by: Liz Stewart
I’m at my best in 140 characters or less, cracking jokes, making puns and throwing out Lord of the Rings references. Was your ass forged by Sauron? Because that thing is PRECIOUS! Yeah…
But, some stories can’t be captured in 140 characters. Stories like how my sister lost a friend to suicide. Or, how a close friend’s father committed suicide after years of struggling with mental illness.
Though both of them had many around them who loved them unconditionally they felt as though they had no other choice. The illness consumed them to a point where they felt they didn’t want to “be a burden” any longer; that the world would be a better place without them in it. This, of course, was not true.
If you read nothing else in the rest of the post, read this and know it to be true: YOU MATTER. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I know. You might scoff, and say, “Yes, I am.” But, pause for a moment. One in four people suffers from mental illness. Likely, you know someone else who feels like you do.
That’s a large part of why we’re putting on the Depressed Cake Shop – and why it’s become such a worldwide sensation, with shops popping up all over and coverage on CNN, Huffington Post, and other major news outlets. The goal of the shops – which sell only gray cakes – is to bring awareness to mental illness and help those who are afflicted, no longer continue to suffer in silence.
Like me. I’ve had major depression and anxiety since I was 15. There were times when I sat alone in my car and envisioned hundreds of different ways I would die. In my head they were freak accidents—I’ve never been so low as to attempt anything by any means—but I felt that the world was a cold, empty place and my brain haunted me with these terrible images. It took me a long time to realize that this isn’t me. It’s my disease. My depression.
I know what it’s like to sleep all day because you don’t feel like doing anything else. I remember when joy was a foreign concept. I remember wondering if I would ever feel affected by anything ever again or if I would always be numb. With depression, the numbness and emptiness is worse than the sadness. Then the guilt set in; I didn’t think I deserved to be sad when there was so much suffering in the world. My depression caused a vicious, seemingly-inescapable cycle of hopelessness. And there was no way I could just “snap” myself out of it. Trust me, I tried.
For years, I was stubborn about going to therapy because I didn’t want to be “that girl” at dinner who always piped up with, “My therapist says…” I didn’t want to become reliant on medication. I mean, it’s over-prescribed anyway, right? How could it possibly help? And I certainly didn’t want to pay loads of cash to a doctor just to have him hear me bitch about my completely mundane life that didn’t mean anything to anyone, not even myself. If I had diabetes, I wouldn’t have treated it like this. But, depression is a tricky illness. It tricks the mind into continuing to engage in unhealthy behaviors. And, in our culture, it’s often treated as something you can just “get over.” NAMI.org (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) puts it best. “Stigma erodes confidence that mental disorders are real, treatable health conditions. We have allowed stigma and a now unwarranted sense of hopelessness to erect attitudinal, structural and financial barriers to effective treatment and recovery. It is time to take these barriers down.”
Things got worse as my career in video games PR was taking off. I threw myself into work to get out of my own head. Great for my career, not so great for the soul. When I was at my worst, I was lucky enough to have a lot of caring people who supported me and finally pushed me to try therapy. I went, begrudgingly. I also skipped plenty of sessions because I didn’t see the point in going. At first, I thought my therapist was feeding me some kind of pre-written script but after a few months of weekly, sometimes bi-weekly sessions, it finally clicked. It felt like Gandalf swooped in and said, “Dawn take you all!” and little cracks of light appeared and turned the Depression Troll to stone. Finally. I still take medication, and, thanks to therapy, I no longer feel like I have to listen to those negative emotions when they do bubble up. I feel like I have a choice in how I react to them. I never would have felt this way on my own.
A little over a month ago, my friend Rebecca Swanner (former video game editor for Penthouse and author of two self-help books) told me she was inspired to create the Los Angeles outpost for the Depressed Cake Shop and donate all proceeds to a mental health charity. I finally felt like I could repay the kindness my friends and family showed me even when I had felt like I didn’t deserve it.
The concept of Depressed Cake Shop, which hails from the UK, is cool. It’s a pop-up bakery that sells gray-on-the-outside, colored-on-the-inside cakes and baked goods to raise awareness about brain disorders and mental illness. The color on the inside symbolizes how depression coats everything in gray, but there is still hope to be found. As the founder, Emma Cakehead explains, “By having grey cakes we’re challenging the expected, and getting people to challenge the labels they put on those who suffer with a mental illness.”
The Los Angeles shop will be open August 23rd and 24th and all proceeds will benefit NAMI Westide, the West LA chapter for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Want to get involved with a Cake Shop near you or start one of your own? Go for it! There are only two requirements: you sell only grey cakes and you donate the money to a charity that is tied to mental health. Here’s the updated list of cake shops. And, if you don’t see one near you, the site has information on how to start your own!
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, I hope I see you next weekend. Don’t be afraid to encourage a friend to come. You can always bring them a cupcake and say, “Take this; it’s tasty!” 🙂
Cheers, hugs, and corgi snuggles,
Video Games PR Consultant