A mere trifle
As many readers of this blog would be aware, I have faced a long struggle with mental illness and was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder (also known as manic depressive illness). I have always been very open about this fact; as a young contrarian, I am keen to challenge social stigmas and preconceptions about mental illness, and as a writer, I feel that I have an opportunity to help fellow sufferers and their carers by sharing my experiences. In the parlance of Charlie Sheen, I’m not bipolar, I’m bi-winning.
While their effects can be debilitating, my experiences with depression, anxiety and bipolar have also resulted in great periods of reflection and creativity, greatly expanded knowledge and increased empathy towards others. I do not wish to be without my illness; my only wish is to be able to manage it so that I can lead a functional and fulfilling life, a struggle which continues.
As a self-appointed mental health advocate, one of my causes célèbres is the demystification of the mental health system, as I have experienced it. While great strides have been made towards destigmatising mental illness and providing access to care, the system, particularly in the public sector, can still be hostile and difficult to navigate. I am not an expert, I am just a person who has invested a lot of money and time in mental health treatment, and I am willing and able to share my experiences in an effort to help others to access the care they need.
I am currently holed up in a private mental health facility, following several negative experiences in the public system. I was first admitted to the clinic following an acute crisis last year, and I have returned in order to be supervised during a medication change, negating the need to wait months for specialist appointments and instead seeing my doctor twice a week, as well as providing respite from the big wide world at a time when my brain is adjusting to its new regime.
The concept of spending time in a psychiatric clinic may seem extreme, desperate and frightening. At least, that was my initial reaction. But my experiences have been unexpectedly positive; so much so, that this period has been a life-changing and life-saving turning point.
One of my initial fears was that being locked up with a whole bunch of other crazy people would cause further detriment to my mental health; in fact I have found the opposite to be true. In few other places is it possible to find a group of fellows so empathetic and non-judgemental. The relief at being able to truly be comfortable with oneself is palpable, and there are few things more valuable than learning from the experience of others and being able to honestly share one’s darkest fears in a safe environment. This is in addition to frequent access to highly experienced psychiatrists, psychologists and other allied health staff, as well as three meals a day and a 50m walk to the beach. Think brain university meets Club Med, but with more psychotropic drugs.
Potentially lifelong friendships are formed thick and fast in this intense environment, and I have been blessed with several such connections in addition to the welcome company of people from all walks of life with whom I would otherwise never have crossed paths.
When I discovered that one such friend was celebrating his birthday yesterday, my inner food fanatic emerged and, following a dinnertime conversation about trifle, I decided to concoct a spectacular dessert to make his milestone ‘on the inside’ a bit special. This ‘recipe’ is not simply psychiatric clinic specific (though alcohol has been omitted for obvious reasons), but would be useful in any situation where little equipment is available, such as staying in a hotel, camping, or living in a dodgy sharehouse.
Going for a chocolate theme, the star of my trifle was a Belgian chocolate mousse made using a pre-packaged mix by the small award-winning company Nicholson Fine Foods based in Yamba, just downriver from my home in Grafton. I implore you to seek out this rich, velvety treat which is guaranteed to impress your guests and takes no time to (literally) whip up. (While you’re at it, they have some other great products, best of all their piquant beetroot finishing vinegar, but I digress.) Of course vanilla sponge could be substituted for chocolate, strawberries for cherries, raspberries or other seasonal fruit, and mousse simply for whipped cream. The possibilities are endlessly delicious.
A mere trifle (or: how to make a spectacular dessert without a kitchen or sharp instruments)
1 chocolate sponge roll sliced into 2cm rounds
1 packet Nicholson Fine Foods Belgian chocolate mousse mixture (requires 300ml whipping cream)
250ml vanilla custard
500ml raspberry jelly
1 punnet of strawberries, hulled and sliced lengthways into thirds
1 Cadbury Flake bar
Find co-conspirator in institutional kitchen to provide basic equipment and help with the washing up.
Make the chocolate mousse according to the instructions on the packet by incorporating cold water and whipped cream and whisking until smooth.
Artfully arrange rounds of sponge on the inside of a glass bowl, or whatever you have at hand.
Layer the mousse, jelly and custard until you can’t cram any more in, finishing with a layer of mousse.
Decorate with sliced strawberries and finish with a flourish of crumbled Flake.
Lick the bowl.
Demolish and enjoy with friends!