If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a huge proponent of occupational therapy (OT). Basically that means doing a physical or mental activity that keeps your mind occupied and has some form of therapeutic effect on the brain. This can be literally anything, from following a complex knitting pattern to playing Angry Birds on your phone (yes, I still do that because I am SUPER COOL).
Occupational therapy was always something that I struggled with before going into hospital in 2018, as I believed that if I was distracting myself from the chaos in my head then I wasn’t dealing with it, like some form of denial. What I’ve learned about myself from being on the ward and since then is that actually when I give myself some brain space in the form of an activity, the chaos quietens on its own and then I can work on any problems in a much calmer and more rational way.
During Lockdown, especially at the start, I saw a lot of social media posts encouraging people to not feel like they had to stay busy, or make banana bread, or do anything, because it was an Unprecedented Pandemic and everything was stressful enough. Whilst I completely agree that the situation was overwhelming and that no one should ever feel they HAVE to do anything, some of these posts felt a bit judgemental towards those of us that NEEDED the busy-ness and to keep moving.
When I was on the psychiatric ward 2 years ago, everyone (regardless of why we had been admitted) was encouraged to take part in the OT activities, as it was considered a massive part of engaging with your treatment and ultimate recovery. I was initially reluctant to take part, for the reasons above, but I slowly began to realise that with every gym session, every picture coloured in, every pumpkin carved, I was feeling better and a teeny bit more like myself. OT has been a massive part of my life and ongoing recovery ever since.
Also, I really don’t think anyone ever feels worse for baking something or going for a walk round the block (if you can). You might not feel better immediately, but you won’t feel worse.
Early on in Lockdown, I took part in a bake-along filmed live on Instagram by Gok Wan, where we made a cheese and onion scone loaf. He posted the ingredients a few days before and thousands of us followed each step with him that evening. It was fun, and I really liked the feeling of having baked something (I’ve always loved cooking, but baking has often seemed a bit too ‘science-y’ for me to understand). Also any baked good warm from the oven is *chef’s kiss*.
Soon after this, I started doing weekly cookalongs on Skype with my mother- and sister-in-law, Val and Hannah. Each week we made something new, or that at least one of us had always fancied having a go at. We started with potato gnocchi, and have since covered many different types of bread, pastries, Cornish pasties, and even crumpets. We’ve made things we would have always said ‘oh I don’t have time for that’ about in the Before Times, and had a lot of fun doing it. I’ve melted plastic wrap into pastry, had bread dough escape the bowl and make a bid for world domination whilst rising, and every single week uttered the words ‘I really need to buy a cooling rack’.
Even though Lockdown has eased now and I have seen Val in person again, and will be seeing Hannah soon, we have decided to carry on as we enjoy these weekly baking and catch-up sessions so much. They’ve given me a sense of routine (Friday mornings are now baking mornings in my diary), a way to connect with people I love and have helped me overcome my fear of baking. I now understand how to make bread (which is great as I LOVE bread), and I am more confident to give different creations a go.
Following recipes and discussing what is going right or wrong with them is also a great distraction, and for a few hours each week I have been able to, if not forget, then at least keep at a distance everything that has been happening. And whilst I think it is important to stay engaged with the news and the wider world, we all need a bit of time to step away and recharge.
Now I’m off to eat all the M&M cookies I baked yesterday…