“Everyone gets depressed.” (Don’t worry, this article is actually about Houston’s pastry chefs. Stay with me.)
This is something I have heard my whole life. I get it. The world is largely a depressing place. Current events are depressing. Political divisiveness is depressing. Social issues are depressing. Family issues are depressing. Divorce, loss of a loved one and other life events can lead to situational depression, which is when you’re depressed to a certain degree, and then eventually you bounce back. Sometimes it can take a month or so to work through it, other times it can take a few years.
Clinical depression, however, is a mood disorder that just won’t go away. I’ve personally been diagnosed with different types of depression twice times in my life, which does not help a person feel good. Right now, I’m “hormonally depressed” which makes me feel like a sad pile of pathetic.
While having been being treated for two autoimmune conditions since 2011, symptoms would improve when my bloodwork was good, then they’d be bad the next month and symptoms came back. Not only is depression a side effect of a medication I take, it’s also a symptom of both conditions. Six years of feeling good, then feeling bad, and feeling mad about it.To keep a long story short, I don’t feel like I’m winning in the health department and I never know what my blood results will reveal. Taking medication daily, feeling like a very expensive guinea pig, losing my eyebrows, knowing that my conditions make it extremely difficult to bear children, major weight gain, and weight loss. The rollercoaster of my unpredictable health situation continues to be really depressing.
I’m also what you call at high risk for clinical depression (also referred to as major depressive disorder), which affects more than 16 million adults in the United States. (I’m already treated for anxiety disorder. Ironically, this label causes me some shame… and anxiety. Some days I can’t sit in Houston traffic without having a panic attack.) The National Institute of Mental Health says you are high risk if you have any of these traits, of which I have all of:
- Personal or family history of depression
- Major life changes, trauma, or stress
- Certain physical illnesses and medications
Fantastic! Can’t wait to see where this journey takes me.
Why am I talking about this at my-table.com? Because yesterday I had a frank conversation with pastry chef Jody Stevens (you may know her as JodyCakes) about depression, and we both agree that people don’t talk about their personal struggles enough. It’s hard to not feel alone when there are stigmas against discussing depression. She’s hosting the Depressed Cake Shop again this Sunday, October 29 from 2 to 5 pm, and because of the fast growth and popularity of the event, she’s had to move it from Paulie’s, where it was held the first few years, to Underbelly.
“I definitely did not start the Depressed Cake Shop idea,” said Stevens “but I really made it my own. I saw that many of them were hosted more like little bake sales and I knew that Houstonians would want to support if they knew their favorite pastry chefs were making the items. I asked my friends to participate, and people loved it.”
As you can tell by my personal comments above, I’m pretty open about talking about my own depression, but to be honest it was sort of scary putting this on a website that I moderate. My byline is in this article. I’m sure some people will not like the topic. I asked Stevens, “Do you feel like when people come to this event, they talk about how their lives are personally impacted by depression? It seems like a conversation that many people still aren’t willing to have or share in public.”
“Oh, for sure. People who come to the pop-up just start sharing their stories, and talking about their own battles or about how someone else in their life has had depression and how it has affected them. I think people still don’t talk about it much because they’re proud. But everyone is touched by depression. Part of the reason why I do this is to get the conversation going.” She added, “People seem to still not want to talk about this issue which is too bad. Nobody wants to vulnerable. Luckily there is the internet, and people are able to read about it and maybe share themselves behind the screen.”
So what has the feedback been like these last few years of the annual pop-up? “Mostly really good… people ask me about it all the time and they’ll mention that they bought a cake that their favorite chef made, and ask if that chef is participating again… I have had people tell me that they buy the cake at the event on Sunday, and then take it to work Monday and share it and that opens up the conversation about the event and leads to more discussions and that’s the whole point.”
And what about negative feedback? “I have had a few people not understand what the event it about and accuse me of making light of something.” Is that because it is a pastry-based event? Perhaps if it were a sit-down dinner at a ticketed price it wouldn’t be perceived that way? (We both laughed.) “Yeah I think so… sad pastries aren’t very common,” she agreed. “I try to show people the website and Facebook event page and show them that no this is a serious issue and this is a successful fundraising effort and we want to open the door for conversation and help people. We are not making fun of anyone.”
“Have you noticed that chefs maybe suffer from depression more than others? It seems that many creative people like painters and authors and musicians are often depressed,” I asked. “I think creative people sometimes are depressed, yes, but anyone can be,” said Stevens. “Some of the cakes that the chefs bring in are jarring and graphic. It might be what mental illness means to them. But these are artists who are showing how depression has made them feel or how someone else’s depression has impacted them. What they create can sometimes be shocking… at first I had to ask friends to participate, now people are asking me if they can create something for the event.
It’s no secret that many professionals in the culinary industry struggle with addiction. “[…] when you get off work late at night you and your colleagues all get together for a drink or whatever and you complain about work. It’s what everyone does. They don’t talk about these personal issues. I do think that maybe depression and addiction go hand in hand. I don’t know if that is proven but I feel like I see it. Alcoholism, drugs, I see depressed people get stuck in a really sad cycle. When my dad passed away, he was sober… [but he really] struggled with depression after his dad died, and was an alcoholic. My dad was my hero but yeah, it affected me.”
Where does this money go from this fundraiser? “The event is about raising awareness for depression and mental illness. All proceeds will be donated to The Montrose Center and NAMI Greater Houston. The Montrose Center has been the benefactor for four years because they hold a special place in my heart. I told them they were my first love, which is so cheesy, but they are. They do so much for the LGBTQ community. They (LGBTQ) don’t have as many resources for them. I grew up weird. I mean, I am a straight woman but I was so weird, really weird in high school. High school was the worst. I moved every year when I was growing up. I was so shy… I had to learn to be open… so I hung out with gay boys, I was friends with outsiders. [I have watched] some of my closest friends suffer from depression and other things because of their sexuality and [know] how they had nowhere to seek help. I understand how it feels. This is an organization that is so important to my heart.”
The event is free to attend, but if you’d like to make a donation, you can visit this page and click “tickets” in order to make different donations, such as the Comfort & Care Donation ($10) provides basic needs for those clients The Montrose Center battling depression/other mental health obstacles. A Helping Hand Donation ($25) provides half of a clinical therapy session to a client in need. A Warm Hug Donation ($50) provides a full clinical therapy session to a client in need.