Small Comforts

A series of blogs to help those struggling with isolation

As someone who has suffered from mental illness for quite a while, some of the advice I have been given or offered to others just seems completely pointless at the moment. Trying to get out of your own head and concentrate on the outside world is hard when that world is going through unprecedented events. We are all trying our best to navigate a way through, without any map to guide us.

Depression tends to make you ruminate on past mistakes and very fearful of the future. Indeed, a future often seems impossible to imagine in the midst of a depressive episode. Alongside that, anxiety can cause an incessant, repetitive worry about what’s behind and in front of us. Therefore, we are told to try to learn the skills of being in the present: “live in the moment”!

Well, living in the moment right now is frankly bloody difficult for all of us. Of course, I worry about the impact of enforced isolation on those of us who suffer with mental illness, but I’m equally worried about people I love who have never known what’s it’s like to suffer from anxiety. I fear for the impact that the lack of social engagement will have on them.

I’m not sure I have much to offer in terms of help but hey, I’ve dealt with the challenges of isolation before so I am therefore going to use this period of self-isolation to write about the little things that have brought me comfort in my darkest days, in the hope that it may help someone who is struggling in the current climate. These small comforts are the little distractions that keep the dread of life at bay for a little while. The one absolute truth I have learned is that all you can do in the darkness is get through one day at a time – sometimes even just one hour at a time – and keep hoping that each new day is a step closer to normality.

SmallComforts #1 (cookery shows)

Whether you are in isolation and all alone, or stuck indoors with your family, I reckon a half hour of escapism to soothe your frazzled brain will be welcome. So here is my first suggestion: cookery shows!

The news can be extremely agitating right now – especially if you’re prone to feelings of hopelessness or anxiety anyway. That means that the best distractions are often light-hearted – it is difficult to concentrate on anything too serious. I have always found cookery shows to be extremely soothing in times of crisis, so here are a few of my favourites:

Barefoot Contessa, Food Network

This features Ina Garten and her adorable husband Jeffrey as they go about their merry life living in the Hamptons. Ina uses at least twelve sticks of butter in all her recipes, and Jeffrey arrives home every Friday night from the city with flowers for Ina, who will have his favourite chicken dinner ready. They are “couple goals” for sure, which helps to soothe a bruised heart as well as an aching head.

Pioneer Woman, Food Network

This is my top tip for escapism. The Pioneer Woman is Ree Drummond who lives (wait for it!) on a huge cattle ranch in Oklahoma. She shares recipes that she uses to feed her wholesome family, as well as all the cowboys on the ranch. The Drummonds seem to own most of Oklahoma as far as I can make out, and are probably Republicans, but leave all that to one side and enjoy the wholesomeness of the whole thing.

Ree makes cookies and drops parcels off for her pastor, her sons say things like ‘yes ma’am’, and Ladd (the husband) is easy enough on the eye. Oh, and Chuck (the grandad) also seems like great craic. As for the food, these people consume insane amounts of meat, including steaks for breakfast. Ree cooks up brilliant American stuff like grits, Frito pie, snacks to accompany big football games, and tex-mex which the cowboys seem to have a grá for.

Once she’s done cooking, she loads everything into her pick-up truck and drives it out to the lads who are working cattle or something (they always look remarkably clean, so I’m, suspicious about this premise). Ree then hands out the food and everyone is happy. My only complaint is that I have NEVER seen anyone drink a cup of tea on this programme (more about the comforting power of tea to come in a future blog!). More specifically, Ree brings dessert to the cowboys with a lack of hot beverages of any description. You cannot be having dessert without tea or coffee to accompany it, as any Irish person will tell you.

Other notable mentions include: any Nigel Slater show: he is pleasingly scatty, and his Simple Cooking series is airing again on BBC1 in April. A dear friend also introduced me to the delights of old Keith Floyd. His Floyd on France shows are charming with sumptuous scenery – and available on the BBC iPlayer.

More generally, I find most cookery shows offer an easy way to comfort yourself and take the edge off anxiety. The gentle distraction can help, even if it’s just a little. This is the key to managing anxiety, distress or feelings of hopelessness. I suppose it’s the equivalent of soothing an upset child with a simple diversion. We all need comfort.

More Small Comforts blogs are on the way…

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