Yesterday I felt pretty awful for most of the day. I woke up with a migraine, I felt freezing cold, I had no appetite, and I hurt (a lot). I was curled up on the sofa under my duvet when I got a phone call from somebody who I used to see on an almost daily basis, but hadn’t really spoken to for months. He said he was coming round to bake a cake (we used to make cakes a lot). I wasn’t really up to guests, but I didn’t want to throw away a chance to see him after so long. I put on my best smile and tried to act normal. I’m glad I did, because I realised a lot of things while baking a courgette and lemon cake (it was meant to have orange and sultanas instead of lemon but I don’t like either of those). Have you already turned your nose up at the idea of such a cake? Because that is kind of my point (allow me to explain).
Initially the mixture looked disgusting. It started a deep, dark greenish brown, and it was the consistency of sludge. When we added the flour it became a less alarming colour, but I still didn’t want to go anywhere near it. Neither did my family – my mum said there was no way on earth she was eating it. I could see where she was coming from to be honest, but it smelled pretty nice. I tasted the cake mix, and it was delicious, which really surprised me. It smelled great cooking, and once it had cooled and we had made lemon buttercream to go on top of it, it looked like a pretty decent cake. And it tasted ridiculously good. After seeing our reactions, my parents wanted to try a slice each. Everybody loved it, yet none of us wanted to.
And that made me think. We shouldn’t judge on appearance or on beginnings. Given the right opportunities and circumstances, anybody can achieve great things. But we write each other off – we write ourselves off, just like I wrote off the mess in that cake bowl. It didn’t look like conventional cake mix. It wasn’t pretty (seriously, it looked like it had already been eaten at least twice). I don’t like courgettes, which were one of the key ingredients. I never imagined that it would turn out to be edible, and yet it was genuinely the most delicious cake we have ever made.
Other people would have binned the cake mix, just like we bin our ambitions and give up on ourselves. We look at what we’ve got, and we don’t see how we could ever turn that into a life worth living, or at least, the kind of life that we want to live. People look at others who aren’t so clever or pretty or thin or fit or healthy, and they write them off. They give up on them. They turn their noses up, they refuse to associate themselves with these people, because they don’t see how they will ever amount to anything. Yet with help and support, or the right opportunities and circumstances, those people could be far greater than those who gave up on them ever will be.
Just because right now things don’t look so great, doesn’t mean that they can’t or won’t be. Nobody knows how things will change with the passing of time. That cake mixture looked so bleak and gross I began to regret wasting all the ingredients that we put into it. It felt like a waste of time and effort. At times I feel that way about myself. I wonder how I’m going to get out of the ruts I get stuck in, I wonder how on earth I will carry on. I give up on myself, everything feels futile, and the future looks hopeless. But, just like leaving that cake mix in the oven for an hour transformed it into something amazing, eventually the clouds lift, and I escape.
A month or two ago I didn’t know how to carry on, and more significantly, there were times when I couldn’t see the point in doing so. I couldn’t walk, and on some days I couldn’t even get out of bed. I felt so ill, and I knew that if I did nothing I would end up six feet under, but I was too frightened and stubborn to ask for help until I felt so desperate and hopeless that I was clutching at straws. I’d missed so much school that I thought I would fail the few exams that I actually managed to sit. My parents couldn’t understand the way I felt, my mum tried to shout it away, and neither of them wanted to talk about it, because they disagreed with the way I felt (feelings are not fact, they are simply feelings, but at the time, they ruled my world). Other people’s words swam round and round inside of my head. I had no reason to wake up, I felt forgotten, I felt like a burden, and I thought the world would be a better place without me in it… I’m starting university in 16 days (including today). I feel loved. I’m content with who I am, and thanks to some amazing people and some thoughtful things sent in the post, I no longer feel forgotten. Two months ago, looking at the mess around me and inside of my mind, I thought nothing good could ever emerge from that. It felt like a recipe for disaster.
So many people told me that university wouldn’t happen. They told me I wouldn’t be able to cope. They looked at what I was trying to get there with and wrote me off. They thought I would never amount to anything, because I was temporarily beaten, and my health was deteriorating so rapidly. And I listened; teachers, classmates, peers, family members who were ‘just trying to be realistic’ told me I would not get the grades I needed. Teachers suggested that I didn’t sit my exams. I remember one girl in my chemistry class told everyone that “the sooner [me] and [our head of sixth form] realised that I was going to fail my exams, stopped wasting so much time on [me] and kicked [me] out of school, the better it would be for everyone.” (I was not the only person who had no faith in me). My parents never doubted me, but their expectations of my success felt unobtainable, and therefore crushing.
I didn’t find some great amount of inner strength, grit my teeth and carry on. I carried on because there was no other option. It stopped getting to me not because it didn’t hurt any more, but because there were no ways left in which I could break. I wanted more than anything to give up. Teachers and doctors and my family had invested so much time and money in me, and for what? I was pretty sure I’d messed up my exams. I couldn’t imagine ever not feeling ill or being able to walk ever again. My mood and my health problems were tearing my family apart. And I couldn’t see how any of that would ever change. My recipe looked like a disaster, but it made an edible cake. Things did change. I’m still nobody, but I’m starting to feel like somebody who is worth something.
Step 19 to getting out of a rut in life:
‘Not now’ does not mean ‘not ever.’ Don’t give up on yourself – there’s an element or courgette and lemon cake in all of us. Have a little faith – some of us just need baking for longer than others. You don’t have to start from an ideal situation to end up in one.