Finding peace in the kitchen

Pals, I’ve been stuck in a rut.

With no routine and a fairly stressful deadline not that far away, I’ve found my mental health receding.

Despite the fact I’m on course for a decent mark in my degree and almost at a point where I (hopefully) never have to study ever again – hallelujah! – the idea of working on my final academic hurdle has left me feeling more anxious than I have in a very long time. To put it into perspective, I managed to get more work done after my grandfather died last year than I have since my Masters’ teaching and work experience placement ended in July.

With a lack of concrete routine – and no, Kirst, living your life by the daytime TV schedule is not a routine – I’ve found myself running away from my dissertation (on the cheery topic of grief) and my emails, and into the kitchen.

Don’t want to face the idea of interviewing someone for a piece on how hypnotism can help people through grief and trauma? Let’s make a spiced carrot and lentil soup from scratch.

Don’t want to email that quite important person about their grief podcast in case they say no? Let’s not bother for today and make a slightly weird (but very tasty) Mexican quinoa salad instead.

Don’t want to do some research into your chosen topic, despite only having a week left of your tutor being able to read and critique your work? Nah, let’s look for the best veggie enchilada recipe I can find for when Joe and Holly visit.*

Honestly, who can get a decent picture of enchiladas straight out of the oven? I have dreams about these squash and bean ones though, they’re a treat.

The results have been delicious, if not all that helpful in the academic scheme of things.

I’ll be honest, the last few weeks have been genuinely difficult. I know on the surface my qualms and worries might seem fairly menial to the majority of people reading. I’m still a happy, positive person; I still like a natter over a coffee if I get the chance; I’m still actively applying for jobs and attempting to make future plans.

Despite that, being unable to commit to a part-time job, and being holed up in a flat in the middle of Swansea every day by myself until my boyfriend comes home from work has caused my anxiety towards work accelerate rapidly. Also, don’t even get me started on the weather we’ve been having recently. It’d make anyone want to hide under their duvet forever.

I’m finishing this blog post after going to my first counselling session in over a year. For those who know me well, you’ll know I regularly went to counselling at my previous university and it was a lifeline. With the sudden loss of a friend, depression while abroad, as well losing my grandad in the middle of the ultimate final year balancing act, as cliché as it sounds, counselling saved me. Recognising that some of the panic, worry and procrastination habits I’d fallen back into since the end of traditional teaching was a sign I needed to seek some help – help that can’t always be found in my food processor or a sauté pan.

However, as me and my counsellor discussed, cooking is a tonic. Being able to turn my brain off for half an hour to focus on tackling a new dish, concentrating on chopping onions as finely as I can, or making sure I’ve measured everything out just right to create a yummy dinner can really keep my head in check. I know this isn’t a new phenomenon, and for many other people, mental health can affect our relationship with food in other, much more negative ways, as I’ve previously experienced myself. But it’s been a game-changer for me this summer.

Out here trying to be like my vegan blogger friends… before realising this chicken and veg pesto salad isn’t even vegetarian… oops.

I’ve been trying to eat healthier and more balanced meals too, especially now I’ve injured my back and can’t get to the gym (there’s always something wrong with me). Being able to take some time out, plan a shopping list with Jack and put some proper time and effort into cooking has brought out a new-found passion in me, one that has been bubbling under the surface since I moved to Swansea almost a year ago. And you can bet your life I’ll keep posting photos of what I’ve been rustling up on my Instagram story – just don’t expect me to become the next foodie influencer extraordinaire (although that wouldn’t be so bad for my bank account #ad #spon).

I’m still looking for the perfect balance right now, and with going home for a bit and on holiday next week, that’s going to be difficult. A tip from my counsellor is to pick certain days to work, leaving the others to devote to reading, getting out and seeing friends, or just having a down day to chill and try not to worry about work. Setting small, achievable goals is another. Even being able to get everything down on a page in a to-do list is a success in itself, as it means I can prioritise what’s actually important, rather than procrastinate proper work with other, much smaller tasks. However, when things are all going a bit haywire in my brain, you’ll probably find me in the kitchen.

And hey, if anyone wants to visit us before I move back to Birmingham, I will happily cook for you. Get your reservations in now though, mind.

The most yummy coconut dhal – so quick and easy, and clearly very popular as I had a lot of friends message me for the recipe!

The most ironic thing about this whole post is when I was writing this, I’d got fajitas planned for dinner, probably the easiest dinner we have in our flat. I reckon since Jack and I have been together (over three years at this point) about 50% of the meals we’ve had together have been a terribly bastardised yet incredibly yummy version of fajitas. But hey, as long as it takes me out of my overthinking lil’ noggin for an hour, who the hell cares?

*These veggie enchiladas were one of the best things I think I’ve genuinely eaten in my life, full stop. And I’m not just saying that because I made them! Get this recipe in your life now, please. You’ll thank me later.

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