Writing and baking those blues away – Shalom Auslander and Marian Keyes

5 Feb

We’ve all heard about tortured types taking refuge in painting and literature, but baking?

Two articles in today’s Sunday Times described how being creative has helped two people with depression, one through writing and the other through – making cakes.

Shalom Auslander, whose latest book is entitled, Hope: A Tragedy, was depressed and suicidal in his early 20s, a state he describes as follows: “…some people are good at living, and I’m not one of them… I can’t fly this plane, so I’m getting off.” At that time, his wife persuaded him to see a psychiatrist, who recommended he start to write. Despite never having written seriously before, he finished a story within a few months and signed a book deal.

Three books and 20-odd years later, Auslander still suffers from depression but is no longer suicidal. His writing helps him to deal with a past in which he cut off contact early on with his Orthodox Jewish family and became, according to the article, ‘untethered, culturally and psychologically’.

Hope: A Tragedy, Shalom’s first novel, is the story of a man who finds a cranky and ill-mannered Anne Frank living in the attic of the house he bought to escape from his Jewish heritage. Listen to Shalom talk about the novel in this radio interview: http://www.studio360.org/2012/jan/20/shalom-auslander-and-anne-frank/

Today’s Sunday Times also features a profile on author Marian Keyes. Marian, who has spoken candidly about her problems with alcoholism and depression previously, explains in the article how making cakes saved her from a severe episode of depression that began in October 2009. She describes being unable to sleep, breathe, eat or read and explains that she was six months into having a nervous breakdown before she realised what was happening. She tried many things to cure her illness, including cognitive behavioural therapy, medication and time in hospital.

Then, one day, having decided to bake a cake for a friend’s birthday, she found the experience so enjoyable that she simply could not stop baking. Many cakes, recipe books and courses later, she explains the effect baking has on her mental well-being: “Baking makes me concentrate on what’s right in front of my nose. I have to focus, on weighing the sugar, on sieving the flour. I find it calming and rewarding.”

Marian has written a book inspired by her baking, called Saved by Cake: Over 80 Ways to Bake Yourself Happy, the Irish royalties of which will go to the St Vincent de Paul charity.

Read Marian’s searingly honest account of her most recent experiences of depression (including a couple of recipes for chocolate brownies and pavlova thrown in for good measure) here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2094448/Marian-Keyes-How-novelist-baked-away-blues.html

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