute, I start to believe I won’t last the year.

But cooking gives me a purpose in life. Feeding people gives me a purpose in life. It’s not a cure-all. Medication, therapy, and the people I love give me the strength to keep going. Yet when I close my eyes and imagine that cake baking in the oven, suddenly, I don’t feel as if I’m hanging onto this world by a thread. I am reminded it’s always worth searching for new solutions—my mind has value even when it seems to be working against itself.