When we’re struggling with anxiety or mental illnesses like OCD, reacting to fears can take over our lives. From all around us and inside of our heads, there’s a never ending stream of uncertainties to react to and catastrophes to prevent. As we get started on recovery, we learn to not react to that stuff with compulsions. But you’ll always encounter some uncertainty about whether or not some of the fears are real. Maybe they’re “legitimate” fears. A “normal” person would react to them, right? What if you ignore 1000 fears that pop into your head but the next one actually comes true? What if you make a mistake that ruins everything?!
The answer to this conundrum lies in the most likeliest of places: cake.
Let’s say I’m baking a cake for some guests. I’m afraid that I’ll mess up the cake. So I focus on making sure I don’t make any mistakes. I write very clear lists of ingredients. I reread and reread the instructions. I use multiple thermometers and scales in case anything malfunctions. I measure precisely. I check and recheck. I get very anxious. In fact, days of anxiety have culminated in baking this cake for my guests. But I bake it exactly as instructed and I prevented every possible mistake I imagined and even three possible mistakes I read about online that were particularly outlandish and unlikely but you can’t be too safe, amiright?
Now, here’re the important questions: Does the cake taste good? Will the guests enjoy it? Did I bake a cake that they’ll enjoy eating? A cake that has the flavours and textures they love?
Maybe I’ve made the perfect sponge cake but all of my guests love cheesecake. They love the dense, creamy texture of a good cheesecake. Even a cheesecake with a collapsing centre and a crumbling crust that my guests are forced to eat out of the pan–a cheesecake full of mistakes–would be preferable to the perfect sponge cake I baked.
Avoiding the things you don’t want isn’t the same as creating the things you do want. You can avoid making any mistakes in cake baking or in life. You can control every single one of your fears. You can try to eliminate every uncertainty in your life and every feeling you don’t like. You can do all of that and end up completely miserable and unsatisfied because you spent your entire life on things you don’t even want to experience. When we struggle with mental illness, life is all about reacting to fear. We choose to give up our lives in an attempt to avoid things we’re afraid will interfere with our lives.
Recovery is going to be the opposite of that. It’s about baking the life you want to live. It’s about creating an amazing cake. Fill it with things that you’ll love and those around you will love. There will be mistakes in there, too. And it’ll all be delicious and full of life.