Finding the Glow

First and foremost I’d like to thank all the moms who reached out to me to share their rich knowledge, encouragement, and valuable perspectives after my Mental Illness and Motherhood post. I read everything and am so grateful for you.

Equally important is my thank you to Betty Tyson, the first reader to support my Patreon. When I saw her generous contribution, I teared up. It means so much to me to know you believe in my writing and what I’m doing here on Bummed Out Baker. A huge, warm, heartfelt thank you to Betty.

Without further ado, Finding the Glow!


Elizabeth and I went to Kath’s house after school on Friday because it was our turn to stuff spirit sticks for the football game. I’d never spent time with Elizabeth outside of cheerleading practice and football games, but I soon realized I was in special company as my eyes danced between her and Kath during their easy rapport.

We stationed our spirit stick assembly on carpet that had been crop-circled by a vacuum, gentle waves of fiber mashed down this way and that, and dumped out paper grocery bags to surround ourselves with empty toilet paper rolls, tissue paper, curling ribbon, and bags of assorted candy.

  1. Wrap tissue paper around toilet paper roll.
  2. Tie off at one end, fill roll with candy.
  3. Tie off other end.
  4. Curl ribbons on each end.
  5. Repeat.

The whole scene was coated in the waning sunlight of an autumn afternoon shining through the living room window, feeling like a warm bath you lower yourself into, unable to imagine a moment you’d want to get out. I soon realized that this comforting glow was more than the the sun. It was Elizabeth.

I felt privileged to be there, as if Elizabeth’s particular presence was the very ignition to the room’s soothing warmth. I realized that, without Elizabeth’s aura, Kath’s two-story living room would be another cookie cutter, carpeted pocket of suburbia. Indistinguishable, nothing would differentiate three 5th grade girls in one house from another. Except Elizabeth.

She was petite, blonde, and beautiful. Of course. In terms of girl friendships, to me Elizabeth was caviar. Elizabeth was haute couture. Elizabeth was the type of person who never had to exert herself very much, because someone else would be honored to swoop in as her mouthpiece, ultimately preserving Elizabeth. This person would say everything Elizabeth was too prim or “nice” to. I’d later find out that when I did manage to corner Elizabeth to hold her accountable for her sins, she’d turn red in the face and cry, somehow making me walk away feeling as if I were the one to blame to begin with. Then, she’d ice you out.

But, I didn’t know all of that back then.

When Elizabeth followed Kath into the kitchen, I noticed her head-to-toe Limited Too clothes. I didn’t know someone could wear such expensive clothes for casual activities, and with such indifference. For me, Limited Too was where I got to shop for my birthday, or perhaps for one, bank-breaking outfit for the first day of school. If I got second-hand Limited Too, it was a win. When Elizabeth disappeared around the corner, the light in the room greyed, the safe heat no longer surrounding me. I sunk into silent monotony and worked alone in the gloomy room. After I finished a few spirit sticks, I pushed myself up to stand and wandered into the kitchen to find the light. Elizabeth’s back was to me, hands resting on the kitchen island. (A kitchen so big it needed an island!?) Kath’s eyes widened, signaling to Elizabeth that I was in the room. Elizabeth spun around.

“Hey,” they said, staggered.

“What are y’all doing? Are you looking for something to eat?” I asked, doubting my own question. We’d been picking at spirit stick candy since we started working.

“Well, uh, yeah,” Elizabeth stammered.

“We were talking about ordering a pizza,” Kath swooped in. “Is pepperoni okay?”

“Sure,” I offered, unaware that we were to eat dinner together. I guess my mom had confirmed dinner plans with Kath’s mom when I got dropped off, but was unsure. I feel like she would have told me.

“Okay, great!” Kath answered. The sophistication of her response surprised me. I was not used to being hosted by a fellow fifth grader. Kath was one of thirteen children and the second oldest, so I suppose her mature demeanor could be chalked up to that general responsibility.

A beat of silence passed.

“Should we keep going?” I asked, motioning toward the living room, my eyes begging for the light to follow me. Kath grabbed the wireless phone off the receiver as we reclaimed our posts on the living room floor. I picked up my half stuffed spirit stick and reached into to the candy bag. When I looked up Elizabeth was fondling an empty roll while staring at Kath. Kath studied the phone in her hand before jumping back up.

“Wait,” she requested, and pressed the Talk button, a loud beep, as she walked away, this time to a darkened hallway. Elizabeth put down her empty roll, no progress made, and followed Kath. I looked down at the roll, feeling sad for it that it had once been held in Elizabeth’s hands, and was now just forgotten on the living room floor. For a moment, I’d been jealous of it. Certainly no one would ever feel sad for or jealous of anything my hands had touched.

Again, I continued to work, chilled by the sudden departure of warmth, of Elizabeth. Even the way she moved was with unknowable grace, a fluidity of motion so unpresumptuous, inimitable, perfect. Where she was, I wanted to be. I was the last to leave the spirit stick post, again, and followed behind her with enough distance to not to look desperate, but close enough to never lose sight of the edge of her light as it moved away from me, down a hall, around a corner. I approached the pair again, Kath still fiddling with the phone, poking the rubber tip of the antennae into her cheek as her eyes dashed around.

“I just need to use the bathroom,” I lied.

Now looking at Elizabeth, Kath absent-mindedly motioned toward a door on the hall. I stepped past them and closed the door behind me with a ginger touch, wary to bring unwanted attention to myself, to be seen as unrefined or annoying. In that moment, that was the worst thing that could happen to me.

I looked around and wondered what it’s like to have a bathroom just for guests. Having tasseled hand towels and foaming Warm Vanilla Sugar soap from Bath & Body Works was the ultimately luxury.

I heard them giggle.

I felt like a deflated balloon, gassed and completely void of anything that might make me special. I flushed the toilet without use but did take advantage of the fancy soap. When I came back out, Kath and Elizabeth’s hushed conversation ceased again.

“What’re y’all doing?” I ventured. “Seriously. You’re acting weird.” I stared at them, demanding a real answer.

Silence.

Kath and Elizabeth locked eyes, then Elizabeth looked at the floor while Kath looked over to me.

“Elizabeth isn’t sure about the pizza toppings and was embarrassed to talk about it,” Kath said.

“Why can’t you talk about pizza toppings in front of me?” My brows pushed together in confusion, face starting to warm.

“I don’t know, I just… didn’t want to,” Elizabeth said, now pressing her hands on either side of a door frame. “It’s embarrassing.”

“Why?” I said, face now fully hot.

“I don’t know, some things are just private!”

I turned around and went back into the bathroom, locking the door behind me so they wouldn’t see the tears threatening to spill down my face. I sat down on the toilet seat and began to cry.

“Bailey?” Kath asked through the door.

“Why are you being so weird?” I demanded, my crying no longer secret due to the strain in my voice. “Please, just leave me alone.”

Another beat of silence.

“Bailey… I’m sorry. I was calling my mom to see if I could spend the night at Elizabeth’s, and… we didn’t want you to feel left out.”

My crying turned into quiet sobs. “Will you please call my mom to come get me?” I croaked through the door.

The handle jostled, then I heard muffled voices walking away from the door. I continued crying, waiting for my mom’s arrival to be announced.

“Bailey?” Kath had returned. She tried the handle again. “You can spend the night, too. Elizabeth just talked to her mom.” Some kind of consensus had been made on the other side of the door, apparently.

I couldn’t believe my ears. I was being invited to spend the night at Elizabeth’s house. I’d never been there, but had heard stories. She had every valuable Holiday Barbie and Madame Alexander doll, every trendy toy and article of clothing, everything. My bruised feelings healed up in seconds.

The bathroom door unlocked and opened with a click. “Really?” I asked, wiping my face with my sleeve.

After confirming with my mom, Elizabeth’s mom came and picked us up in her big white Land Rover. It was the kind with sideways seats that folded down in the back, the kind that eleven year-olds think are the coolest. When I thought about being dropped off in my mom’s old Mazda 626, my cheeks flushed.

Elizabeth’s mom was relaxed and malleable.

“Okay, girls, what do you want for dinner?”

Elizabeth piped in with the name of an Italian place I’d never heard of. When we got there, I understood why. It was a tablecloth, cloth napkin kind of joint, the type of place that I’d only be in for big holidays with extended family, never for a random Friday night with friends. I didn’t care about the food or the Blockbuster visit (She’s All That) later, though. I was just thrilled to be included, thrilled to observe Elizabeth in her natural habitat all night. What made her special? Whatever it was, I wanted to mimic it pronto.

Later Kath changed schools but, after that pity invite, Elizabeth and I got close, and we began alternating sleepovers between our houses. I was able to draw her in with my wild sense of humor, my irreverence making her laugh and laugh. We’d run around her house doing things like eating pigs in a blanket her mom made us, celebrating New Year’s Eve at midnight, swimming in her pool to the tune of N*SYNC’s “No Strings Attached,” sleeping in a guest bedroom (foreign concept) just because, watching movies I didn’t care about like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang because she “couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it,” hanging out in her parents’ steam room because we thought it was spooky and fun, gluing rhinestones next to our eyes to add sparkle, and brainstorming our screen names. It was euphoric, to be embraced back by the very person I thought was so awesome. When we were thirteen, we dressed up as Christina Aguilera and Britney for Halloween. While her Christina get up was distinct and her outfit just a drop in the bucket financially, my Britney just looked vaguely slutty and I’d sunk all of my birthday money into this one ridiculous outfit. I didn’t mind, though, because I was with Elizabeth, and at least I wasn’t the girl who’d tacked herself onto us as a completely unidentifiable Mandy Moore. At least I was still Elizabeth’s person. Whatever she did, said, or wore was inherently cool and, somehow, she felt I was the best, too.

Until I wasn’t.

The ending of our friendship was swift. The “hottest” boy at our new junior high school passed her a note expressing his interest in her. Obviously, I was thrilled by proxy! I begged her to let me read the note, this pinnacle of social success, to which she repeatedly declined. Finally, she said, “It’s none of your business!” At that age, that was like taking a bullet. I was crushed.

Our weekly slumber parties evaporated as she surrounded herself with a new group of girls, a “level up,” of sorts. Because I wasn’t soft-spoken, wearing thong underwear, and muting my personality to attract the “hottest” boys, I was no longer of use. Our old M.O., cracking each other up, disappeared overnight in lieu of how to make yourself more alluring to boys. In elementary school my outlandish sense of humor was embraced by the boys we were eager to impress, but in junior high they suddenly found it threatening, something I didn’t realize until many years later. My social stock had plummeted, and I was both gutted and perplexed by this sudden change.

I dragged Elizabeth to the school counselor, crying, to tell her how hurt I was and, again, I got a pity invite that night to get ready and attend a party with her and her new friends, the other popular girls. Lining eyes with white eyeliner, dabbing loose glitter onto their lids, and touching up their sausage curls, Elizabeth’s new friends eyed me suspiciously as I maneuvered around her bedroom and bathroom with ease, a place I’d come to know so well. I wore hideous brown and cream ombre pants and didn’t have any brown shoes to wear with it except for some ugly clogs. Despite my hair and make up already being “done,” I tried to fit in in Elizabeth’s bathroom by tossing around my shoulder-length dishwater hair that was cut as if a visually impaired person tried to give me The Rachel. Or like I got wonky layers from the Suck Cut in Wayne’s World.

This time around, though, our relationship didn’t flourish post-pity invite. Instead, that was the last time Elizabeth and I hung out. Through high school, our interactions were reduced to silent waves and closed lip smiles in the bathroom. When the glow departed with Elizabeth, there was no residue to be found around me. I sunk into a deep depression, glow-less. Mental illness began to build me into a fat cocoon of perceived inadequacy. People weren’t attracted to me, but quite the opposite. I was a loser hanger-on. Barnacle Bailey :(

Clueless, childhood friends of mine still tease me for being so upset about my unceremonious friend breakup with Elizabeth, but at 31 this is still hard for me to write. Failing friendships are a part of life, especially as you move through childhood, teen years, college age, but in the moment you don’t know that. In the moment I felt I was fully formed, that this was my final form: inadequate, dull, unremarkable. I thought these lies about myself for so long that eventually I believed them.

Keith and Stace were always affirming but, I suppose like most people, I thought parents just told their kids nice things because they’re supposed to tell their kids nice things. Of course parents think their kid is the coolest and smartest in town, so I didn’t believe them.

I just didn’t have it, the x-factor that draws people in that glow-y people have. It took me years to reverse this thinking and build my self-esteem. As I got older, romantic relations that went south fueled my negative self-talk. I’m weird, a bummer, and undesirable. Of course no one wants to be with me.

In college, after an especially gnarly breakup, my dad sat with me in the middle of the night at the kitchen table as I sobbed. The things he said to me then were unfathomable at the time. Some day, I was going to find the right partner for me and, as much as it hurts in the moment, it’ll pass. I wasn’t able to capacitate such a concept.

It took me years to realize that, while I can’t control the way other people treat me and make me feel, I could control how I treat others and make others feel. While my parents weren’t able to take 11-year-olds to blasé expensive dinners and stay up to date with the desirable clothing du jour, in hindsight I think the things they gave me were better. My mom always told me to treat anyone I’m talking to like the most important person in the room, to not let my eyes wander as if there’s anything or anyone more compelling. She told me to never cancel plans I’d committed to because a “better offer” came around. She taught me the importance of a hand written thank you note. Over and over and over again, my dad taught me the importance of a generosity of patience, grace, and, well, the value of just sitting with someone who’s hurting.

Getting hurt has ultimately shaped me. While for most of my life I’ve felt I have no personal glow, I realized I could give glow to others by simply employing the adage of treating them the way I wish I were treated. I use my body language to include people, turning outward to allow someone newly approached to join in on a conversation. I fill people in on what is being discussed so that they may join. I ask for opinions, and make sure people know I value what they have to say. Shifting the focus toward others (and therefore away from how much I loathed myself) proved a constructive distraction. What I didn’t know was happening behind the scenes was my own healing. Giving “the glow” to others was an unwitting navigational beacon in my life that led me to writing, Rick, and finally finding and basking in a glow of my own.

I don’t mean to be self-congratulatory. I fuck up constantly, but I sincerely do my best. Unfortunately, my mannerisms have been hard won. At least I now know that I’m worth being around, I can help spread that glow-y warmth to others, that I can use my writing to connect.

If you don’t like yourself, or your self-perception is warped (by mental illness or not), I encourage you to undertake a “fake it til you make it” method of glowing. If you feel you don’t have “it,” bestow the gift you wish you had to someone else. I think you’ll find you’ll soon be attracting people who want to glow back at you until, someday, you realize you’ve got something special to offer, too. Even on your darkest days when it’s most challenging to believe, know you are worthwhile, you are compelling, you have a wealth of warmth to offer. Shine on others the way you wish someone would or would have shined on you. “Be who you needed when you were younger.”

Loan the glow, and glow on.

More on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: The Stockpile of Gratitude
Mental Health: Depression Lies to You
Mental Health: When it Comes to Someone’s Well-Being, Ask, Don’t Assume

Wednesday posts cover something that’s top of mind for me that week and are written in a short period of time. This means that editing is not strong. While it’s not my best work, it is my best, unfiltered thought.


Do you love Bummed Out Baker as much as I love creating it? Want to help keep it going? Support here.

To subscribe to Bummed Out Baker by email, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the website to find the form. Follow Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild, Facebook for mental health articles and discussion, and Twitter for sassy or informative tweets.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Mental Illness and Motherhood

Preface: I know motherhood is deeply personal and therefore a touchy topic. Please know as you read that I am speaking only from my perspective, of course, and have no intention of being tone deaf toward the very real struggles of motherhood, listed and unlisted below. I know there are women who are unintentional mothers, women who are dying to be mothers, and women who’ve perhaps made the tough choice of not having children despite all the pressure, chatter, shame, and invasive questioning that surround women aged 20-50 in general. Inside of each of these circumstances, I know there are women who are fulfilled, women who are heartbroken and, most likely, women who fall somewhere on the sliding scale between the two extremes.

Even without children yet, I believe that motherhood is the hardest job in the game. I am amazed and in deep admiration of my family members, friends, and mothers of the world who work this job 24/7 with no pay, no time off, and no 401(k), dammit! You are the true MVPS, the true queens.

I know that there are single dads and stay at home dads, too, but for this particular post I’m focusing on women because I am one and, again, can only speak on my perspective. I’d never presume to speak for men and their feelings on parenthood. But, in the immortalized words of Pamela Anderson, men can’t fathom the pain of squeezing something the size of a watermelon out of something the size of a lemon. :)

Anyway, I ask that you proceed with grace, knowing that I’m making myself vulnerable to share one point of view with the lens of mental illness.


I’m a 31 year old woman married three years, so it probably won’t surprise some of you that having children is something I think about a lot.

On paper, I think I’d make a good mother. I live my life with unwavering integrity, welcome nuance, am tender with loved ones (I’ve been told), have higher education, keep a sense of humor, cook great-tasting, healthy food, and have had life experiences that have prepared me for a child who experiences bumps in the road. Big bumps. I’m ready for ’em.

I have the usual hesitations, too, wondering if I’ll actually be a good mother in practice instead of in theory. I wonder if I’ll have the patience my child deserves for the minutiae of their infancy, toddler days, childhood, and the inevitable tween / teen years when they’re toots because they haven’t yet realized how much their parents have done for them (See: me. I was the worst, and that was on top of everything Alex was serving back then. Send Keith and Staci flowers.) I wonder if my body’s going to be unrecognizable after pregnancy and breastfeeding and if my and Rick’s marriage will stay strong. I wonder what will happen to my writing and professional ambition in general. I wonder whether the very real possibility of pre or postpartum depression will effect myself or Rick, cracking the foundation of what we’ve worked so hard to build. Will I resent my children for irrevocably altering my life? Will I resent Rick, after the fact, because he wanted children without waver?

There is so much I wonder about.

Everyone says “it’s different when it’s your child,” but on top of typical hesitations I suppose all mothers, potential mothers, and those who’ve decided not to be mothers experience, the issues with my mental illness are layered into the decision-making dough like crappy chocolate chips.

I am my mom’s “worrier,” as she’s always said. I worry about things that could happen, things that are unlikely to happen, things that will never happen, things that certainly will happen- all at inappropriate times. It’s exhausting. I wear myself out with anxiety-driven worry, and everything is put into overdrive in regards to motherhood. I’m working on leaning into a “let ‘er rip lifestyle,” as Rick would say, and it’s going… okay. My generous self-assessment will make Rick laugh, but I really am working on relaxing.

But, my friend Bailey (not some kinda weird usage of third person, this is an actual other person named Bailey) said that having a child is like having your heart live outside of your body. I feel like I’d never sleep well again after having a kid. Those who know me know how critical copious amounts of sleep is to my health and general life performance. Anxiety is clicking up a rollercoaster just thinking about it.

Will my touch of OCD short-circuit with a house strewn with toys and crumbs, the endless sticky hands, and the perpetually messy cars? Will I feel unusually sad for and guilty about my golden retrievers getting demoted after years of them been so critical to my mental health? Will I even be able to afford and have time to take care of golden retrievers anymore? Will my anxiety be able to stomach the inevitable vomit, and lots of it, kids often come with due to stomach viruses? THE GERMS. I think about germs a lot: hands on fast food restaurant floors, subway poles, public bathroom door handles. And then that same unwashed hand housing a handful of goldfish, lips to palm. At least, that’s how I eat goldfish. (Pepperidge Farm, please sponsor Bummed Out Baker)

Smaller items aside, the mental illness related consideration most important is the fact that if I am to carry and breastfeed, I would have to be completely off medication. This means no more mood stabilizing Lamictal, depression-warding Wellbutrin and Prozac, or Klonopin for emergencies. It also means no more Spironolactone for my skin, which may sound vain, but this is a part of the wonder of whether my body will ever be or look the same again.

How will this lack of medication effect my marriage and relationships? Will my loved ones be terrorized by me for the duration of conception to weened baby, only to repeat it all again when the second child comes around? I’d have to taper off meds first, then conceive, then a year or two later, I imagine, I’d have to stair-step my way back up to the pre-pregnancy dosage. It’s all very Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, except no one will be having fun. I know one option is to carry and then not breastfeed in order to get back on my meds sooner, but I imagine that’d still be a mini rollercoaster, like Judge Roy Scream instead of the Texas Giant at Six Flags. In writing this I’ve discovered that motherhood is likened to theme park rides in my head. Is that an accurate assessment?

A year after Rick and I got married an aunt asked whether we planned to have children, and if so, when. It’s important to note that I did not find this invasive as she is family and it was in an intimate environment. I knew she’d accept me for whatever I said.

“I don’t know, maybe in ten years, or so.”

She raised her eyebrows. “You’re going to start having children at 40?”

My in-laws had Rick at 41, so I suppose I hadn’t thought of that being terribly late. Starting a family in early 40s is very New York City. (Side note- the fact that Rick and I got married at 28 is practically seen as a child-bride situation here. Rick was the first of his friends to take the leap, so to speak.) Now, I had new feelings to go home and drop on Rick for us to discuss.

At my last annual physical, my GP asked whether I plan to have children and, if so, about the game plan. I told her that I planned to graduate with my MFA, publish the sibling memoir I’m writing about my brother, and then Rick and I will begin talking about family planning.

“Okay, so we’re talking about a geriatric pregnancy,” she replied.

Yesterday I was 24, and now I’m looking at a geriatric pregnancy? I laughed.

She knowingly rolled her eyes, knowing what she just said sounded ridiculous. She continued. “There’s a higher risk of complication and birth defects. Now, plenty of women have successful pregnancies post-35, but I have to tell you this information so that you and Aldy can plan accordingly.”

Yeah, she calls Rick “Aldy,” which I think is hilarious. But the subject matter in that moment was not.

“Well, hell,” I said, wide-eyed and shaking my head, my favorite mock-serious response concluding our conversation. Again, I left a place with a lot of feelings to hit Rick with.

Anytime I get frazzled about family planning, Rick is very relaxed about the whole thing. He always says some iteration of “we’ll figure out the right thing for us when we’re ready.” I’d love to be more like Rick and less wiggy. What a life!

Rick is gung-ho on parenthood. He likes to joke that he’d like “school bus full of children,” which of course both my vagina and sanity have vehemently declined. If money became no object, though, I’d love to adopt and foster, not a school bus full, but a big family full of children. The idea brings me great joy. From what I know, teenagers, especially teens in the LGBTQ+ community, are the least likely to be adopted. I think I connect best with young people 12+, and would love to use my affluent white lady privilege to provide emotional and financial stability to young people with complex parental histories / guardian relationships. I believe Rick and I would make great pillars for these young, at-risk folks to always fall back on while navigating high school, then college, and then their own adulthood. In addition to their bio family or not, we’d cheer them on all the way.

A pro of my mental illness is that I’m better suited to identify it in a young person, but then my thoughts lead to the idea that if my child suffers from mental illness, will I feel guilty for bringing them into the world? I’ve warded off that rabbit hole, though, by remembering that mental illness can happen no matter whether we adopt or have bio children.

This has been a doozy to write, typically something that just runs through my head as I silently fold laundry or stand in the shower, or something.

I know I need to see a therapist who specializes in issues of family planning fo sho! Please don’t worry, I’m not going to just crowd-source my and Rick’s familial future on Bummed Out Baker, but your thoughts are invaluable to me. Like mental illness, the secrets and stigmas of motherhood should be explored, and the more open we are, the less shameful I think we’ll collectively feel.

All mothers, but especially mothers with with mental illness, I’d love to hear from you. If you’re feeling bold, it’d be awesome to leave a comment on this post to contribute to the conversation. If you prefer to keep your thoughts private, please message me.

More on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: Communicating Mental Unrest
Mental Health: My Lowest Point in Eleven Years
Mental Health: Weight Gain and Mental Medications


Do you love Bummed Out Baker as much as I love creating it? Want to help keep it going? Support here.

To subscribe to Bummed Out Baker by email, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the website to find the form. Follow Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild, Facebook for mental health articles and discussion, and Twitter for sassy or informative tweets.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Chole Aloo Tikki (Gluten-Free + Vegan)

What’s up everybody it’s me, mister steal-yo-gurl-with-Indian-food.

season’s greetings! (see what I did there)

Ingredients

2 potatoes
1 T sea salt, divided
1 T cornstarch
1 t ground ginger
1 t ground cumin
1 t cayenne
1 T chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 T ground black pepper
3 1/2 T olive oil, divided
1/2 t black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
2 small dried chili peppers, chopped
1 t cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
1 onion, chopped
1/2 T fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 t curry powder
1 t ground turmeric
1 t tomato paste
1 T water
1 tomato, chopped
1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained

Instructions

  1. Place potatoes into a large pot, cover with water, and add 1/2 T sea salt. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and peel potatoes. Peels should slide off pretty easily after boiling!
  2. In a bowl, mash together cooked potatoes, cornstarch, ground ginger, cumin, cayenne, cilantro, remaining 1/2 T sea salt, and pepper. Mash together using a fork, masher, or your hands if you’re feeling wild. And particularly clean. Your hands. Your hands should be clean.
  3. Oil (clean) hands and divide potato mixture into four portions. Pat each into a patty about 1/2″ thick.
  4. Heat 1 T oil in a skillet over medium. Fry potato cakes about three minutes on each side. Then, remove them from skillet, set aside, and keep warm.
  5. Grind peppercorns and cloves with a bullet-type blender or mortar and pestle if you got it like that.
  6. Heat remaining 2 T oil in skillet over medium-high. Stir in chili peppers, cumin, and bay leaves. Then, add onion, fresh ginger, and garlic. Stir until onion is golden, about three minutes. Then, add pepper-clove mixture, curry, and turmeric.
  7. Dilute tomato paste in the water and then stir it and the chopped tomato into the skillet. Cook over medium heat until the tomato has softened, about three minutes. Stir in chickpeas and let mixture flavors meld over low heat for ten minutes.
  8. Take bay leaves out and spoon chickpea mixture over the potato cakes. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves and serve.

Serves four.

Bummed Out Bailey Rating: 6/10 Spicy, which I like, but a little too time-consuming to make IMHO.
Rick-the-Meat-Eater Rating: N/A – Where was that guy?

Adapted from Indian Chole Aloo Tikki.

More on Bummed Out Baker:
Malai Kofta
Thai Curry Vegetables
Moussaka


Do you love Bummed Out Baker as much as I love creating it? Want to help keep it going? Support here.

To subscribe to Bummed Out Baker by email, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the website to find the form. Follow Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild, Facebook for mental health articles and discussion, and Twitter for sassy or informative tweets.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Suicide Looming

TW: self harm, suicide

As I’ve said before, please know that before I get on Bummed Out Baker to write I always prioritize working with my family and psychiatrist to stabilize myself. I wouldn’t be on here if I hadn’t first confirmed my safety.


Last Wednesday I wrote an ode to a friend who recently died by suicide. While the following thoughts were further propelled by her devastating passing, I did not include these thoughts in last week’s piece because I wanted that to only be about her. She deserves that space, and so, so much more.

Something I do here on Bummed Out Baker is challenge mental health taboos. I crack open topics that are historically only talked about in hushed tones among one’s closest, if that. A lot of people don’t even like to acknowledge the same things I openly discuss, for one reason or another, but I’m trying to break a barrier to benefit us all. I want to remind readers of my purpose so my words aren’t confused with sensationalism or seeking attention.


I’m petrified suicide is going to sneak up on me and take me by surprise.

As I wrote about in Mourning the Living, in July I had the strongest ideation I’ve experienced since 2008. It led to paranoia-fueled psychosis and an emergency trip back home to New York. In August, my cousins’ cousin, who I knew in passing, died very young and unexpectedly. It completely wrecked my cousins, aunt, and uncle. The whole family was gutted. Then, in September I got news of my high school friend, K, a death by suicide.

I feel like, since this summer, suicide has been circling me, like something stalking its prey. First it was manufactured in my head. Then, death happened a few degrees away. Then, suicide happened closer to me. It’s coming closer and closer. Is a best friend next? Is a family member next? Am I next?


“I’m scared of suicide. I’m trying to understand the mentality of people who’ve passed, what exactly they were thinking that led them to their ultimate decisions. I want to know, because I want to be on guard for it,” I mused to my psychiatrist. My eyes darted across his book shelves while I tried to piece together my thoughts. “Because the only people who could identify that mentality would be, well, people who were successful in their attempt. Death is so final, you know?”

He nodded.

My psychiatrist’s brother died by suicide, the same way my friend K did. I’m empathic to a crippling degree, and was wary of triggering my own psychiatrist by working through my thoughts. He assured me that while of course sometimes it hurts, he actually thinks it helps him to muse on the subject, for us to spit out what feels like nonsensical feelings and then rearrange them into shapes of understanding.

I continued. “It’s not like we can ask the people who are gone. How do I know if I’m getting close to the edge? It’s not like there are built in alarm bells. I just can’t fathom a feeling worse than how I’ve felt, but apparently it exists. I just can’t fathom the mentality…”

“Imagine having your worst day, every day, for five years straight,” he offered.

I imagined living July 18, 2019 day after day for five years, and in that moment the great opacity of suicide began to quiver and dilute. In that moment, mercy and sadness bloomed bigger inside of me for those lost to suicide. The pain remains challenging to fathom, but the reasoning began to take shape.

I try to remain on high alert for myself and for my family, but, if we’re being honest here, sometimes that’s not enough.

In college I had an English professor who likened those who thought suicide was selfish to people who wanted someone else to walk miles every day in shoes that were tearing up their feet into a bloody, blistered mess, in order to make them feel better. The person labeling suicide as selfish is actually, perhaps, the selfish person. If someone you love is in pain that immense…

This is not provocation, but food for thought as we collectively work to understand something so horrific.

My thoughts have been fed, shuffled, and remolded as I continue to contemplate what taking your own life means. Trying to gird myself against self harm feels like choosing a random place to reinforce a protective fence when, actually, the threat is infiltrating from another area. The efforts can feel like a shot in the dark, and a feeling of hopelessness can manifest.

It’s shrouded in mystery, the whole thing.

I feel like most everyone has lost a loved one to suicide and, while this is a topic unfortunately many may relate to, it’s not one I can tie up in a bow on some idle internet post.


One of my favorite Bright Eyes songs is No Lies, Just Love, which recaps the beautiful arc of one person’s ideation, presumably that of Bright Eyes’ singer, Conor Oberst. If you prefer to listen, see video below. If you prefer to read the lyrics, which read like a prose poem, I’ve posted them below the video. If you prefer to do neither, that makes me laugh and I admire your candor. Just keep scrolling.

No Lies, Just Love

It was in the march of the winter I turned seventeen
That I bought those pills
I thought I would need
And I wrote a letter to my family
Said it’s not your fault
And you’ve been good to me
Just lately I’ve been feeling
Like I don’t belong
Like the ground’s not mine to walk upon
And I’ve heard that music

Echo through the house
Where my grandmother drank
By herself
And I sat watching a flower
As it was withering
I was embarrassed by its honesty
So I’d prefer to be remembered as a smiling face
Not this fucking wreck
That’s taken its place

So please forgive what I have done
No you can’t stay mad at the setting sun
‘Cause we all get tired, I mean eventually
There is nothing left to do but sleep

But spring came bearing sunlight
Those persuasive rays
So I gave myself a few more days
My salvation it came, quite suddenly
When Justin spoke very plainly
He said “Of course it’s your decision,

But just so you know,
If you decide to leave,
Soon I will follow
.”

I wrote this for a baby
Who has yet to be born
My brother’s first child
I hope that womb’s not too warm
‘Cause it’s cold out here
And it’ll be quite a shock
To breathe this air
To discover loss
So I’d like to make some changes
Before you arrive
So when your new eyes meet mine
They won’t see no lies
Just love.
Just love.

I will be pure
No, no, I know I will be pure
Like snow, like gold
Like snow, like gold
Like snow, like snow
Like gold, like gold, like gold

I listened to this song over and over in 2008, indeed before my brother’s first child was born, to comfort myself during one of my darkest times. Maybe it’ll bring comfort to someone else now.


I wish I had more helpful words to offer, a step-by-step way to find peace with the irreconcilable. If you share my headspace or love someone who does, rest in the knowledge that you’re / they’re not alone.

Big, giant, internet bear hugs to anyone needing one today. Hugs are always on offer in person, too.

Thanks for being there for me. I’m here for you, too.

Related on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: Dealing with Suicide
Living in Lyrics
Mental Health: Mourning the Living


Writing through PTSD helps me name my feelings and heal, and I encourage you to share Bummed Out Baker with anyone you think may find it helpful or relatable. I work hard to create community and conversation around what are often painful topics.

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If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Living in Lyrics

TW: suicide


A friend from high school, K, died by suicide last Sunday. I’ve been searching for her for years, most recently asking after her to mutual high school friends at a Christmas party in December. I explained that she was one of the best writers I’ve ever known, and they laughed at me.

“Uh, I’m sure her writing has changed since high school.”

Duh, I thought, for the better.

Back when Xanga and LiveJournal were a thing, K would post the most compelling, racy content that was always such a pleasure to read. She’d post vague pieces about things like “how hot a leather couch can really get.” Yes, I remember that line fourteen years later, which is a testament to her writing by itself. She was the kind of talented that her descriptions of weekly chores made me want to wash towels, sheets, and clean the bathroom, too. If I did, maybe I could be a part of her world, a part of her magic, understand more of her mind. She trusted readers to fill in gaps and was a master curator, even at 16. K’s writing would purposefully mystify any parents who came across her page, but it was like a secret message to her peers who acted as dot-connectors. Being able to understand her writing was like possessing a skeleton key to her head. K was hidden in plain view, if only you looked for her. I’ve tried and failed to mimic her enigmatic writing and, compared to her, I remain a tragic wannabe.

While it seemed like the rest of us were enraptured by popularity, manufacturing a punky persona, or petty relationship drama, in high school K was lost in Henry James and Edith Wharton and Sylvia Plath. She found solace hiding in literature far more sophisticated than what was in the rest of our backpacks or nightstands. The most captivating thing about her, though, was how she’d balance her interiority, kept under lock and key, with a socially robust life. She was blonde, she was tan, she was gorgeous, she was reading Dead Souls.

After high school, K rarely got on her Facebook and I couldn’t find her anywhere else online. I didn’t have her number anymore, and those who did were rare and always seemed to be one degree out of my orbit. A couple times a year, though, I would search the internet for her in hopes of finding her writing somewhere. I was always hopeful to contact her and reconnect.

I found her, finally, but it was too late. My cousin featured K on her Instagram story because she attended the college where K was working when she died. The whole student body was grieving the loss of such an illustrious teacher.

I have only discovered this information in her death, but it’s no surprise to me that after high school K went all the way, and I mean all the way, through school, finally getting her PhD in writing last May.


Bright Eyes is my all time favorite band, and the first time I saw them live was with K. The lead man, Conor Oberst, is one of the most underrated writers of my generation, so, of course, K was the first person I connected with about the friend inside my headphones.

She and I begged our parents to let us go to Fort Worth’s Ridglea Theater by ourselves, an intimate smoke den one town over run by a woman with frizzy, purple hair. We were just sixteen. The show was an October night, one month after I’d gotten my driver’s license. I’d been listening to Bright Eyes since I was 13, so my parents knew how much it meant to me and I suppose decided to take a chance and let me go. Or, maybe they were too consumed in some Alex drama and too tired to push back on me. Somehow, K swung it with her parents, too.

When I pulled up to her house and honked the horn, she swung open her front door with a giant grin and posed in the frame for me, thrilled with her black mini skirt and fishnet tights with enormous holes. I dragged a Camel as we drove off into the night. K and I had come a long way since our junior high bible study group.

Long before smartphones and Tom Tom to guide us, we got lost on the way to Ridglea. We were both scared and laughing hysterically, but after a couple of panicked calls with K talking to my dad who instructed us where to drive, we finally arrived at the venue. K treated herself to a Starbucks frap and struck another pose with it in line outside of Ridglea, this time waiting for me to capture it on my shitty point and shoot camera. The picture was her souvenir from the show, proudly posted on Xanga the next day.

Inside I bought a t shirt, black of course, and swore that, as an indicator of our good time that night, I would wear it every day the following week. I made good on my promise, and K cracked up as she saw me come into our high school, day after day, in some iteration of another outfit, same shirt. It baffled our friends but made us laugh.

We got perfect seats perched on a ledge behind happy people who’d soon be drunkenly dancing around in the standing area. When Bright Eyes began performing Going for the Gold, K leaned over to me, clapping hard with tears in her eyes.

“This is my favorite,” she mouthed.

There’s a voice on the phone
Telling what had happened,
Some kind of confusion
More like a disaster.

And it wondered how you were left unaffected,
But you had no knowledge.
No, the chemicals covered you.
So a jury was formed

As more liquor was poured.
No need for conviction,
They’re not thirsting for justice.
But I slept with the lies I keep inside my head.

I found out I was guilty.
I found out I was guilty.
But I won’t be around for the sentencing,
Cause I’m leaving

On the next airplane.
And though I know that my actions are impossible to justify
They seem adequate to fill up my time.
But if I could talk to myself

Like I was someone else,
Well then maybe I could take your advice,
And I wouldn’t act like such an asshole all the time.

There’s a film on the wall,
Makes the people look small
Who are sitting beside it,
All consumed in the drama.

They must return to their lives once the hero has died.
They will drive to the office
Stopping somewhere for coffee,
Where the folk singers, poets and playwrights convene,

Dispensing their wisdom,
Oh dear amateur orators.

They will detail their pain
In some standard refrain.
They will recite their sadness
Like it’s some kind of contest.

Well, if it is, I think I am winning it,
All beaming with confidence
As I make my final lap.
The gold medal gleams

So hang it around my neck
Cause I am deserving it:
The champion of idiots.

But a kid carries his walkman on that long bus ride to Omaha.
I know a girl who cries when she practices violin.
Cause each note sounds so pure, it just cuts into her,
And then the melody comes pouring out her eyes.

Now to me, everything else, it just sounds like a lie.

There’s a levity to the music that resists the sadness of the lyrics, and since that night I’ve never listened to it without thinking of K. From that night on I knew there was a darkness inside of her, I just thought it further informed her spectrum of intelligence, gave her a greater awareness of the human condition. I didn’t know the levity would leave. I didn’t know things would end like this.

K can’t be found in person, anymore. But she can be found in Bright Eyes lyrics, in the comfortable company of renegade women in literature, in the Jo Marches of the world. She’s there, snuggled between the lines, buried in pages, my sister of the pen.