I am an anxious person. My brain rarely stops churning, anything and everything can turn into a worry, and I pick over the worries like a child with a scab. It’s a hidden thing, this churning in my head, only occasionally spilling out into a full blown anxiety attack such as those around me would notice. Yet a large part of getting myself healthy, mentally and physically, since my spell of mental ill-health last year has been trying to quell my busy brain.
Sometimes those closest to me will try and persuade me to stop worrying, on the occasions I try to confide what’s bothering me. It’s not that easy. It’s not that I don’t see that there’s no logical point in keeping myself awake til 2am going over and over everything from minor upsets to possible catastrophes – It’s that I can’t stop it.
In part it’s why I called this blog Pondermonium. All the pondering causes pandemonium to my mental state! And the mental affects the physical, and before long I’m a wreck.
I have tried everything. And the thing that works best for me, completely unexpectedly, is making bread.
I like baking, but it’s one of those things that regularly gets shunted out of my busy days. Then last year I read Swallow This: Serving Up The Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets, by Joanna Blythman, about the food industry including the things they do to processed food which we don’t need to be told about as it’s a ‘process’ not an ingredient. (you can read an extract from the book here.) And it scared me. And caused me to worry a lot about what I’d been feeding my family thinking it was healthy. And out of that worry grew the intention to try and use fewer processed foods, and make more things myself. I figured limit the number of ingredients and you limit the number of additives/dodgy process those ingredients have been exposed to.
This led me to start baking bread. And I realised that when I knead the dough, I don’t worry. There’s something about that physical repetitive action of kneading, of concentrating on feeling the dough change, that switches my busy brain off. I have no idea how, or why, and I don’t want to over-analyse it in case it stops working. But I’m very grateful for it.
You have to take your time baking bread, you can’t rush it. It needs to be done slowly and calmly. It doesn’t always turn out the same – sometimes it’s fabulous, sometimes it’s just OK, but with enough butter and jam even the worst loaf is a treat. (I sense a metaphor for life coming on!). I have always felt much better after baking a loaf than I did when I started. I look forward to baking as the rare time when my mind is still, and I’m learning to carry that stillness beyond baking, although it’s a long slow journey.
My current favourite bread recipe is Nutty Seedy Half-n-half Bread by Jack Monroe. It’s quick enough to make in the evening after work, my whole family will eat it (despite an initial reluctance due to it having ‘bits’ in), it tastes gorgeous and I’m convinced it’s a damn sight better for us than the shop bought alternatives, as well as working out cheaper. The recipe calls for a food processor, but if like me you don’t have one (there was an incident with a dog, a hob and an almost fire – don’t ask) bashing the nuts with a rolling pin works just as well and is a damn sight more therapeutic after a stressful day.
I’m getting braver with my bread making. I’m trying new recipes and ingredients. When my mental health isn’t good it’s near impossible for me to do anything new or different, so this is a good sign. But things go up and down and I need to keep aware of that. Yesterday I had a real wobble. So today I’m baking. I feel calmer, and there’ll be tasty fresh bread to eat soon.