Kitchen Therapy

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There was a second jarring moment in my application for The Great British Bake Off. (The first is covered in the August post: Questions & Answers.

They asked me to share some formative kitchen memories and any recipes handed down through family lines. I didn’t learn much good stuff in my kitchen of origin. And I don’t think the Bake Off were looking for stories about mums with eating disorders and a mighty appetite for scotch whisky. I learned some very odd things in that kitchen – about relationship and communication, and about hunger, need and having a body. I’ve had periods in my life when food was very secondary, functional and ad hoc. My first port of call, for a long chapter or few, was drugs. I was so committed to this pursuit, that I missed some critical milestones of growing up, like how to manage money, cook and go to the dentist. While the first and third of these have left lasting damage, I have found my way to the kitchen, via the back roads. I’ve taught myself to cook over the last twenty five years, since deciding to stay in the world and desist playing russian roulette, with heroin and sex in cars with strangers. I found myself, unsurprisingly, rather ill-equipped for life. Food is life, is nourishment, on so many levels and it does touch me very much, that among a few other things, across those years, I’ve learned to cook.

I have some lifelines and cooking is one of them. These lifelines are ‘the threads of some prayer’ (thanks Leonard) that link me, depression included, to life, heart, embodiment, and thereby, Grace. It is not about not being depressed and its not a cure. In fact the more I am relinquishing the construct of being, or not being, depressed, the freer I feel. My lifelines are the threads that connect me to the pulse and beat of life, from wherever I am. And the body is very central to this. My direct experience of depression is profoundly physical and often very still. I am embarrassed to admit this, but sometimes I get little sores at the base of my spine, bed sores, I guess, or depression sores. So, I do now understand, I have learned, especially in my 5 Rhythms dance community, that I need to move, enough to stay attached to those threads of prayer.

Almost imperceptibly, I have travelled, from working out how to feed myself, to being a bit of a dab hand. I’ve got my head around enough basic principles, especially baking wise, that I can now dream up my own recipes. Its a kind of edible art studio, and I like being eaten, very much. I suspect, I need that experience of offering myself up and being received and taken in. When I bring my cake stall to an after-dance, for example, and look around and see people eating my ‘art’ with such pleasure, an early developmental catastrophe, gets palpably tended.

At the nuts and bolts level, I’m very reliable, so when I have a kitchen job to do, I show up and do it. This is what the physicality of that discipline teaches me – showing up in my body, starting to move in familiar patterns… the knife in my hand, eggs to separate, the sound of my mixer, gearing up to whizz and whir… All these moves that my embodied system recognises, help bring me to myself. Depression can be such a triumph of distance, that it is a very new taste, finding I can bring myself to myself and feel the breath of life along that thread of prayer. Here I am, here like this. Defeated. Depressed. Here. Like. This.

Getting myself to the kitchen often requires a combination of obligation and sheer brute force. But once I’m there and start to move, I remember myself in my body and whatever is going on, however awful I might feel, stretches out and sighs.

I often find I don’t have the heart to cook myself dinner. This was a painful state of affairs. Apart from the practical necessity of needing dinners, it pained me to be such a cook, and yet be hog-tied like this. Out of this difficulty, my current soup strategy was born. Now, once a week, I make the most enormous vat of Thai Chicken Soup. A sublime concoction, though I say so myself. Every evening I decant a bowl, heat it up and make toast soldiers. It works. Its lovely. I’m feeding myself. And, yes, I do have to chase myself to the weekly cook-out, but once I get into the groove, I remember the moves and I remember that even though I’m bedrock depressed, I’m also hungry.

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