Why grocery stores are out of baking yeast: A mental health story we all need to hear

At the beginning of the pandemic, the fact that toilet paper, bottled water and disinfectant wipes were sold out nearly everywhere was common knowledge.  But did you know in some communities, baking yeast was just as hard to find? During a time of complete and utter panic, people turn to baking…and while this may seem like a coincidence to some, to me, it is no surprise: the idea of measuring one cup of flour when your world is totally out of control is something I have turned to before. 

I know this because during the summer of 2017, this was my saving grace. Living with depression for so many years, the feelings were not new but the circumstances were. After a serious car accident that summer, with a totaled car,  I was quite literally ‘stuck.’ So, I turned to find solace in the kitchen. This was different for me: growing up I never really cooked or baked. I had been living with an eating disorder for so many years that the kitchen historically scared me. When I started baking though, I felt something bigger. Carrying out conversation about my depression in the kitchen and baking for others, I saw a true means of connection and understanding and something clicked. Being a mental health advocate and activist of so many years, I recognized that if baking could help me find healing and understanding, it could certainly be a vessel to more “palatable” and normalized conversation about mental health which is something I have learned so many people shy away from. 

So, a few years later my first book: Bake it Till You Make it: Breaking Bread, Building Resilience was born! A compilation of stories about mental health and resilience coupled with a recipe chosen by the contributor; the book is now bound together with resource pages and sold on Amazon and at Target. And while the book was published and complete last summer, the fire within me that said “run with this” became too important to ignore.

Before I knew it, this mental health and resilience cookbook inspired an organization grounded in creativity, community and connection. And now more than ever, I am committed to living my life to model vulnerability and authenticity in my every step. 

When quarantine was first introduced though, this mission felt hard to keep up. As someone who struggles with their mental health, being alone is especially scary. I remember starting to put together a list of things I could do to keep myself busy and grounded when self-isolation was mandated. Even though I don’t think “writing my memoir” was put on that list, it was certainly something I always knew I wanted to do. And without a doubt, I knew I wanted to write it in the framework of a recipe: using the steps to allow for metaphors, giving readers a sense of understanding and comfort, like I have done for many years now. 

Officially publishing my memoir: Mix, Melt, Mend: Owning my Story & Finding My Freedom  and having it live in the world over the last two weeks has felt nothing short of amazing but also necessary! I have always believed in the power of storytelling to break down mental health stigma and I am certainly proud of my own story. However, this is about more than just me. The world is in a public health crisis and the physical health component of the pandemic is just part of the story. Since March, there has been an increase in need for professional support, an increase in reported rates of depression and the most frightening, an increase of deaths by suicide. People are hurting and stores are out of yeast. I can only hope people find some type of comfort in my story to recognize they are not alone. Our society often tells people with mental illness they need to live in the shadows and they have to hide. It is my mission with this book and the related book group discussions, baking demonstrations and beyond, even those in the shadows feel like they can step into the light. 

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