One of the worst things about my chronic anxiety is that I often feel like I can’t do things I’m not amazing at. I was one of those ‘gifted’ kids who’s value to adults revolved around how smart and competent I was, which was terrifying because I thought I was never allowed to fail, or even to be average.
This has translated to my adult brain thusly – if I’m not great at something on the first try, that means I’m bad at it, and then everyone will know that I’m a Bad and Terrible Loser who is Unloved and Laughed At by Everyone.
Basically, if I do badly at something, I feel like that makes me a bad person.
It’s a really tough symptom of anxiety to pick through, and one I know is shared by many people who had a similar upbringing to me. It’s completely irrational – obviously nobody’s perfect at anything straight away, and obviously plenty of stuff we’re not good at can be fun – but just because you know something doesn’t make sense, doesn’t mean it’s easy to shake off. In my case I knew the thinking behind the fear was ridiculous and life-limiting, but that didn’t stop me from being disabled by it. My relentless anxiety’s drive to make sure nobody would ever see me fail meant I was missing out on basically everything in life.
I’ve been working hard on alleviating this symptom for a long time – years and years, in fact. This year, after many small and tentative steps towards change, I promised I would push myself off the deep end. I would do something I knew I was going to be bad at that I had always wanted to do.
I embarked on a six-week-long course to make fondant cake toppers. I’ve been an avid baker my whole life, and it’s something I’m usually very good at, but my decoration has always been lacking.
I can’t neatly ice a cake, my cakes tend to be delicious but uneven, and I’ve never tried to make a fondant model before in my life.
I knew I was going to suck.
And ladies, gentlemen, and beautiful people of all genders – I sucked. I sucked bad.
Half a unicorn, infused with panic-sweat and jean-dust. Everyone else was ahead of me at this point and I was scared but determined. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
I was easily the worst person in my very small class, not least because everyone else there seemed to be some kind of professional cake maker. It took me twice as long to make anything and I needed consistent help from the teacher while everyone else sailed along. I felt extremely anxious with every mishap, which meant more mishaps happen.
My first ever fondant model – a scraggly, cracking, poop-horned unicorn.
When I left that class I expected to feel defeated, but I didn’t. Even when I’d been panicking, I had still been having a kind of shaky fun. I felt unnerved by the strength of my fear, but I knew I was going back.
The Peter Rabbit fondant model I made on the second week of my course. It wasn’t awful, although it has terrifying eyes and it’s ears fell off before I could show it to anyone in real life. I gave it to my eldest sister for her birthday, where it was much appreciated.
When I returned to class the next week, I was even more prepared to be terrible than before. Once I’d accepted the fact that I was going to be god-awful at this hobby forever, I started to relax into it.
My Peter, sitting with the other Peters that were made during that class. I was surprised that he fit in pretty well with the others.
Fuck it, I thought. If it’s ugly I’m still going to show everyone, because today I made something difficult. I still did a thing today. That’s one more thing than I did yesterday.
A cute little elephant and a stoned-looking giraffe, who I painted a dick on because why the hell not.
Apparently, this ‘fuck it’ attitude was the key to a moderate amount of success.
A bear that I made for my partner, L, based on her childhood teddy bear. It looks absolutely nothing like it. Nevertheless, L loved it.
Not caring if what I was doing was any good or not was the key to actually making it kind of good. More to the point, I started to have actual, relaxed, cheerful fun.
I made one of the only storks that didn’t drop its baby while the fondant was drying, so it was at least technically good. My baby was nicknamed ‘Little Elvis’ by the class.
The more fun I had, the better I got, contrary to my prior belief that it had to be the other way around. I never caught up with the rest of the class, who all made perfect and pristine fondant models worthy of a shop front, but it didn’t matter anymore that I was the worst in the class. I was improving drastically at something I had never done before, and I was having a blast. The classes became the highlight of my week, where I could go and chat to a lovely group of people, drink coffee, and make absolute crap for the fun of it.
I made this coffee cake and topper for my lovely Mum for Mother’s Day. The topper is based on her jackadoodle, Betsy. It’s not a bad likeness but somehow the cake turned out really ugly anyway. Despite the monstrosity that was the icing, my Mum absolutely loved it.
My adventure into shit cake decorating has coalesced the lesson for me that you can have fun doing things that you’re bad at. You can be proud of your work even if it’s not as good as everyone else’s. You can celebrate your progress, and celebrate making absolutely no progress – you can celebrate being shit or average or brilliant, so long as you’re having fun.
So, go. Join the class you’ve always wanted to take but that you think will be kind of embarrassing. Make ugly, ugly cake for yourself and the people you love (and save me a slice). Enjoy yourself without judgement or comparison. Go forth, and be shit.
Our final week was for wedding toppers, and we were supposed to make a bride and groom. I’m super gay, though, so here’s L and I in our very hypothetical wedding outfits. It was widely considered to be ‘my best work yet’, but L, when pressed, will only describe them as ‘interesting’. All I can really say is that I’m excited to eat my own head.
I took these classes at Cozzmic Cakes in Hartlepool (County Durham, England), which is run by the amazing (and very patient) Corrine. You can get in touch for cakes or classes right here.