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Piece of cake - baking for mental health

Tuesday, 23 August 2016 Laura Dernie

Laura talks about how baking helped her tackle depression after the birth of her children.

Laura is a mum of two from Cardiff. She works as a virtual PA and campaigns against mental health stigma in her spare time. She tweets at @LauraJane_PA

If anyone wants to do anything on a Wednesday evening for the next few weeks, I’m afraid I’m busy. The Great British Bake Off is back, so my phone will be off and my oven gloves will be on.

I know I’m not the only one excited for a seventh season featuring Mel, Sue, Paul and Her Majesty Queen of Cakes Mary Berry putting a brave group of bakers through their paces. But I do have a bit of a special relationship with GBBO, and baking in general.

"A lot of the time depression is about feeling nothing at all."

In 2009 I was diagnosed with perinatal depression, then postnatal depression, and then finally just regular depression – it didn’t really matter what you called it, it felt rubbish.

Depression is not just about feeling sadness; sometimes people don’t realise that. A lot of the time depression is about feeling nothing at all. On especially bad days you can feel like you’re not in control of anything – your feelings, your actions, your life - it’s a horrible sensation.

At my most ill I found myself having really irrational thoughts that food was contaminated or poisonous. It got to the point where I had to keep my food in a separate fridge from everyone else’s.

The one day that really sticks in my mind is standing at the sink obsessively washing a piece of cutlery over and over again, then bursting into tears. Hearing my little boy asking my husband “Why is Mummy crying” just about broke my heart that day.

It was only after the birth of my daughter in 2013 that I was able to really admit to myself that I was ill, and start proper treatment. It didn’t happen overnight, but thanks to the right medication, a good psychiatrist and a wonderful supportive family things started to get better.

I’m not ‘cured’ – I don’t think I ever will be – but I can manage my moods better now. Part of that is down to an unusual type of therapy. It’s not available on the NHS, but you can get everything you need for it in your local supermarket…

"It’s all about control… when it comes to baking, I am always in charge."

The extra helping hand I need on bad days comes from baking. I’m not the only one who finds it therapeutic - 2012 GBBO winner John Whaite spoke openly about his mental health and how baking works for him too. Like John, I believe that while baking is never going to cure depression, it can certainly help with the symptoms.

It’s all about control. Depression can make you feel like a passenger in your own mind – your feelings and emotions are in the driving seat, and you’re just along for the ride.

But when it comes to baking, I am always in charge. It takes care, precision and concentration, so I can lose myself in it, and keep the negativity and numbness at bay. Making something beautiful that I’m proud of also helps me get back some of the sense of self-worth that depression eats away at.

Even better, it’s something that I can share with others – and it turns out, I’m actually pretty good at it! I’ve baked for lots of friends, from wedding cupcakes to birthday cakes, and my favourites, the Lego themed cakes I’ve made for my little boy.

I’ve even been able to help good causes with my baking, raising money for several charities including Mind. It’s led to all sorts of charity work and volunteering, which just adds to that feeling of self-worth.

Baking helped to bring me back; it made me a better mum, wife, daughter and friend.

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