The One Where I Cried Over Pie
Disclaimer: This post talks about anxiety, fire, smoke, and food. If any of those are triggering to you, do what is helpful!
Let's just TALK about what happened on Saturday, shall we?
Let's preface all of this with one of my anxiety triggers: smoke alarms.
FIRST of all, why are they so high up all the time? I once lived in an apartment with a lofted ceiling and the smoke alarm was literally out of my reach even when I stood on a chair!
SECOND of all, what do they do? Do they just ring until the smoke goes away? Or do they call the fire department if the smoke doesn't clear after 5 minutes?
THIRD of all, they are the worst and I hate them.
It all started when I was trying to cook squash in the fall of 2018. It was a quiet, overcast October afternoon and The Food Gods had gifted me with a recipe for stuffed shells with butternut squash and sausage. The squash had to be cooked and softened, so per the instructions, I loaded a cookie sheet with squash and olive oil and slid it in the oven.
As I sat on my phone, waiting for the timer to go off, the oil dripped off the cookie sheet and into the bottom of my oven. Each drip formed an anxiety that would last years. When I went to check on the squash, I opened the oven door to not only a cloud of smoke, but also a small fire. My fire alarm went off, I went off, the squash was removed, and the fire was put out. But ever since, the fear of kitchen fires has remained.
Let's return to the present day. I was invited to a barbecue and asked to bring a dessert. Tis the season of rhubarb so 100% I decided to bake one of my favorite recipes: a strawberry rhubarb pie. I stopped off at Whole Foods and headed home to bake my pie. I threw a TV show on my computer as one does while cooking, and spent the next two hours making crust, filling, and a crumble topping from scratch.
I put the pie in the oven and start what I like to call: The 2019 Battle Of Pie. Alternative names include:
That Time I Cried And Took Of All My Clothes As A 25 Year Old Woman.
Shocking: My Anxiety Takes Normal Life Events And Twists Them Into Terror Once Again!
Here's the thing they don't teach you in home ec class: The crust called for frozen butter, which then of course melts in the oven. And if we remember anything, we remember that SMOKING OVENS DO NOT DO GOOD THINGS FOR ME. I immediately panicked, took the pie out of the oven, cried, and left the room, tell my husband he would have to finish baking the pie because I couldn't handle it. I left the house because the probability of the fire alarm going off was too high and didn't come back until I'd be assured the smoke had cleared from the kitchen.
PT II: The Return
After being told it was "safe", I came back and stared my pie in the face. How could I let such a delicious dessert defeat me because of a largely irrational fear of smoke alarms? I could not! I will not! I turned the oven back on, and put the pie in for a second time. This time, with a pizza pan on the rack underneath to catch any butter that dripped.
As the pie sat in the oven for a second time, I obsessively watched it from the outside and noticed there is still smoke (WHERE IS THIS SMOKE COMING FROM I DON'T UNDERSTAND). I turned to my husband and said, "I am going to cry again." To which he said, "It's ok! There isn't that much smoke. It's probably just the leftover butter at the bottom of the oven." To which my anxiety said, "BUT THAT COULD CATCH FIRE SO YOU NEED TO PANIC!" So, I opened the oven for a *second* time, took the pie out, and right on cue, the smoke alarm went off! Of course this sent my flight or fight into overdrive. Amazing! So fun!!
I turned off the oven for a second time, went upstairs, took off all my clothes (this seems to help, try it some time), got into bed, and cried. Like, CRIED. (Why is crying better some places in the house as compared to others? Someone do a study on this, because I am convinced the shower at night and the bed during the day are THE BEST places.) This let-it-all-out-and-experience-the-emotion phase lasted for 20-30 minutes and was very cathartic and important! During which I was just LETTING IT HAPPEN. Not putting myself down, not judging the emotion, just FEELING it. (Yes, you are still reading a therapist's blog in case you forgot it! Never gonna pass up an opportunity to teach you the value of self-compassion.)
After half an hour of a good Getting It All Out Moment, I turned to my husband and said, "I am so sad about the pie! It is so good and it took me so long to make it!" He said, "I know. Me too. It really is such a good pie."
*moment of silence for the pie*
Then I thought, you know what?? It is so stupid to not finish cooking the pie since I already put so much time into it! And it still might turn out ok, even though it had now been cooked for 5 minutes twice and removed from the oven twice. And all these thoughts are anxiety and I WILL NOT LET IT WIN!
I started thinking of ways to make it work: "I could take the smoke alarm off so I know that will not go off if it gets smokey. And I know that smoke doesn't always mean fire. And the pizza pan will catch any butter that drips off! And I can watch it and wipe off any butter that does begin to drip off!! And it most likely won't catch fire, that's just my anxiety trying to make me think the threat is bigger than it is!!! And if it all works out I will have the most delicious pie!!!!"
So, I went back to the kitchen, cleaned out the bottom of the oven so that the butter that was there would not smoke anymore, took off the smoke alarms so I wouldn't have to worry about being surprised by some uncontrollable loud chirping and I PUT THAT F*CKING PIE BACK IN THE OVEN FOR A THIRD TIME.
Now, let's be clear:
Did I watch it cook the entire last twenty minutes? Yes.
Did I sit with the anxiety that came up when some of the butter dripped onto the pizza pan and argued back with the anxiety that was telling me that's a fire hazard and the pie needs to be removed from the oven? Also yes.
After 20 minutes, the timer went off and signified that
ON THIS DAY,
THE TWENTY SECOND OF JUNE TWO THOUSAND AND NINETEEN,
THE BATTLE OF PIE HAS COMMENCED.
AND I WON.
It may have taken a few tries here and there, but what's most important is to not give up and let anxiety rule your life. As one of my favorite podcasters and mental health professionals, Kimberly Quinlan says, "Today is a beautiful day to do hard things." And that day, my friends, I did the hard thing!
I also did the hard thing the next day which was taking a pie to a barbecue with 7 other people (with 2 being complete strangers) and, not knowing if it was going to be good or bad, served it anyway! Was I very anxious and wanting to not take it? Yes. Did I push back the cognitive distortion of fortune telling with the phrase, "We'll see!" Yes.
And overall, it was fine! Were people like, "Oh my gosh Emily, you HAVE to give me the recipe for this pie it is the best thing I've ever tasted in my life!!!!"?? No. But, it wasn't terrible! It was a bit soupy, but it tasted alright. So, I count that as a win!
All of this boils down to:
DO THE HARD THING.
Anxiety needs avoidance to survive. So the less we avoid things, the more power we gain over our anxiety. You'll notice through this story that not avoiding didn't equal *hApPiNeSs* and *fUn*. It was hella uncomfortable! And that's part of the process! Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Because that's when we begin to grow and our anxiety begins to shrink.
You can do it.
I believe in you.
P.S. (This stuffed shell recipe is still one of my favorites! If you're a vegetarian, just replace the sausage with a vegetarian sausage. Also, use a microwave to bake the squash. It's faster and easier.)