it’s all in your head


Here’s what a typical morning here is like these days.

6:30 AM wake up. Look at the clock, realize it’s very early still but finally, alas, it’s light out. Decide to get up and go to the gym and get back in time to have breakfast with Andrew only to realize your phone is at 15% power and will not make it through the workout.

Turn over and try to fall asleep. Realize you’re too anxious to sleep. That suddenly there is a tidal wave of all these to do’s in your head, the fact that you don’t have any meetings or “set” work to do, that you have no idea where you next paycheck is coming from, that you just put a check in the mail for rent neither you nor your husband can afford.

Toss and turn until the cat wanders over for his morning cuddle. Cuddle with the cat for ten minutes. His purrs only moderately calm you down, but mostly, what you feel is jealousy. Jealousy that you can’t ever feel this inner calm and bliss. You think to yourself, I’d do anything to feel this way if only for a day, but you know it’s not going to happen.

Check your phone once more; no new emails, no new job offers, no new job listings. The phone is now at 14%. Scratch the cat’s chin and hear him purr. Look over to your left where you husband is sleeping. Notice how he is the world’s most peaceful-looking sleeper.

Check the Instagram feed, see what dinner/cocktail/dessert everyone’s had last night. Look at cute sleeping children photos, wonder how parents do it all. Notice the phone is now at 13%. Go to Twitter, check the feed. Find a few interesting articles, but because you hate reading them on your phone, email them to yourself. Notice the phone is now at 12%. Go to Facebook and see everyone’s updates. Realize that you’re finding Facebook to be more and more of a bore, and it’s not that you don’t care about your friends updates, but that somehow Facebook has become a virtual world you don’t really feel like inhabiting. You want, simultaneously, peace and quiet and catch up with everyone, and I mean everyone, in person.

7:30 am. The phone is now at 10% power and tells you that it’s running on reserve battery. Something about that word, reserve, gets you even more anxious, so you get out of bed, put on your bathrobe and shuffle out of the bedroom. The cat is already in the kitchen, standing on his hind legs and scratching at the cabinet doors, meowing so loudly, you’d think there’s imminent danger. But no – it’s just that he wants breakfast. And he wants it now. Scratch that – make it five minutes ago. That’s the urgency. You plug the phone in and go get him his breakfast.

8:00 am. You make coffee. Grind the beans, heat the water, pour the water into the French press, set the timer to 4 (precise) minutes. Stir the water (with wooden chopsticks; metal is bad) midway through. Prep the cups and the cream and the sugar.

Feeling virtuous and guilty about your expensive juicer (a wedding present), you juice every vegetable in your crisper. Somehow pounds and pounds of vegetables come out to barely four cups of juice. You reflect on how expensive you thought juice was at juice bars, and adjust for labor, and cost of produce – it doesn’t seem that expensive anymore. Plus, there’s no clean-up involved. Juicers, if anyone has one, have so many parts and they all need to be cleaned post use.

8:30 am. You have breakfast with your husband. The anxiety builds. You’re still in your bathrobe and jammies. Let’s not even talk about what your hair is doing because when short hair meets a pillow, it’s just not a good scene. You think about how by now, had you charged your phone ahead of time, you would have been back, sweaty and content that you’ve already accomplished something for the day. But instead of that, you are in your bathrobe and jammies, with fresh coffee and vegetable juice at your side. Nicely done, you think not without sarcasm.

You start thinking about rent, income, money, your impending tax return, that article you read about a prominent journalist being asked by a major publication (a for profit one too!) to submit a long article pro bono. Oh, and you have to stop by the cleaners and drop off shirts and get those trousers hemmed. The ones that belong to a suit you just purchased with the money you don’t really have, but heck, everyone needs a suit for an interview, right? You have a few recipes to test, but the chaos in your head is preventing you from being able to structure your recipe testing. What to focus on first? What is a priority.

You recall that conference a few weeks back when a famous and respected food writer told you to go back to your old career and be financially stable; that you cannot, anymore, make money writing cookbooks. You reflect on your last year and the income you received, and woefully agree. You recall several other prominent food writers telling the very same thing the other writer did. Your heart sinks a little and you think to yourself, this cannot possibly be the only way, it just cannot. There should be, must be, something out there besides your old career being the only way. There must be other opportunities where you can use your transferable skills, as they call them, in other areas where you feel a sense of purpose and contribution to the world. Okay, so maybe you can’t eke out a living writing just books, but can’t there be another way to do that and something else? Something you also happen to love?

You don’t like the lack of structure. You don’t like being in your bathrobe and jammies.

Your husband casually asks you what you are doing today. What he means is just that, but what you feel like he is saying is he is making you justify your existence. It’s just in your head, you say, and then you look at him and you say, absolutely nothing, I am not doing anything and I don’t know what I should be doing. He probably, at that point, regrets asking, because no one asks that questions and expects to get a panicked, semi-depressed response. The best answer that you hope for is, well, I was thinking of going to the gym and making a few calls and then probably testing a recipe or two, and see if any other job listings have been posted. You certainly, don’t expect the words absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing, besides feeling somewhat absolute, feels horrible, more horrible than the answer of I was going to add up and itemize my receipts for our tax return. That, while boring, is at least something. Nothing is exactly just that – nothing.

It’s the lack of structure, your husband says to you, it’s the fact that you don’t have any appointments during the day, it’s not permanent. You think about it logically and agree: it’s not something you were feeling yesterday when you had some calls and appointments lined up and you had momentum. Momentum is a great thing, you think, it keeps you going, it keeps you moving, it prevents you from ruminating on stupid, pointless, self-defeating thoughts where you tell yourself over and over that you will never be gainfully employed and that you will end your days in a cardboard box. You will not, you tell yourself, end up in a cardboard box, that will not happen, but that little voice inside your heads says, but what if you are and what if you have managed to pick up any transferrable skills from anywhere to anything, and you say, nonsense, of course I have transferrable skills, look at my ability to do x, y, and z, those are seriously transferable.

You think to yourself, this is absurd, you will totally be fine, just give it a little time. There’ll be books to write, there’ll be another job. You can do both. You can. You can. You can. Just give it a little time. It will happen. It must happen.

9:00 am. You clean up after breakfast, and put the dishes away. You kiss your husband goodbye and immediately change into gym clothes. You will go to the gym, you say to yourself, you will do it. It will put your anxiety at bay. And even though it’s so hard to leave the house when you are gripped in self-doubt, you know it’s all in your head, it’s all in your head, it’s all in your head.

Update: 2:15 pm. You’re still in gym clothes, but no gym as of this point. However, you’ve caught up on emails, you made a lunch of duck fat potatoes and mushrooms. It is possible that you’ve consumed your entire caloric allotment in that one meal, but potatoes have always made you feel better. As for duck fat – you’re worth it.


  • Janel

    You don’t know me, I don’t know you, but I’m also here, in self-doubt’s death grip (all the way over in Madrid). The only bit I can offer here is that you’re an absolutely fantastic writer. Ever since stumbling across you a couple weeks back, you’ve become one of those sites I visit constantly, not just for the recipes but for your voice. Wish I could take you out for coffee, pick your brain, enthuse. Your talent is true.

    Whether or not that will lead to profit, god knows. But the talent is there, is simmering. To let it burn would be a damn shame.

    (I LOVED the baking powder v. soda article, btw – you’re brilliant at explaining the niggly little food nerd bits that make all of this so fun to begin with)

  • Ashley

    I’ve been sitting at the crossroads of life for the past few years, idling in grad school and desperately trying to figure out what to do next. I’ve asked myself “what do you want to do?” and answered with a list of things that are so varied and so trivial there is no immediate answer. I’ve asked myself “what should you do?” “what can you do?” “what can you do as a stepping stone to something better?” (the answer to that last one was grad school and I don’t really recommend repeating that). I’ve stressed about money and debt and the lack of serious accomplishments compared to peers.

    What I’m saying is you are not alone, there are way more people questioning their careers and desires than you’d ever expect (I usually forget that part). And we’re here for you in whatever way we can be. I’ll always be here to read and offer my shoulder or my itty bitty piece of advice/commiseration. You’ll come out on the other side with a career you love and feel satisfied in. You have so many talents, including writing (it’s what I enjoy most about your blog). So keep your chin up (it’s hard, I know) and trust in yourself and keep moving forward. You’ve got this!

  • Heidi Normand

    Hello Hun!

    Janel above is so very correct and so much of what she said rings true of much I said to you at lunch yesterday…I really believe you are going to find your way and your place in this crazy world of food. On your list of “to do” today is write that letter and attach it to your resume for me to pass on! I have a few people who might be interested in it :) talk soon my sweet…

  • Gail

    I wish I could say something constructive, something positive, something encouraging.
    I know EXACTLY how you feel, particularly how you interpret the dreaded “What are you doing today” question from the spouse.

    Like everyone else has said, hang in there, Olga. It. Will. Happen.

    xo from your pajama-clad compatriot,

  • Adrienne

    Oof, sorry you’re stuck in your head today. I’ve been there (well, in my own head, of course) and it can be a lousy place to get stuck. You’re going to make it. You’re talented! Does it help to know you’re in the “favorites” category on my google reader?

  • Marah

    Hey – You and I don’t know each other, but I do know very well this feeling you’ve so beautifully captured in this post – and I know many others do as well.

    Just remember, when you’re (too) busy again (and you WILL be), you’ll regret that you didn’t use the downtime to relax / take up knitting / clean the measuring spoon drawer / at least pick up that 500-page biography/foot-high pile of New Yorker back issues/Michael Pollan’s latest.

    Thanks for the great post (and thanks to Gail, for tweeting it!).

    And getting dressed for the gym is more than half the battle.

  • Lena

    Well, I think what you are doing is remarkably brave. Wishing you loads and loads of success.

  • Fresh and Foodie

    I’ve always liked your writing, but I particularly liked this.

    I enjoy my job but often dream of doing something else — but I’m too scared. I wish I were brave like you.

  • Marah

    Best. Update. Ever. The duck fat blues chaser – brilliant!

    (And how the hell can it be that time already?? Time to give it up and trade out the sports bra for the regular one. It’s squeezing my brain…which explains the writer’s block.)

  • Margarita

    Olga, I love the truth that you speak here. My fiancé is an a somewhat similar situation as you. He has a PhD from Princeton in Chemistry but has not had any offers for a year now. He has had several job interviews but all of them said he didn’t quite have what they are looking for. WTF? The guy is smarter than 85% of the entire population, if you just gave him a chance, he can learn anything and everything in a week, maybe even less. So, now he is really into developing game apps, but is not sure where to go from there…

    I, on the other hand, have a decent job. I am special ed teacher, but everyday I’m finding my patience thinning out more and more. My students are amazing and I love them to death, but I feel like I don’t have anything more in me to give… I’m unproductive at work and just wishing that I would be able to do my own thing… Bake bread, do yoga all day, make cookies, create recipes, live a dreamy life… But not everything is what it’s cut out to be. Last night I had a panic attack and couldn’t sleep, I know what I would be like at work and my students do not deserve to be taught by a sleep deprived freakshow, so I’m keeping myself hidden in the constraints of my house today. I did yoga this morning… now I will cook and bake, until I get back to a happy place and reserve more energy to be a worthy teacher for my students.

    Keep your head held high… Do not let things get to you (I know, easier said than done), but really don’t. Just give your best shot at the things that you do everyday and what you don’t accomplish today, write it on a piece of paper and check it off tomorrow. There are so many of us in this together… You’re not alone!

  • Melissa

    Came across you from a tweet from Gail this morning. I’m a creative freelancer (design and food photography) and it doesn’t matter what field you’re in, this rings so true. I’m in the other boat currently, where there is too much happening and I’m dropping the ball and the to do list in my head is so overwhelming I started to cry last night. But I have been where you are and I will be again. It’s always feast or famine, always wondering where the next paycheque will come from – even when you’re busy. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, to be honest, but it takes a lot of strength.

    But trust me… the feast does come. You WILL get there.

  • olga

    Everyone who commented thus far – THANK YOU. I can’t properly express my gratitude, but your kindness is lifting me up!

    Margarita – everything you wrote about your husband – OY! I get it. And I think it’s ridiculous. I hope he finds something soon!!

    Fresh and Foodie – I’m not sure if what I am doing is brave or just crazy. Because at some point, if nothing else is working, I need to make some kind of a decision.

    Mara – I hope I am busy SOON!!! Our rent can’t pay itself :)

  • Bliss

    My heart goes out to you! You’re an amazing writer and chef, and your photography is fantastic as well! Some of my most praised meals are from your recipes…and the sweet potato and black bean salad is the only thing that I make on a weekly basis. I think I’ll go make your almond cake again and think good thoughts for you. Hang in there!

  • Brian

    As someone who is intrigued by what you write and can relate to it in many different ways, this piece struck a nerve of familiarity. I find myself trying to get motivated on slow mornings. I know the feeling of sitting around the house in my housecoat and having my wife come home from work and say,”You aren’t dressed yet. Did you do anything besides play on the computer all day?”
    I also know the frustration of the job search and the issue of money and thinking about my jobs from the past. On days like this, I force myself to get dressed and go outside even if all I do is just walk around! Have a purpose when you have none. Go visit your Mother and/or Grandmother, they will always be glad to see you. Good Luck!

  • Elissa

    Oof, what a day. The other commenters have already covered what I was going to say, so I’ll just say I’m sending you my best wishes. You are so talented–it will all work out one way or another, so hang in there and be good to yourself!

  • Lena

    Olga, one more thought!

    There is a woman in Paris who opened a restaurant in her teeny tiny Parisian apartment. One table, different menu every night, prix fixe. Its harder to get a reservation at her table than some of the fanciest restaurants in Paris.

    You could absolutely do this! Every time I see photos of something you have made I think to myself that I would certainly pay to eat that! And between your readers and friends and acquaintances I am sure we could get the word of mouth going! You could be the next whatever that girls name is! Ringing endorsement, I know! But really I think it would be excellent!

    Just something I was thinking about :)

  • olga

    Lena – I think this just means that maybe we should have you guys over for dinner, gratis, of course :)

  • Lena

    Yes! My plan worked! Uhhh, I mean, sure, if that’s what you want ;)

    For what its worth, I think you could do it! Or anything you want for that matter!

  • Jason Sandeman

    Hey there! I know EXACTLY what you are going through. I did this dance last year prior to becoming gainfully employed. The worst part is that your self-image and esteem spiral down with your depression. I also dealt with anxiety, which was a fun bag too.
    All I can say is that it does improve. The key is getting moving. Get a job, or throw yourself into something. Once you latch onto that something, the self-doubt vanishes.

  • Katie (The Muffin Myth)

    Oh yes. Been there. Am there. I’ve been trying to figure out how I can leave my crappy, low paying, not in my field job which has been coming increasingly toxic. But finding something else, while still a student (I’m working on a MSc in Nutrition) in a country where I’m still not totally fluent in the native language. It all feels so crushing sometimes. But, I think the thing to do is take a deep breath, leave that crappy job, and do everything I possibly can to sort something else out. It’ll happen – for me and for you as well. I just know it.

  • Marianne A.

    Hi there! I subscribe to only a handful of food blogs, and yours is one of them. I have enjoyed following your journey to full-time food writer thus far. This post was quivering with anxiety; I could totally feel it. You so accurately described what probably the majority of the adult population feels on a day-to-day basis. I am a stay home mom who, after raising two daughters who are now 14 and 16, views herself as totally unemployable. Anyway, we are kind of all in the same boat in some way, shape, or form. Hang in there…you are strong and brave! Now go exercise and you will feel better.

  • Wendy Read

    I too have been reading your blog, quiet on the sidelines for the past year. You have many kindred spirits. Your writing is wonderful, this piece particularly touched me as it is just so raw. There are many years between us, but I feel all that you are feeling and have so many of the same fears. You are coping perfectly.

  • Brian @ A Thought For Food

    I felt every word of this… especially the bit about Andrew asking what you’re doing today. It’s so very hard being a freelancer and it’s certainly not the life for everyone (for so many reasons). I think you have to do what you feel comfortable with. You’ll always have your love and passion (and incredible talent) for writing. That will never go away. You can find new and exciting ways of using it. Who the heck knows what’s going to happen in the future. But, yeah, bills are stupid. I think we just need to find some sugar daddies. ;-)

  • olga

    Brian – sugar daddies, yes! Also, i had this idea once that wealthy childless couples adopt adults with high aspirations, like writing or philosophy or my deep desire to get a phd in old English epic lit (so, SO useful, right?) and establish trust funds in their name so their “children” could pursue their passion. The upside to them: none of the awful things that go along with child rearing, and all the glory of having smart, driven children. I thought it was a win-win!

  • Meg

    I am in awe of your bravery–this definitely hits home. No decent advice to give, but I’m sending you good vibes and well wishes.

    (Also, I like your idea about adopting adults–sort of the way during the Renaissance artists and writers would have wealthy patrons pay their living expenses so they could get on with doing what they loved and were good at. Why on earth doesn’t that happen more nowadays?)

  • Michelle

    Your post has captured how very frightening your “leap” is but I sincerely respect you for taking it! I suppose we all have dreams but. . . . how many of us take that leap? How many of us take the steps to even attempt to achieve and actualize our dream? Not that many I would suspect. Because it’s so damn scary. I love reading your posts!

  • Jamie

    Olga, thanks for sending me here to read this. I could be you, your husband mine, same story every day. Some days are full of activity and bustling energy, others, not so much. Will we ever make a living at this? Or at least be able to pitch in and help pay the bills? Oy, I certainly hope so. Isn’t there a job description for us that uses words like “passion” and “enjoyment” and “do just what you love”? Well, look on the bright side – you only have to cuddle and feed the cat. I have to actually put on shoes and a coat (one long enough to cover the pajama bottoms) and take the dog out. Thanks for writing this. You know just how many of us go through the same thing. And I’m on that Sugar Daddy train with you and Brian.

  • Liren

    Janel’s comment was spot on. I have been to your blog time and again, and I always find myself nodding along, and this post in particular, really touched me. You described my day. And that question: what are you doing today? Innocuous, but internalized. Deeply! Know that you are not alone :)

  • olga

    Jamie, and others – thank you for your words of support. On the one hand, I’m glad I’m not alone in this, but on the other, it pains me to think that you all go through the same thing: it’s not a fun place to be. I think, and here’s the raw truth, that if I were independently wealthy, or my husband earned more, the pressure to get paid wouldn’t be as acute. But the reality of the situation is that we need me to pull in a real income that’s essential for us. We’re not crazy spenders, so our expectations aren’t unrealistic. I was really hoping to make it work, and it’s not looking so good at the moment, so I’m starting to look for permanent work in various fields where I think I can use my skills and knowledge. We’ll see.

  • Sarah


    You took the leap! For which I am exceedingly jealous, but I know how hard it can be to motivate yourself to do something, ANYTHING, to make you feel like you “accomplished” something even when you’re worrying about money. My fiance and I both work in the nonprofit sector (me only part time, him full-time salaried with benefits, thank god) and we just had to dip into our meager savings to pay for annual car insurance, cable/internet, fuel oil, and student loans all in the same month. It’s terrifying living paycheck to paycheck, I can’t even begin to contemplate not having the reassurance of a paycheck.

    I’ve often contemplated how nice it would be to write full-time or own a small business, but then I think about how no, it’s probably not nice at all, because I know it’s damn hard work. And then I feel dissatisfied on both accounts. If I didn’t have a job I liked, I’d probably go insane.

    To recap: I feel ya, but you are a brave and talented person and you will prevail! Also, don’t forget to give yourself a break! I find that when I take the occasional guilty pleasure of doing nothing all day (not even laundry, or sometimes even cooking!) and just read or watch movies or take the dog for a long walk or sleep in. Then, the next day I feel more energized and want to accomplish things that much more. But feeling guilty ALL THE TIME is not healthy and just makes you worried and resentful. So don’t beat yourself up for something you can’t control.

  • Gintare

    Olga, it’s not an easy path to follow dreams, but I believe real success can only come from doing things you’re profoundly passionate about. I’ve seen friends take leaps of faith to change lives and yes, there were very very difficult times, when they would question such decision, when sacrifices had to be made, but with hard work and belief they managed to build a life around things they love. You’re a wonderful writer, just don’t give up!

  • Shanna

    Hi, Olga. Fellow freelance here. Also fellow food blogger, fellow newlywed, fellow wishing-there-were-better-ways-to-turn-loves-into-income-r. I’ve been thinking and thinking lately about ways I could turn my site (that I LOVE!) into a source of income (that I need!). It’s discouraging and it’s motivating and it’s the kind of thing that has me responding to my husband with panicked, semi-depressed answers, too.

    You’re not alone.

  • olga

    Shanna – yes, it’s definitely panicky. Though, I’m not really trying to monetize the blog here. I am trying to figure out a way to make a sustainable living while writing cookbooks. Though it’s the same kind of panic. Sending you a huge hug.

  • Sheena S.

    I feel you—especially when it comes to the “What are you doing today?” exchange. It’s amazing how much meaning one can project onto those seemingly innocuous words in a certain state of mind.

  • olga

    Aimee – it would be SO nice to catch up in person! Are you due out to NYC anytime soon? :) I’d make those potatoes (and more) just to lure you here, maple syrup or not!

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