If you want to know how strong a person is, see how they handle feeling weak.
Last week was a long and miserable one, not least because when I woke up on Monday morning it felt like the color had drained from the world. Nothing tasted good, I had no energy or will to do anything, but all the guilt of doing nothing. As I dragged myself around the house in the early morning, half-coasted my bike to the shop and turned on the ovens, I knew that I was in a depressive episode.
I reached out to others- not for help, or even for pity, but connection. Lots of people responded, and I was grateful for that- but not everyone knows why or how to be helpful in those situations.
How do you help someone manage depression? You just be there.
The other day, one of my bakers and I were chatting while putting together some savory pies. I’d been filling and crimping Spinach Feta Pasties, and she was filling up crusts with Lemon Chicken. In short, it was the exact type of repetitive work that lets your mind wander while your hands move. It can be dull, but also meditative.
My baker had graduated from culinary school two years before. She’d worked at a couple places, but the environments and cultures there had left a bad taste in her mouth. She loved baking though and was dedicated to figuring out a way forward in her career. We discussed why we loved this field, and- most importantly- our attitudes toward working in general.
“I go to pieces if I don’t have work or something to do. Not that I’ll ever be able to retire, but I have a feeling that even if I was I’d wind up only being semi-retired and working until the day I died. I just need to work.”
“People need passion in order to work in fields like this.” my baker continued. “If you don’t have passion for the work, you won’t be able to get out of bed to do it.”
“Yep- and what’s more, you need to have the right attitude toward that passion as well,” I said, crimping away at my pasties. “I don’t think of myself as an artist doing this, you know. I’m a craftsman, and this is my craft. There’s a craft of baking, and the craft of living as a baker.” She froze and looked at me a moment then said, “Wait, go back… what do you mean the craft of living?”
If anyone was to ask me what I’ve noticed about my professional life in the last year, I would says “I’m working harder than I ever have in my life, but I’m minding it less.” There’s something to be said for getting yourself into a job that provides more eustress (the good kind of stress that comes from challenging yourself or doing something exciting) and distress (which is… well, distressing.)
Stress is still stress, though, and one of my issues is finding ways to “turn it off” and letting myself relax without the feeling of “Yes, I’m relaxing, but surely I could be relaxing more productively…” Sitting down with my therapist, he suggested a good mix of self-love and self-care. “Give yourself permission to not be firing on all cylinders,” “make time for rest,” etcetera. All good advice I need to keep in mind more often. Critical for today, though, was his last suggestion- “What activities inspire and restore you?”
Well… that’s what writing used to be. Baking too. Both still work now and again, but the cathartic aspect just doesn’t hit like it used to. THIS is what restores me now.
It’s another of the best worst bits of advice you can give someone. It means well, it’s true, but it’s also false and ignoring it can lead to ruination, pain, and injury.
”There are no limits.” ”The only limit to what you can do is what you put on yourself.”
You see them all the time on motivational posts and calendars- and the annoying thing is that it’s true! In a lot of cases, the only thing holding us back from what we want most is just a couple decisions that we make for ourselves, with no gatekeepersother than ourselves. As soon as you realize that, you are a monumental step closer to living the kind of life you want.
In some cases, though, pretending there are no limits to what you can do can lead to serious, painful problems. Let’s be real here: winners quit all the time, and successful people know when to take (and give!) “No” as an answer. They know their limits. They may test them, even stretch them, but they respect them- because they know that failing to do so can lead to self-destruction.
Do other people get prescribed time in a rocking chair with a blanket and a cup of tea, or is it just me?
Not too long ago, as the holiday season was winding down and we were getting ready to shut down the bakery for a week, my therapist asked what I intended to do with my time off. I rattled off several writing projects, new daily exercise goals, travel to see my family… and my therapist asked “Ok, but are you going to rest?“ “Um… yeah? I mean, I intend to but there’s plenty I’ve been putting off because of the holidays and…” “Matt, are you familiar with hygge?” “Yeah, that’s something like ‘coziness’ right?” “Yes, but intentionally. Find time to deliberately make yourself as comfortable as possible and be okay with doing nothing.”