Today is 1st May and it is a HOLIDAY! I am feeling relaxed and happy. The last two days have been quite stressful chasing a deadline and I am glad for a peaceful day today. Another cause for good cheer is the lifting of the water rationing exercise. What a relief!
Since I have no food or cakes to share today, I want to talk about something else. Depression is not exactly a topic that would appear in a food blog. But PH Bakes is about baking, cooking and everything in between. And as and when an "everything in between" crops up, I will put up a post. After all this is my blog and I can write whatever I like. Or to borrow a phrase from Louiz aka Princess Ribbon - my like, my sukak. A word of caution - long post ahead.
|My curry plant flowered recently. These are the flower buds.|
For as long as I can remember, I experienced depression from an early age. At that time, nobody could imagine that a child was capable of experiencing depression. Childhood depression was not medically recognized until 1980 by the psychiatric profession. I also suffered from depression throughout my adolescent years. I am hoping that this sharing of my own experience can in some ways bring comfort and perhaps help those of you going through the same thing to find ways to drag yourself out of that darkness.
|This is how the flower looks like.|
So what causes depression? Many things. Circumstances in your life - losing a loved one, problems with your job, overwhelming family responsibilities, hormonal and chemical imbalance in your brain, your Japanese Cheesecake sank or there is simply no good reason at all. It is a dark heavy feeling of sadness, despair, helplessness, hopelessness and at times accompanied by a fair bit of angst.
|It then develops into berry-like fruits. These are still small. Photo taken this morning.|
It was in 2011 that I experienced deep depression. It did not come suddenly but was built up over a period of time. Let me recall how I felt during that very difficult time. I wake up in the morning feeling really, really lousy. I am tired, exhausted. I don't want to get up. I can't get up. I just want to lie in bed. I don't want to go to work. I can't face the day. I have so much anxiety built up inside of me.
|My mint. Doing quite well.|
I drag myself out of bed. I go through the motions of getting ready for work. There is a very dark heavy cloud hanging over my head. I am miserable. Miserable is not strong enough a word to describe how I feel. In the office, the feeling gets worse. I sink deeper into depression. I look at the piles of paper and files on my desk and I feel like screaming. I cannot focus. I cannot think. I cannot even write a simple letter. I stare at the computer and my mind goes blank. I am so fed-up. When the phone rings, I want to explode. I don't want to talk to anyone. I don't want to see anyone. I want to walk out of the office and never come back. Thinking of deadlines, I cannot breathe. I feel hopeless, I cannot cope. I am like a harassed mother picking up toys from the floor. Lots of toys. My arms are full of toys and no sooner had I picked up a toy, two will drop from my arms. Pick and drop, pick and drop. I am so frustrated. Some days, I retreat to the toilet and cry. There is so much negative energy and I was going on a downward spiral. This went on for days, weeks, months. Something had to be done.
|Basil. I bought these from Tesco to plant. Some died.|
There are many ways of dealing with depression. Some people climb up a tall building and jump right down. Your troubles may be over when you hit the ground but think about the hurt and pain you will cause the people who love you - your mum, your dad, your siblings, your husband/wife/partner, your kids, your friends - and not forgetting your favorite chee cheong fan man whose 15% revenue comes from your regular patronage. Let me share how I dealt with depression.
|Kafir lime leaves/Daun limau purut. Love the scent!|
The first step in dealing with depression is to recognize the fact that you are depressed. Recognition and awareness was how I took control of myself. I am depressed, fine. Next step is to identify the source. Why am I depressed? It was clear to me that my source of unhappiness was my work. I have been in my profession for 20 years and I was suffering from burnout.
|My rosemary. Surprisingly easy to grow. Just buy from the supermarket and stick it into a pot.|
Naturally, the third step is how to deal with the depression. Talking and sharing how you feel with someone you can trust and who can understand you is crucial. There are two people who are my source of comfort and "unloading" - my mum and my partner. My partner was aware of what I was going through. He knew I was unhappy about something and one morning he gently asked me "Are you OK?". Well, that started it - I honestly told him "No" and promptly burst into tears. I cried and I cried and I cried. And we talked. For the first time in so many months, I felt a heavy load lifted off me. My partner is a very understanding man and he offered me comfort and sympathy. He shared with me his own experience with depression and how he coped. Listening to a good a song helps, he told me. Watching a good movie helps too. And counting your blessings. Right now, he told me, you are bumping on the ground. You are at the lowest point in your life, you cannot go down any further, the only way is up. I am crying right now as I write this.
|Daun Kesum/Laksa leaves. These were from Aeon and I poked it into the soil. Seems to be surviving.|
So, I read food blogs as a form of distraction. When I cannot focus on my work, I go blog hopping. Before you tell me that I am cheating my boss by wasting my office hours, I have to admit to you that I happen to be the boss of me. If I had been an employee, I would have gone to see my boss and if he/she cannot grant me unpaid leave, I would graciously tender my resignation. I am not in the business of cheating my employer and I did resign from a firm many, many years ago because I did not like my job. If anything goes wrong in my present profession, I will be the first in the line of firing and I accept that responsibility wholeheartedly. With that heavy responsibility comes the freedom for me to stay at work and at the same time do what I have to do to heal.
|Bunga Kantan/Torch Ginger plant. I wonder when it will flower.|
Another thing I did was to document my feelings in a journal. I called it "Conversations with God". I imagine that I am writing to God. My first entry was on 21 March 2011, a Monday. I started off with "Dear God, today is Monday 21-03-2011 and I am extremely miserable". And I ended that letter with "Please dear God, save me from the brink of madness and grant me the strength to carry on. That’s all I could ever ask for now." I signed off as "Your highly disturbed and obedient servant". Since that day, I have 33 entries into the journal expressing anything depressing when the feeling hits me and I gave my partner full access to that file so that he is aware of what is going on with me.
|See that little critter on the leaf?|
I also shared my feelings with my mum. My mother is also a very understanding person and she too offered me comfort by sharing her own experience with depression. Take up a hobby, she told me. Painting or baking. At that time my only hobby was gardening, which I abandoned when depression got the better of me. And I have to credit my mum for my foray into baking. And my auntie too as she supplied me with my first set of baking tools. As I mentioned, I did a lot of blog hopping and I also watched baking and cooking videos. Two of my favorites are Joy of Baking and Laura in the Kitchen. And one weekend, I bravely baked my first brownies. I was nervous as hell and though the brownie was slightly over baked, I felt a sense of accomplishment. The best part was my partner declaring the brownie as "ho chiak" (delicious) when I asked if it was OK. hah...hah...
|Another shot of curry flowers.|
But deep depression does not go away in a day or two. You have to be patient and not expect miracles. You must have faith and belief in yourself. If you believe in God, pray for salvation and comfort. It is a gradual healing and even then you may not be completely free from depression. What you hope to achieve is to develop a positive attitude so that you can handle tough situations better. And the next time depression hits you, you can take a deep breath, take control and rise above. In 2012, I was still struggling with depression and I had to find something, something that could take my mind off my misery. That was when I decided to start a food blog. Yes, this blog! My first post was published on 1 May 2012 and today is my 2nd blog anniversary :)
|Oregano. Another very easy herb to plant.|
This blog, Phong Hong Bakes, is something positive that came out of my healing process. This blog has brought me much joy and happiness. And I am happy to have known you fellow bloggers and you have delighted me and brought me much happiness through your sharing of bakes and cooks and whatever else that you choose to share. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my blogger friends and readers for your support throughout this time.
And one more thing before I go. If anyone who is depressed comes to you to pour out their feelings, listen. Offer a shoulder to cry on, be supportive. Be gentle, be sympathetic. Depression is very real and please don't simply dismiss this person and not take them seriously. This is not the time to be judgmental. A harsh or unkind remark can cause a troubled mind to sink deeper into despair.
Your source of depression could be different from mine and my solution may not be suited for you. But if you look into yourself and take some time to reflect, you too can find a solution and source of comfort and eventually heal. And though I still get depressed from time to time, it does not come that often and when it does, I recover very quickly. It is my hope that anyone of you who is suffering from depression can eventually heal and be happy again. May the force be with you. Amen.
|Hope springs eternal. Life is to be cherished. Don't worry, be happy!|