Yeast Are Never Depressed

Jim Lahey's Bread

Best Food Writing 2015
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I am depressed.

I can’t choke it down any longer. Like a fat birthday boy demanding the largest chunk of cake by moving his hands farther and farther apart, my depression has eyed me, every day wanting a bigger and bigger piece. This morning it took all of me.

Maybe I’m still sick with the flu, I think when I awake. It’s possible. I’ve been pummeled for more than 12 days with it. That could be the reason. I consider calling my assistant, Annie, and telling her not to come to work. Annie is cheerful. Sometimes relentlessly cheerful. I want to murder relentlessly cheerful people when I’m depressed. But I flutter the idea out of my mind. Isolation is the worst thing, I’ve learned from a lifetime of experience. Then I remember the bread dough that has been rising on my counter for almost 20 hours. I’m happy until I walk to the bathroom and forget I’m happy.

A walk. I will take a walk. And at the unholy hour of eight in the morning, I am outside, walking down the gentle slope of our road. I smell wet: damp leaves, sweet; soaked bark, earthy and dark. Crows caw and warn the others of my approach. My stomach clutches. When I’m depressed, everyday pleasures cause me such angst and guilt. I’m reminded that I’m constitutionally unable to be buoyed—no matter how momentarily—by something outside of myself. I prefer gray, obliterating skies, or better yet, night; the cold shoulder of winter; lashing storms, like yesterday’s downpours—anything that a normal person would consider depressing because I find refuge in them. Unlike an animal that changes its appearance to blend into the background, I am camouflaged by bleak, gloomy, and untoward surroundings, and I don’t have to explain myself to others. Doesn’t everyone get down on rainy days and Mondays? They even wrote a song about that.

Depression is cunning, I think, watching the floodwaters gush over the falls down at the bottom of the hill. It first figure-eights between my feet like a cat trying to trip me up. I can usually outmaneuver it–a few quick steps and I fox-trot out of the way. But then the seduction begins. It slithers up, licking my calves, the insides of my thighs. For the past several days, I’ve felt it trying to lace its fingers between mine, wanting to pull me toward it so we can waltz. Me listless, feet dragging while it, haughty and victorious, sweeps us through the rooms. When this happens, The One usually steps back, watching from a distance. He knows I will, in one vicious swipe, attack him. Twenty-two years of trial and error has shown him that only when I reach out should he comfort me. And I like to call him to me when I’m sitting down. He wraps his arms around me and strokes and kisses my head. The thrum of his voice deep in his chest soothes. At these times, I need to feel smaller-than, to feel someone bigger in who I hold the childlike hope that he can make it all go away. When I am well, I will again tower over him, but not before this leaves.

Back from my walk, I turn on the oven and inspect the bread dough. The top is a riot of bubbles, like winking eyes. Although I’m a baker of sweets, I turn to bread when I’m down. Single-cell microscopic fungi springing to life, not just surviving but thriving, give me hope. For each loaf, they have the equivalent of a frat-house kegger, gorging themselves then farting, belching, and gorging some more. I think how apt it is that “yeast” rhymes with “feast,” for that’s what they do, that’s their sole job. To feast.

Jim Lahey's Bread
“Yeast are never depressed, I bet,” I say to no one. I fold the dough over itself several times, place it on a floured towel, and cover it. I sit, watching, knowing I will grow too distracted to notice it rising. It will take more than two hours to double in size, but I hope some of the party atmosphere will rub off on me.

I write. I clean. I sigh deeply. I miss my mania. I want somehow to ignite those fireworks that have sparked and exploded in me, whispering, “You can do anything,” making plans for me that I will never keep. I want to sing; singing is always a sign I feel good. But no song comes. Just two lines from Hedwig and the Angry Inch: I put on some make-up, I turn on the eight-track…” loop through my head. I try to divine meaning in them, but there isn’t any, just some detritus left over from a Times Talk.

After the dough has risen, I flip it into the searing-hot Le Creuset pot, and it sticks to the dish towel. I try to shake it off, but the clump hangs above the pot, pendulous. “This dough is a piece of shit!” I yell, which expands to include “This recipe is a piece of shit,” and inevitably bleeds into “I am a piece of shit.” I am a screwup. I claw the dough from the towel, throw it into the pot, and slide it into the oven. Any joy I had derived from baking the loaf is gone. It will be a mess, look freakish, and I will have failed. I will feel no modicum of accomplishment, which can, sometimes, lift me, just for a moment, when nothing else will.

Pulling the loaf from the pot 45 minutes later, I marvel, Yeast is amazingly forgiving. The loaf is not even misshapen, and it’s richly brown, with pockmarks and desert-like cracks ripping through its surface. That’s why I turn to bread when depressed, I believe: It bears no grudge. Puff pastry, brioche, and pâte à choux are punitive doughs. But this ordinary bread, with its punch-drunk yeast, can cope with being cursed at and mangled. Bread is the dough of the depressed, the worried, the anxious, the burdened.

I am still depressed, but at least I now have the carbs. I cut myself a slice.

David Leite's signature


Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread



  1. What a dear piece of writing, thank you. I worked on a project that used bread to capture the complexities of life. One of the delights I found was in exploring the etymology of the work “companion” from the French–com meaning with and pan meaning bread. Companion:with bread

    Here is our finished bread.

  2. You will hate hearing this but for what it’s worth, a high carb, low-fat raw food diet cured–CURED, I say–my severe depression. Cheating, which I’ve done often, instantly reveals the effectiveness of the above. Weird, but true.

  3. As I babysit my new 3-month-old grand daughter, I can finally catch up on my favorite blogs while she naps. I read this and nearly dropped my iPad. I, too, suffer from clinical depression and have felt and said those very same words. Some days I’m the shit and other days I’m the bucket. Either way I got the shit thought in my head. And it’s so hard to get it out! I have heard the “Cheer up, shake it off” and “Suck it up” more times than I care for. Glad I’m not a registered gun owner ’cause I could blow their heads clean off if I heard it one more time! But I keep taking my meds and pushing myself everyday, otherwise “IT” wins and I won’t allow that. Thanks for the post, I am not alone. Love your blog, gives me smiles and giggles. Please don’t stop. I need this.

    1. Angie, so sorry that IT is hounding you. It’s awful. But as you say, hang in there and take the meds. For me it does put a floor in below which I can’t drop. And reach out here or to friends and family. This is not a disease to be dealt with alone.

  4. David – thank you as always for your candor – I seem to be in in a down swing at the moment and seeing this piece gave me comfort and support – like you, a physical bug seems to have set the mental bugs into overdrive once more. Getting out and gardening is a go to for me rather than baking bread but taking that step, inspired by you, has made me feel good this morning.

    1. Samantha, I’m so sorry to hear that you’re down. Most important: 1.) Eat right, that really helps. 2.) Keep on gardening. I’ve started this year and it really helps clear the mind and feed the soul. I’m with you.

  5. My current life (as a single mom, starting a business) does not leave time to meander online and wallow in recipes and food blogs as I love to do. I always allow myself 2 “time-wasting” kitchen indulgences each December and May/June, though, when I bake and bring something special for the staff and teachers at my son’s school. So I returned to your blog for the first time in ages this morning to print another copy of your Espresso Cake recipe, after my original disappeared in a move.

    I pulled and printed the recipe but then dragged my feet and didn’t want to leave, so decided to hit your blog quickly before being a good girl and moving on with my day. This entry stopped me dead in my tracks, however. What an amazing piece. Thank you.

    Thank you for pulling all those thoughts together so beautifully and organizing them into a narrative. Thank you for writing with such a wonderful combination of rawness, emotion and humor (which is a mini-capsule expression of the essence of the human experience and life itself). And thank you for your honesty and openness.

    I’m very glad you’re here–on this blog, suspended in cyberspace and accessible to anyone with an electronic device and bandwidth, and on this planet with all the rest of us trying to figure it out and enjoy our time here.

    1. Squinn, thank you for your very kind words. It’s so validating to know that the work I do, the words I commit to, um, well, pixels, I guess, are reaching people long after I’ve written them. Please keep coming back. There will be much more like this–as well as the highs and joys of living.

  6. Dear David,

    I’ve had this “feeling” from time to time. I had never been able to describe it in words.

    “Friday nights are hard. Saturday mornings are terrible.” a fellow widow said to me once, and that’s been true for me. Surviving the weekend without my lifetime friend seems very daunting. I know what this weekly sadness stems from. It’s grief. I know it’s coming; it’s Friday, get ready. But then how about the unanticipated sadness that doesn’t seem to be directly related to losing my husband a few years ago? It’s emotional, but it’s also physical; I physically feel it just where my heart is. It always comes uninvited, unannounced. Then one of my closest friends said, “You’re depressed. It’s called depression.”

    Every winter people tell me that I’ll feel better when the snow is gone. The sun will help. You and I know that’s not always true. It’s not enough. The cold, dark, snowy winter said “I understand how you feel.” The snow is now gone and my garden is full of hyacinth flowers. I feel left behind. I have lost the camaraderie.

    So we bake, cook, putz around in the garden, reach out to our loved ones, or not. We take what we can handle and move through each day.

  7. My Dear Mr. Leite – As you and I have discussed, I know firsthand how this goes. I’ve been dealing with some extra stressful matters lately and trying to balance real life with them. Then a week or so ago, I was with some friends and caught myself laughing loudly and almost obnoxiously. Even I thought to myself that such a reaction was overblown and that little voice in my head said “Oh god, we’re on an upswing which means a down swing is coming.” And yes, here it is, looming like a thunderstorm ready to flood my world and wash away any sense of good things. And like you said, I know this will pass, and the stresses will go away. But right now I just want to go back to bed and sleep because it’s safer there.


    1. My Dear Mr. Kitchenbeard, I’m so sorry to hear of your down swing. I know how hard it can be. What’s important is that you take care of yourself. If that means a nap or two, a nap or two it is. Or canceling plans, or watching really sad movies so you can cry it out, so be it. Do what you must to be well. I and the world will be here when you resurface. (And I’m here if you want to talk to someone before you resurface.)

  8. David,

    This post is so courageous and moving. I have always found baking to be therapeutic, and I love the idea of yeast being a depression-buster. Please be kind and gentle with yourself during the dark days. And please keep writing, cooking, and baking. Know that your “blahg” is an inspiration to all the Culinaria fans including yours truly.


    1. Dear Yours Truly, thank you for your kinds words. It’s good to know my writing isn’t going unnoticed. As the memoir writer and teacher Marion Roach Smith says, “Play hurt.” Meaning, like football players, one has to play (write) while hurt. It’s the only way to truth. And, fingers, crossed: I’ve felt much better these past few days.

  9. Thank you for inviting us all in to your kitchen with you to hold your hand. We are here, across the country, but holding your hand and cheering you on. I’ll bring some of my slow-cooker apple butter for your bread!

    1. Bonnie, thank you for your kind words. I made a commitment to bake a loaf of bread every day until the depression passes. It’s lifting, amazingly. Whether it has anything to do with the baking, I don’t know, but I do know the first thing I think of when I wake up is, “bread!”

  10. David, It’s a good deal later than when you wrote the above, so I’m hoping that things are looking up. I’ve been such a bad communicator lately, but I hope you know that you are never far from my thoughts. I mean, every time I step into my kitchen I’m reminded of you. I was here to print out for the umpteenth time the fabulous, gooey Hepburn Brownie recipe (Q’s request), and I started reading this essay. It brought back so much of that crazy “Year of the Saint” — I notice a commenter above also mentioned it. I hope you know, if you could perch atop all the gratitude and admiration I have for you, you’d be sky high, David. As is, I’m glad you have yeast! Please be well and say hi to The One for me.

    1. Allison, it is so good to hear from you–and Q. Thank you for writing. Things are better, yes. I’m still not sure why I fell into the hole. Could have been just happenstance. I hope all is well with you and your new life. So much possibility!

  11. Well… you made me tear up. You express yourself so well. I hope the bread/ yeast is a metaphor for your/everyone’s life. What may look like merde, will be fine in the end.
    Keep writing, keep venting. You have lots of online support :)

  12. Beautifully written, David. I find there is something very comforting in baking, especially bread. My dear mother passed away on 20 April, after a courageous battle with cancer. In all of my grief, my thoughts keep turning to wanting to bake. Perhaps I will make my mother’s cookie recipe when my brain isn’t so consumed with sadness. I did make bread this week… in the breadmaker and it came out terrible. I’ve been making the same bread in that machine for years, never came out bad… but the end result wasn’t the point. It was the process… listening to the machine churn and the smell of freshly baked bread permeating my kitchen. I will make a loaf from scratch. I think it will be even more therapeutic. Thank you for writing your thoughts…. keep them coming. You will always have readers that appreciate them, no matter how dark they are sometimes.

    1. Thank you, Pina. I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope your bread making sessions help. I’ve been baking bread every day since last week. It seems to have done something, somewhere inside.

  13. Well. Once again, you’ve inspired me. If you can make something beautiful (the bread and the writing) out of the depths of sorrow, that’s something to attempt. Next time I’m down, I’ll think about this. Much love!

  14. So sorry that you’re feeling depressed! So many people do, god knows I fall into a funk every summer. Although the discussions of mental health has improved, it’s still surrounded by that-this-is-something-we-do-not-speak-of.

    I’ve taken medicine for years, and that keeps it at bay. Still, I fall into the abyss regularly. The abyss is not as abysmal as it was when it all began, and I know that it will pass with time. Even though I do KNOW that it will pass, it feels horrible while in the middle of it.

    All one can do is focus on getting out of bed, and try to do stuff to not fall deeper into the abyss.

    Hope you’ll feel better soon!

    1. Jessica, hear, hear. So many people just find it embarrassing to speak of mental illness–as if it’s a weakness. Is diabetes a weakness? Or leukemia? Or Crohn’s disease? No. Neither is bipolar disorder or depression. If people only knew the strength and courage it took to live with these illnesses, they’d think twice.

      1. I, too, have bipolar disorder. I’ve heard it all when it comes to dealing with it. As wouldn’t it be better if you didn’t take that medicine? Yoga, mindfulness, vitamines, whatever the suggestion, I’ve heard it. All boils down to: pull yourself together, get a grip and snap out of it. Yeah, right.

        I don’t get it from people who have, themselves, suffered through a depression and come out the other side of it. I use the diabetes analogy all the time. As in would you tell a diabetic person to get a grip and pull him/herself together rather than rely on insulin? If that actually works, then please let me know. Until then, the medicine(s) I take is MY insulin.

        All the happy advice doesn’t exactly make me open up about having fought depression, and periodically continue to, for a majority of my life.

        The internal dialogue during depression is a sucky thing to deal with. While in the middle of telling oneself that there’s nothing going on but uselessness, in light of that, getting out of bed and baking bread is quite a feat. I bake alot too, mostly brioche, although I’m not all that fond of actually eating it. My partner offers, selflessly of course ;).

        Be kind to yourself, and I hope it passes quickly.

        1. Oh, how I hear you. I’ve gotten: pull yourself up by your boot straps, grin and bear it, just be happy, pray it away (that’s kind of like pray the gay away), take supplements, eat fruit, stop drinking Coke. Oy, it’s a disease. Plain and simple. Wha we CAN do is learn how to best take care of ourselves DESPITE the illness.

  15. Thank you for sharing. I’m really depressed right now, and it’s so easy to get lost inside the fog that sometimes I forget I’ve been through this. Your words helped remind me. May I have a slice of that bread?

  16. Wow! Can you ever paint a picture. Bread is the medicine, along with some cocoa, to totally change the energy of things. Be one with the yeast in the bread and be lifted.

  17. I have felt that deep dark depression so many times, but can not express it as you can David. Sending you a very big hug!

  18. Thank you! I think I am depressed as well, though I can’t really admit it even to myself. Just reading about your sadness and how you cope with it makes me remember that there is help out there, there are others feeling like I do (and far worse) and it will, eventually, be all right. Thank you for sharing and bringing us all into your life. It is wonderful to feel so close to someone as wonderful as you!

  19. I’m so sorry you are going through this again…or still. I came looking for a spice cake recipe and found one that intrigued me and then it also made me think of you. It’s Alison Parkers Greek Spice Cake. You should read it, again. Maybe follow the route she took to snap her out of a funk. Might be good to get outside of yourself. Just a thought. A hope.

  20. Depression is like that hot guy/girl you dated in college — everyone did, I’m convinced — who was totally bad for you and you couldn’t live without…and even after you finally broke up with him/her, s/he still managed to show up at your doorstep, unexpected and uninvited, at just the wrong moment, and despite all your better angels screaming “No!”, you set a place at the table, and by the time dinner is over s/he already has you doubting yourself.

    The bread is gorgeous. When I am depressed, I make brioche. There is NOTHING that isn’t made better with brioche. Unless it’s cholesterol.


  21. David, I’m so sorry to read about your depression but what a wonderful piece. so brilliantly written. I hope the bread gives you some comfort. It’s good that way.

  22. This should fill a couple pages of your book. Well written – showing your pain. Since I’m far away, I’m sending you hugs (if you want them.) Know that you are loved & admired by me & a zillion others. And you’re the BEST bread maker!!

  23. This seems a foolish comment, but it’s meant to help. You DO have a therapist, right? You DO have medication, of course? When biochemicals are out of balance there is no bread dough in the world that can treat you as well as a little Cymbalta or Lexapro or many others. Life’s too short to suffer. I speak from experience. Please feel better soon; your words were classic clinical depression and you are generous to share your weak spot. Thank you.

    1. Bonnie, not a foolish question at all. I’ve been medicated for bipolar disorder since my mid-30s. It took about three or four years to finally find the right mix of meds. I still occasionally have times where my mood falls through the cracks, and I have to grin and bear it. To start fiddling with meds that have worked extremely well is dangerous in itself. Usually these times are more circumstantial in nature. I’ve stepped back from this to see if I can see a larger picture, some connections that may have cause the sudden plummet. So far none (other than being on meds for the flu, but I stopped taking them last week).

  24. How lovely, David. I know whereof you speak – both the depression and the bread. I do have a tip about the bread if, as I suspect, it’s the recipe by the Brooklyn Baker Boy. Instead of putting it on a towel for the second rise, put it on a big piece of parchment paper, cover it with the towel for the second rise, and when it’s time to put it in the blisteringly hot pot, get rid of the towel, pick up the loaf by the parchment paper and put the whole shebang in the pot. When it’s done you pick up the loaf by the corners of the parchment paper and lift it out of the pot to cool.

    Et Voila.

  25. You said it, my exact feelings. But you have wrote it so much better that I understand it even
    more. Those kind of days come more often then we want. It’s been raining here but I’m looking
    for the rainbow to come.

  26. David… to avoid the shit-sticking dishtowel dough .. pls see note I wrote when you first published your recipe :-) one less thing to worry about!

  27. Your writing is amazing. It really touched me. And know you are not alone. You were able to write something I have felt many times before. All the way down to yelling out loud at bread! I do that often when it sticks. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Danielle, grazie. I hope you’re okay. And I’m happy to know that this piece had an impact. It’s always so surprising to discover what I’ve written–in an effort to get the crazy out–helps others.

  28. This was so beautifully written. A very intimate and relatable, to me, accounting of the blues, baby—and of bread. I feel like I could slip myself into this moment, because I am like cowgirls and after this winter I’ve got the blues. I am paralyzed by rain and the dankness. The fact that you made yourself go out and do things is a feat of strength.

    You are amazing. Your punctuation is impeccable and enviable. Well done. No fussy dough today. I hope you are feeling the sun by now.

    1. Thank you, Beth. I’m beginning to feel better. I do think it had to do with being so incredibly sick, and taking all kinds of other meds, which probably interacted with my crazy pills.

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