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Why we are out of yeast: a mental health story

Guest post contributed by Dayna Altman, author of Bake It Til You Make It, producer of Life After: The Film, and mental health activist.


To learn more about Dayna’s work please check out her website: bakeittillyoumakeit.co. To sign up to be the first to know about her upcoming memoir Miss Melt, Mend: Owning my Story & Finding my Freedom, sign up here: http://tiny.cc/nzqmsz




At the beginning of the pandemic, the fact that toilet paper, bottled water and disinfectant wipes were sold out nearly everywhere was common knowledge. However, what you may not know, in some communities, baking yeast was just as hard to find. During a time of complete and utter panic, so many people turned to baking. And while this may seem like a coincidence to many, to me, it is no surprise. The idea that measuring one cup of flour when the world is totally out your control was something I had 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. I would bake for the people I loved; I saw a true means of connection and something clicked. Being a mental health advocate and activist of so many years, I recognized that if baking could help me find connection and healing, it would be a great way to build connection and understanding about mental health and mental illness for the general public. 


So, 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... and since then, I have never looked back. 


Before I knew it, this mental health and resilience cookbook inspired an organization grounded in creativity, community and connection. Creativity describes my motivation to continue to write (my own memoir, to be exact). During the early stages of the pandemic, even though I was constantly told “27 years old is too young” to write about my life, I knew I had a story to share. The organization also became about community and connection: creating cooking demonstration presentations, sharing my story within the context of baking to make mental health feel more 'palatable' and common place. Hosting events became just as important in hopes that it would help decrease isolation and increase visibility for those who struggle.


I can still remember the drop in my stomach, when quarantine was first put on the table. As someone who was living alone and someone who lives with extreme anxiety that manifests itself as OCD as well as depression, I was scared. I remember starting to put together a list of things I could do to keep myself busy and grounded. Even though I don’t think a 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 structure and steps of a recipe to allow for food metaphors and a sense of understanding like I had done for so many years: nothing felt more natural. 


Officially publishing this memoir in just a few days feels more important than ever. 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 feel less alone, to be seen to feel represented, to know that that they belong.

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