Something Sweet From Nothing

One of the reasons I initially started the Life is Sweet series in 2013, was to give me something to be excited for in February. It's such a bleak time of year, and the project gave me something positive to look forward to. Thank you to Jess for being a part of this year's series and sharing her thoughts on how she manages to get through our tough winter months.

In the midst of a typical emotionally- and mentally-challenging January, I felt stuck for what to write in response to Ashley’s open call for friends interested in participating in her annual Life Is Sweet project. January tends to be a tough month for me, although nothing especially bad had happened last month (besides a long-running cold and an injury, which both interfered with my running!). Yet, I was feeling pretty down from a combination of stress, SAD, and what I perceived as a series of negative circumstances. So what to say?

Running is my usual head-clearing, heart-filling activity – I’ve seldom been able to clear my head and stop the nagging thoughts in my head in any other physical activity, like yoga, in the same way I can with running. However, I feel somewhat helpless to dig myself out when I can’t run due to injury, sickness, or long work hours. And after the relatively lackluster month of running I’d been having, it didn’t feel like the main thing I wanted to contribute here.
Perhaps coincidentally, given the name of this project, what’s always been able to give me a boost is baking. I had free reign of the oven by age 8. My parents have long said that if they came home from work and smelled something delicious, they knew I’d be in a good mood. But I didn’t always begin baking in a good mood. I struggled with anxiety and depressive symptoms from a young age (my parents even gave me a pre-teen self-help book called “Fighting Invisible Tigers.”). Although I didn’t think of it this way until years later, I had discovered baking as a way for me to change some incredibly negative emotions into something positive in a short period of time (albeit with consequences for my physical state!).
I can think of few activities that are as transformative for me as baking. You combine some basic ingredients that aren’t really that remarkable individually, and within about 30-60 minutes, you’ve produced something that smells and tastes good. Plus, you can share with others to bring them some small bit of joy as well. How awesome is that?
But the process itself, I think, is what’s most invaluable to me. I truly have to focus; if I miss a step, it may turn out inedible. I can’t really use my phone, or do any other concurrent activities besides listening to music (an integral part of my baking process, to the point that I used to include “listening notes” on my baking-focused Tumblr). I can’t be anxious while baking, or if I am, the process forces me to slow down, take one thing at a time, and get a handle on what I’m doing. It’s an idiosyncratic form of therapy, but it’s one that consistently calms me down.

For me, baking is similar to running insofar as I have to disconnect from others for awhile, but it feels slightly less selfish because the end result is something I can share. If I’m honest with myself, though, a great deal of my baking is utterly self-serving, because I just want to create. I need the focus that baking affords me. Making something from nothing gives me a total sense of control, at times when I may feel like I lack any control over my life.

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