It’s been more than three weeks since I’ve posted on this blog and I’m hoping you’ve all been having such a wonderful summer that you haven’t noticed my absence.
If you have, you may have been thinking I’ve been having such a fabulous time myself that I’ve been too busy to write. Or you may have suspected I had some feelings going on that I hadn’t felt ready to share, particularly if you noticed the reference to feeling a bit blue in my previous post.
As it happens, both would be true. I’ve had an amazing summer, but I’ve also been dealing with a lot of sadness in the past week or two.
The relationship I started a few months back – the one I managed to enter into wholeheartedly by battling my deep-rooted ambivalence, the one I committed myself to as much as I was able and about which, therefore, I have no regrets (as I wrote about in A life that matters) – has ended.
I won’t go too deeply into the reasons for this – other than to say simply that we wanted different things and we were both brave enough to stay true to ourselves, despite how much we cared – but I do want to acknowledge how grateful I am for the experience, for the fears I challenged, the risks I took, the amount of fun I allowed myself to have, the incredible lessons I learned and for the degree of closeness and intimacy that I managed to feel. I think there’s always been this little part of me that’s wondered whether I actually wanted to be in a relationship. Well, I most definitely do.
This was all made possible, it seems to me, because I confronted my ambivalence and threw myself in. But the flipside of that, of course, is that I’m left with a deep sense of loss when it doesn’t work out – a lot more pain than if I’d just kept things superficial, than if I’d kept one foot in the door or one eye on an Internet dating site.
I’ve been dealing with this pain, I confess, not in a wholly healthy way – at least not until now. I tried my best to do the things I know are good for me – a few swims in the Hampstead ladies’ pond, time spent with my closest girlfriends, a good novel, prayer, meditation and so forth. But I also pushed myself too hard, overestimated my resilience and my ability to bounce back and forgot to be compassionate with myself.
What’s more, despite feeling low, I forced myself to do the tasks I find most challenging in relation to my freelance journalism work – such as cold-calling magazine editors, with all the potential for rejection that brings. Why do I do this? Expose my vulnerable, sensitive self to another bashing when she’s just taken a hit? Is this part of that familiar self-harming streak? You’re feeling low anyway so let’s see just how low you can go. Or you’ve failed at one thing so let’s crack the whip and try and achieve something else to make up for it. Whatever it is, whatever drives me to do that, I don’t think it’s healthy.
Note to self – go gently when you’re feeling blue.
I also abandoned myself in the most tried and tested way: I overate. And not on anything particularly tasty either. I lost all interest in food as something nourishing, warming and heartening and used it to beat myself up – we’re talking rice cakes with margarine, oats with yoghurt, or handfuls of nuts for dinner or a post-dinner snack that went on far too long. I’m not saying I ate stacks of hamburgers or tubs of ice cream, but for me it’s the act of overeating that causes the pain, not what I actually consume. You basically end up with double the problem – the original one and then the shame and remorse on top for having overeaten.
But the good news is, I knew where to draw the line and was able to coax myself back to self-care. So on Saturday, I went to the health food shop and stocked up on healthy foods, to the green grocers’ for lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and to the corner store that sells everything to buy a baking tin.
And then I baked coconut bread (the gluten-free, sugar-free, but fortunately not the taste-free variety). And the process of doing so lifted my spirits. Just a little bit.
For some of you, baking won’t be a big deal. You’ll be able to whip up a batch of cupcakes or a walnut loaf while you make dinner and you’ll have been doing so for many years. For me, this was something quite new.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve filled a container with cake or bread mix and put it in the oven. There were the scones I made at secondary school – memorable because I forgot a key ingredient, perhaps the sugar, or maybe the butter, I can’t quite recall. There was the healthy carrot cake I baked a few years back to impress a previous boyfriend, surprising myself – and a fellow novice baker who came round to watch the proceedings – with how well it turned out. Then there was Saturday’s coconut bread.
And I honestly think that’s the sum total of my baking over the years. But maybe if you ask me again in a few weeks, I’ll have banana bread, another carrot cake and a few more items to add to my back catalogue.
So why so little baking up till now? And what’s with the change of heart?
Well, if, like me, you’ve had an eating disorder in the past, you could go a number of ways. As you recover, you could develop a real interest in cooking, baking and preparing nourishing food for yourself and others. Or, you could maintain a certain disinterest in food – unless it’s for the purposes of stifling feelings or numbing pain – and hold onto a rather irrational fear of getting fat if you start developing an affinity for baking. I fall into the latter category. Despite having been in recovery for an eating disorder for some nine years now, I’m still rather challenged in the kitchen. My cooking is pragmatic – quick, easy and not particularly tasty. I can eat the same things for lunch or dinner several times a week. I’ve never cooked a full roast (shock – I’m 42!) and I’ve never made soup.
But making my coconut bread at the weekend, eating small slices of it over the past few days and sharing it with friends tapped into something that I guess other regular cooks or bakers out there experience often and that was described – to a degree and along with lots of other valuable musings – in this New York Times piece on bakeries, happiness and having it all: You Can’t Have It All, but You Can Have Cake.
A friend sent me that link just as I was pondering blogging about how my weekend baking had calmed me, grounded me and lifted the dark cloud for a little while. What Delia Ephron wrote in the piece about life’s simple pleasures and achieving peace of mind struck a chord. Here’s an extract:
To me, having it all — if one wants to define it at all — is the magical time when what you want and what you have match up … It might be a fleeting moment — drinking a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning when the light is especially bright. It might also be a few undisturbed hours with a novel I’m in love with, a three-hour lunch with my best friend, reading “Goodnight Moon” to a child, watching a Nadal-Federer match. Having it all definitely involves an ability to seize the moment, especially when it comes to sports. It can be eating in bed when you’re living on your own for the first time or the first weeks of a new job when everything is new, uncertain and a bit scary. It’s when all your senses are engaged. It’s when you feel at peace with someone you love. And that isn’t often. Loving someone and being at peace with him (or her) are two different things. Having it all are moments in life when you suspend judgment. It’s when I attain that elusive thing called peace of mind.
Having had a taste (pun intended) of a little bit of peace on Saturday as my coconut bread warmed in the oven, I’ve decided this cooking/baking thing is worth pursuing. I’ve bought a hand mixer to make soup, mash and whisk cake mixes and, for my next trick, I hope to be producing a gluten-free banana bread, followed by some homemade soup.
It seems I’ve spent a long time searching far and wide for a sense of wholeness – but maybe I didn’t need to look beyond my kitchen. I’m not expecting miracles or any major turnaround, but I’m looking forward to enjoying some of life’s simple pleasures and sharing them with others.
Before signing off and on a separate, if loosely related topic, I wanted to highlight a radio interview that eloquently and powerfully describes the pain a lot of women who want to be mothers go through when they realise they can’t have children for whatever reason. I’ve mentioned Jody Day and her organisation Gateway Women that supports childless-by-circumstance women a few times on this blog before. Jody’s interview with Radio Gorgeous about her experience of childlessness and why she set up GW starts around the 22-minute mark. Enjoy.
And if you have time on your hands (two minutes exactly), check out the podcast I made for the Radio 2 Pause for Thought competition. They were searching for a new voice. They didn’t choose mine. But I really enjoyed the process of making the podcast, which I’m calling Be Still And Know That I Am God.