Thanksgiving in an American pie shop can best be described as the World Cup and the Super Bowl rolled up together- then stretched out over 21 days. Christmas, remarkably, tends to be less busy, but only slightly. I had to let my writing work slide for a couple weeks there because all my energy was being spent in the shop- physically, mentally, and emotionally.
The experience is always a trying one- I’m not complaining about that. My team and I handled it well, pulling off over 2000 pies in about a week. What it can mean, however, is exhaustion leading to strained nerves and losing sight of why the work we do is important. Not just to the world at large, but to ourselves personally.
You can’t blame a guy for not seeing the glory in the 500th pumpkin pie he’s made in a week, after all.
It’s almost providential then that, just before Thanksgiving, I rediscovered an important insight: “I chose this. I chose baking. I chose love. This is my calling.” Not many of us can say we work at our calling… but how many can also say their day job is their spiritual practice?
If anyone had asked me before I became a writer, I would have immediately marked myself as an introvert. I liked my quiet time, being alone, and going inside my own head.
I still do, for the record. I am definitely have an introverted streak and I like to refer to myself as “running out of people minutes” or having “peopled too much” when I’m ready to go off somewhere for a little peace and quiet.
Then I started writing in restaurants, learned that the best stories come from listening and talking to other people, and now I feel bad if I don’t socialize at least a bit every day.
Humans are a social species. We are not built for complete isolation. Enjoying being alone is one thing… but no human is meant to be lonely.
“You cannot change how your story started, you can always change how your story ends.”
For plenty of people, those are wonderful and hopeful words of wisdom. It is hard, and we often need help to do it, but it is possible to rise above our pasts towards a future we want. That is an empowering, terrifying, and beautiful thing. A hallmark of our intelligence as sentiment creatures is the ability to internalize what we’ve experienced and use it to make decisions in the future.
This can be both a blessing and curse. We learn from traumatic experiences as well, and healing from that is as much a (re)learning process as a spiritual/emotional practice. When things happen that really and truly shake you to your core, you can’t always just dust yourself off and go again. If you think you can, I congratulate you on your compartmentalization and/or sociopathy.
The truth is that, even if you think you’ve recovered from a difficult experience, there is no returning to the person you were before. It’s a “what is known cannot be unknown” sort of thing. Before, you didn’t know you could be hurt like that. You didn’t know you could fail that hard. You didn’t know whatever it was could hurt so much. It’s the price we pay for being thinking, feeling, loving creatures- but it’s a price we never consciously think we must pay until it happens.
When it does, we learn. We learn to wake up the next morning and keep trying. We recover, we hope, and we carry on. We also need to mourn the people that we were- because that is never coming back, and it’s something I’ve been wrestling with a lot recently.
“I’m not a mapmaker. I’m a traveller, making this trip just like and alongside you.”– Brene Brown
The last few weeks have been more than a little frustrating and chaotic at the pie shop, and I’m having a little trouble “getting comfortable being uncomfortable.” Over the past two weeks and the one coming, just because of timing, I will simultaneously be:
1. Preparing the kitchen for me to not be there for a week while Emily and I finally enjoy a honeymoon in Ireland.
2. Filling wholesale orders- including brand new contracts- for the coming weeks,
3. Making sure catering orders are in a state that my team can manage them in my absence,
4. Retooling our entire production system to be geared toward retail and catering and away from large wholesale contracts as we look toward warmer weather and possibly returning to farmers markets.
It’s all more than a little overwhelming, and as someone who starts to get static in front of their eyes when they stare too long at a crowded spreadsheet, one of my more toxic coping mechanisms starts creeping out: “DO ALL THE THINGS.” As late as last week, my boss essentially had to collar me and drag me out of the kitchen saying “No, Matt- you CAN’T do all the things. We are going to sit down and plan and work this all out.”
All the same, old thought patterns are hard to break. Intellectually, I know that I am just one person. I am not a machine, I am a squishy human that has limitations and gets tired. Regardless, my thought patterns start to run in circles like this:
“Ok, I can do this. I always figure it out. I always get the job done. I’m the only one who can do it. I need to do it. If I don’t, everything is ruined. If I don’t, people will think I’m unreliable and a flake. I won’t belong in the kitchen anymore. I’ll be worthless. I need to be the strong one. I need to get the job done. I need to show I can handle it. I need to show I can hack it- that I still belong here.”
“I am so tired, but I can’t rest yet. I need to get this all done. I’ll rest when I’m done. ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’ Hahahahaha…”
Did any of that sound relatable? If so, I am so sorry… and we both need to admit when we need breaks and that not everything is going to, or NEEDS to, get done.
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.