Cake and depression

Our brand new card for depression is all about cake. Well, sort of.

I am a big believer in the power of cake. It celebrates things. It connects people. It makes otherwise dull functions way more exciting. It can do wonders for an individual at 3pm on a Monday afternoon.

Cake could probably fix a mild dose of unhappiness I reckon. The magical combination of sugar and butter. The care and love that has gone into smooth icing. Knowing how frustrating it is to use a piping bag.

But depression is not the same as unhappiness.

When I am in remission from a depressive episode (as I am now), it can be difficult to remember the full weight that depression had on me. Sometimes I wonder whether that weight was really as heavy as I had thought. Maybe it has not so much as melted away as never been there in the first place? Maybe I was just bunging it on? Exaggerating, pretending, and trying to escape my responsibilities at work, in life? It is hard to remember how heavy the burden of depression can feel when all you want to do is forget about it.

But then I might hear the unique story of someone’s own personal experience with the black dog. Or hear of a friend’s loved one cutting them self off from the world. Or hear of a suicide following a drawn out battle with depression

And then I manage to remember bits.

Depression is a much more cavernous feeling than the unhappiness that haphazardly visits me these days. It is a much deeper and more powerful sense of despair which colours how we see the world and interferes with our ability to go on with our life.

For every person who experiences depression, there are different dimensions of biology, psychology and life events and difficulties at play in both precipitating the depressive episode and maintaining it.

From a biological perspective there’s all sort of imaging around that can show us some of the stuff that’s happening in our heads. For people who experience chronic and severe depression, there are changes which can be seen in the structure of the brain. When a person has experienced one episode of severe depression triggered by stressful life events, there appears to be some kind of ‘kindling’ effect in the brain which makes further episodes more likely to occur.

Also there are certain symptoms of depression – low mood, inability to enjoy life, loss of energy, inability to think clearly and feelings of hopelessness – which can, at least to some degree, be reversed with medication. And I’ve found that medication helps me. It takes some of the weight off.

Having said all of that, personally and as a psychologist, it’s impossible for me to believe that the complexities of human thought can be explained by a simple chemical imbalance. The nature and essence of mental illness – the most subjective and personal of human afflictions – couldn’t possibly be distilled to something quite as straightforward as just the replacement of a substance depleted from the brain.

We are all wonderful, complex beasts and often depression is intertwined with other realities of the human condition: our vulnerability, fears, losses and wounds. Our need to be loved, the pain of loneliness, the problems in our past, grief and unresolved guilt.

For me, depression was a profoundly personal experience. It burrowed into me and damaged my sense of self and my reason for self. It caused quite a bit of damage. Probably the reason I try and forget most of it, is that depression is a singularly awful experience. It can sap the life out of you and make each day seem like a lifetime.

Unfortunately cake probably wouldn’t have provided me much of a solution. But I know that there are lots of other more effective options out there. And with time, patience, love, support, hope, commitment and bloody hard work the full weight of depression can be lifted.

You can find our 'Cake for Depression' card right here.

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