High school wasn’t all peaches and cream for me. I struggled for four years to find my place. On top of trying to impress everyone and get through alive, I was also learning how to cope with my mental illness. As anyone that struggles with mental illness can tell you, it’s not an easy thing to do. Especially when you have other, supposedly more important things on your plate. Every day, you have expectations you need to meet in order to be a functioning member of society: get out of bed and do the work expected of you. But some days it’s really hard. Especially when you have a disease telling you that your contributions are unimportant and you would be much better off staying in bed all day. Through exploring how I personally cope with these feelings, one thing I stumbled upon was cooking.
Originally, I was looking for a way to stop spending so much time alone in my room. I was told that if I wanted to learn to cope with this illness, I had to work with it. When things got really tough, I would just have to push myself to get up and do something. Growing up in a big, Middle Eastern family, food was everything. From a young age, I was taught that healthy, home cooked meals are important. In our house, everything revolved around the kitchen. My brothers would do their homework at the counter, my mother prepared dinner, and my dad often watched football (or basketball, or baseball, or whatever’s in season) on the small TV in the kitchen. We ate dinner as a family almost every night. If it wasn’t a delicious meal cooked by my mother, it was leftovers from the night before, which were just as fabulous the second day. So naturally, I gravitated towards cooking as an activity to get me up and doing something.
The process of cooking for others allows for creativity, precision, and presentation. The combination of these three things has helped relieve a lot of stress and ill feelings for me. First, you have to brainstorm what you are going to make. I personally like to take a recipe and add my own twist to it. This way, it makes the dish my own, not just someone else’s that I made. Through the measurements and actual cooking process, you must be precise and attentive. There’s no time for you to doubt yourself. By presenting your food to others to enjoy, you are putting yourself out there and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Another thing that was beneficial for me was the fact that I was not confined to the walls of my bedroom, worrying about God-knows-what. In high school, before a big exam, I often made cookies for my class or treats to share with my friends at lunch. I didn’t expect anyone to understand why or even ask, but by creating something to share that I knew everyone would enjoy, I was able to feel less stressed and more prepared for my exam.
A big part of anxiety and depression is a fear of vulnerability. You constantly worry about what others think of you and not being good enough. Actually, it’s almost like you have this voice in the back of your mind telling you you’re not good enough. “Just give up,” it says, every time something doesn’t go your way. I quickly learned, though, that my food was good enough, which translated into me being good enough. People actually enjoyed eating something that I made with my own hands. I know it sounds silly, but I know I’m not alone. Some people choose other activities, like crafting or exercising. Mine just happens to be cooking.
Now, whenever I’m feeling down I try to cook something for others. Living in a dorm with no kitchen this year has been a little tough, but I’ve found ways around it. Even making ants on a log (you know, peanut butter and celery with raisins) or popcorn from scratch are little ways that help me when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Fun fact, you don’t even need a kitchen to make puppy chow. And everyone loves puppy chow. Although I suffer from mental illness that, contrary to popular belief, is not just cured with medication, I have found a productive way to cope with it. I hope that by sharing my perspective that others will be able to explore how they cope and what makes them feel like they matter.