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First Person #winterlove: How baking pulled me out of my depression, and brought me closer to my neighbours

ASHLEY WONG/The Globe and Mail

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No matter how many years pass by, how many coping strategies I develop, how many good memories grow in the time between then and now, there is always a piece of my soul that will never forget the darkness. The pain and overwhelming desire to die.

Last summer was good. It was full and busy and bright. I grew flowers and flowerbombed the town with them, delivered vegetables to a local restaurant, house-sat at a friend’s farm and hosted bonfires and brunches, all while working a full-time job that allowed me the freedom to do so. Midsummer, I moved in with a friend and her son and slowly began to feel like I was settling into my community, my town, my life, a little more fully.

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But after the fall, November arrived grey and busy, and bled into an even more stressful December, filling me with anxious thoughts - an entirely different kind of exhaustion. December brought tidings of Christmas, of good memories, of years past with family and friends. It also brought an aching reminder of people I had loved dearly, who I’d never see again.

A visit to my father’s grave is often a good chance to cry and when I leave I feel a little more at peace. But this time was different. I drove home and crawled into bed. Every night for the rest of that week, I cried. Every morning, I woke up with a sluggish aching heart. At the end of the week, I pieced together words about how I was feeling and posted it on Instagram. The outpouring of love, support and encouragement from friends melted me.

On Saturday, to separate my dark thoughts from their bitter end, I started baking. By the end of the weekend, I had a dining room table full of sweet treats and a headache from eating too many of them. To curb my sugar intake, I packaged them up in tins, attached a label with #winterlove on it, and the next day before work I dropped them off on a few of my neighbours’ snowy porches. It stunned me, how much it lightened my mood, seeing a small package lost in the looming doorframe in the early morning darkness.

The thanks I received later from the recipients made me glow thoroughly. A week or two passed before I did it again - I almost felt guilty, like I was giving more than I should, but it felt so good, and it distracted me from my gloomy thoughts.

By January I had developed a routine: on Sunday I’d bake cookies and package them up in tins (each one with a #winterlove tag), and on Monday I’d deliver them. The first two weeks I trudged through snow across town to deliver them; by the time I got home I was physically exhausted, sweat dripping down my back, but my spirit was much lighter. One week, a storm delayed my #winterlove delivery. As I drove through the darkness of mostly unknown country roads I remember thinking, Lisa, you have lost your mind. But both recipients later sent thank you texts so sweet I teared up a little. I had started this #winterlove thing intent only on curbing my anxious, broken spirit and in return I was receiving so much more. Every week I added a few different people to my delivery route, baked a few different kinds of cookies, but the experience was the same: mild panic at getting caught dropping off cookies, unspeakable joy at leaving tins on snowy porches.

Somewhere along the way #winterlove began to shift, and things started showing up on my doorstep - a homemade mug, a pair of socks with tiny cookies and muffins on them, homemade pesto, a jar of curried cauliflower soup, homemade candles, a loaf of bread, lemon curd, a gift certificate from the local bookstore and even a tin of cookies. Every single one melted my heart. But what I really appreciated was how people began to share their own stories and experiences of mental health with me. There is no greater honour than to be trusted with the details of one’s life, especially when the details are messy, raw and broken. I felt overwhelmed by the love and care of my community. It humbled me that something so simple had sparked such incredible kindness that was expanding well beyond my own life. It reminded me that there was good in me, in my neighbours, in the world.

I recently delivered the final #winterlove of the season. There was something bittersweet in it: I was shifting into a new season of light, of planting and growing and busyness, while letting go of a season of deep rumination, darkness and love that had greatly shifted my frame of mind. With each tin I delivered I was reminded of different moments - of people paying it forward, returning it to me or sharing a little of their own story. What had begun as an attempt to alleviate my own darkness had been transformed into a story more beautiful than I could have ever dreamed. It reminded me that there is beauty in being broken, in being vulnerable, in being kind. That people are willing to share their stories when you trust them with yours. That life is tough all over, but there is a quiet strength in knowing you are not alone.

Lisa Giraldi lives in Elora, Ont.

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