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My Mental Health Journey: Depression, Anxiety, and ADHD

My Mental Health Journey: Depression, Anxiety, and ADHD
My Mental Health Journey: Depression, Anxiety, and ADHD


With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I would love to share a bit of my mental health journey with you and tell you how cake, of all things, has brought me strength, healing, and joy through a nearly 20-year battle with depression and anxiety, as well as how not giving up on that journey lead me to find answers that have changed my life.

Not my usual recipe post, but one that feels as near and dear to me as each and every recipe I share with you. I sent this message in my weekly email. Your response was so kind and compassionate. My heart is so full and I’m so grateful to you for your understanding and support. I thought a permanent spot on the blog might be a useful place for my story – in that, it might help one more friend.

One more thing before we start… as many of you know and see on Instagram, I often share my love of Jesus Christ. It’s hard for my not to. He’s played such a pivotal role in my story.

I tried to write this without talking much about Him… in fact, I tried to take Him out of my story completely… but I couldn’t. There is no way I can tell my story without Christ in it – even as I talk about my business… actually, especially as I talk about my business and the path that lead to Cake by Courtney – there’s simply no way to leave Him or the hope He offers out of it.

And I’m guessing, that many or even most of you are women of faith in some way… but even if you’re not, while I share some thoughts with you about getting through the hard parts of life, I want you to know that I honor your beliefs and hope that you’ll honor mine.

My Mental Health Journey

A Little Background

I love cake. I love it so much. No, I never get sick of it. Ever. It’s the truth. 

But cake was never in the picture for my life early on, other than which flavor I would ask my mom to make for my birthday. 

I come from a family of four kids. When I was growing up, we moved around quite a bit following my dad’s career in television, an industry my mom was also in and one that I fell in love with at an early age. 

I went to BYU and entered the broadcast journalism program, excited to be on air in Studio 1A someday. 

As I was getting ready to graduate, however, I got an internship at a media consulting company in Los Angeles. I ended up ditching the idea of being on-air talent and decided to follow a career in talent coaching and television research. I spent 13 years in media consulting and research, traveling the country testing talent and television shows. When Westin was born, I transitioned to freelance work and didn’t wrap up that chapter of my life until 2019. 

Those 13 years fueled my love for stories and my passion for people. Although we were usually talking about television and talent, I learned so much about people and gained a great love for God’s children during that time. I loved what I was doing, and from the outside, I probably looked like I was thriving, but inside, I was very much struggling. 

Now is probably a good time for me to digress a bit. So before I go forward, let me go back to when I was 18.  

My Parents’ Divorce

I was in the middle of my senior year of high school when my parents, seemingly the most perfect people in my eyes, announced they were separating and my dad was moving out. It was a devastating and shocking time for my siblings and me.

We all struggled, as you can imagine. During that time, I was diagnosed with depression and later, anxiety. 

As I tried to find peace and solutions for how I was feeling, my mind felt tangled in chaos and confusion. Feelings of inadequacy tormented me when I least expected it, and trying to “just be happy” felt like the most impossible task. 

I often wondered: What was wrong with me?

My doctor had told me my depression was most likely situational, resulting from the divorce. Okay. I can do situational, I had thought. I can handle this for a moment. But the depression lasted much longer than a moment. It became my shadow of darkness for the next nearly 20 years.

I’ve spent the better part of my adult life trying to figure out how to fix myself or at least get better. I’d think I had it figured out for a moment… but nothing worked and I would feel like I failed over and over again. 

Many times in my darkest moments, I would cry out to our Heavenly Father and ask to simply just feel Him – hoping that would bring me comfort… but most of the time, I couldn’t. To be frank, I was so disappointed in Him and in myself. I thought I was doing everything He wanted me to do. I was trying so hard. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t see Him or feel Him the way others did? Why wouldn’t He fix me? 

After I graduated college, I got married, was working and thriving in media consulting and soon after, became a mom. The struggles I faced with my mental health were still very much a part of my life. This trial didn’t just go away because I was trying to have hope and praying for strength and a miracle. I was still very much struggling. Most of the time, silently.

When Cake Entered My Story

As Westin’s first birthday rounded the corner (he’s now 15!), I wanted to throw him a huge party. We were living in LA at the time. So both Ryan and my parents would be there. (Something to note here… Ryan’s parents are excellent cooks. I was always in awe of them in the kitchen and at mealtime. They definitely took food to the next level.) So as I planned Westin’s party… I decided to make a cake from scratch in hopes to impress Rick and Connie. 

I knew nothing about making cakes. Sure I loved to bake cookies and other baked goods, but a homemade cake was another story.  I grabbed a Bon Appetit magazine and went to work with my cake pans, mixer, and kitchen knife. 

The cake, as you can see below, was a bit of a train wreck as far as how it looked… but it was delicious. Like life changing, I never knew cake could taste so good – delicious. 

A chocolate cake on a cake stand.A chocolate cake on a cake stand.

As I served the cake to our friends and family, I was filled with so much joy as I watched them take bites and enjoy the peanut butter cake layers and chocolate buttercream. And as I cleaned up that day and thought about that cake, I felt happy. I felt inspired. I felt more joy. 

I wanted to do it again. I wanted to feel that all again. 

And so I did. Any chance I got, I went to the kitchen to teach myself the ins and outs of making cake. There was a lot of trial and error! I’d start a new cake recipe, fail, write my notes of what didn’t work to think through what could work, and I’d try again – eventually I’d nail it.

The kitchen became my happy place – something I thought I had lost from my life.

Yes, I was happy as a wife, a mother, a friend, in work and many aspects of my life… but this was different. This joy I felt filled me in a different way. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time. I just knew I needed to keep following this good feeling. So I did. I followed it from Santa Monica, to San Francisco, to Utah – teaching myself the ins and outs of baking along the way. During that journey, I started Cake by Courtney and have had some amazing opportunities to grow my business, stretch myself, and learn.

Little by little, I could feel the heaviness of my trials lighten. They didn’t go away, but it was like I had someone helping carry the load. My love of cake, the way I felt when I was in the kitchen and when I shared my passion with others, brought me strength, some healing, and so much joy.

When I think back to baking that first birthday cake for Westin and the joy and serenity I felt, I couldn’t quite explain at the time, but I’ve come to understand since — and it has soothed me and strengthened me in a way only the Divine can.  I’ve learned, in the kitchen of all places, that Christ comes to us where we are, when we need him, when we invite him in.  Every single day, and especially when the world seems turned upside down, we need to remember that — we need to know that’s possible. 

I love this quote from my friend Emily Belle Freeman, “There are times when we hit rock bottom regardless of what we are doing to avoid the dark places. It is true, sometimes the dark places just come. Suddenly you fear your faith isn’t strong enough for this world breaking apart, this struggle against the hurt that has somehow become your life. We long for peace, a way out, a promise, an end in sight, until, unexpectedly, the light finally breaks through, shattering the darkness of the place we think we will never recover from. That light is Jesus. He enters our stories with love, and hope and grace.”

How I was Treating Depression and Anxiety

During those two decades, I did everything I could to feel better. Some of those things included therapists, medication, as well as homeopathic products, functional medicine, yoga, meditation, etc. I found having a routine was super helpful to my mental health. Every morning I would (and still do) wake up and start my day with scripture study, prayer, exercise, and then planning my day and tasks. (I thrive on lists and post-it notes!)

There were times when I felt like these things, or a combination of them, were helping… that I had it figured out. However, as I mentioned earlier, feelings of depression and anxiety continued to creep in.

A few years ago, I could feel that I wasn’t in a good place and decided to go back to therapy. Around that same time I heard about EMDR: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Intrigued by the success the mental health community has had with EMDR, I found a doctor that specialized in this work.

I worked with my therapist for about a year and while EMDR was truly remarkable and healing in so many ways (I’ll recommend it to the day I die), I was still battling depression and anxiety. It was around then that I asked that therapist if she thought I should try medication again. She said yes, and so I started looking into doctors that could prescribe the right medication. That’s when I found Serenity Mental Health Centers.

ADHD Diagnosis

During my first visit with my psychiatrist at Serenity, I shared with her my background and everything I had been doing to treat depression and anxiety. It was in that conversation that she said, “I think you might actually have ADHD and I’d like to have you tested before we move on to any medication.”

After taking a formal test, I did, in fact, have ADHD. In fact, I was over 90% in two of the three categories they test. (You can learn more about the testing through Serenity or online).

My mind was blown. I threw myself into research and books. What did this mean? What “I knew” (or thought I knew) about ADD was not my characteristics. But whoa… how different it manifests itself in girls and women than it does in most boys and men. It’s staggering the percentage of girls who have it that don’t even know it! 

Like many girls with ADHD, it went undetected when I was little and that untreated ADHD manifested itself as depression and anxiety as I got older.

We were treating the wrong thing.

This is another thing I could spend so long talking about, maybe we save that for another post? But for now, I’ll just say, as I read and researched and talked to a professional… I could not believe the crossover.

Last year when I was diving into books and research about women and ADHD (I’m linking my favorite book below), I had to stop and just cry… not because I was mad about doctors getting it wrong for two decades, or sad that this was now part of my life – it’s been there all along… genetically passed to me through my dad most likely…

No, I was not crying because I was upset…NOT AT ALL. I broke down in tears of gratitude because I felt so much relief. Finally, I had some answers, the right medicine… and I started to feel different. Like me.

A Lesson I’ll Forever Be Grateful For

I turn 41 this month. For more than half my life… I was pleading for Him to fix me, to take my burden that so greatly affected many aspects of my life away…. Even more a moment. He didn’t. 

He had something better for me in store… looking back, I absolutely needed all this time to grow personally, as well as spiritually. And while I thought He wasn’t there – He was.

He gifted me a desire to bake a cake, as well as the feeling of joy that accompanied it. I’m pretty sure He knew I’d go back for more and that eventually I’d land right here – right where I need to be, at the time I need to be here.

It’s been over 15 years since that first birthday cake. Westin is now a teenager and Avery is 10 years old.  Along with Ryan, they’ve been by my side every step of this journey and in the process, the kitchen has become sacred to us. Yes, it’s where I bake, but it’s also where we gather.  It’s where we laugh, where we dance, where we throw down food-war challenges, and where we share our highs and lows. It’s where we pray, study scriptures, discuss goals, and talk about God. There’s typically piles of homework on one island and piles of cake scraps on another. At the end of the day, I look around and think of all the goodness that happens in that space, and often it occurs to me: it’s still my happy place — it’s still where I go to feel peace, comfort, and joy.  There’s no where else I’d rather be.

I love seeing what the kitchen has become for you.  I love hearing your stories about what baking and being in the kitchen mean to you.  For some it’s an escape or a place of healing.  For others it’s been where you’ve discovered confidence or created connections with your loved ones.

I fell in love with cake — not just because of how it made my taste buds feel, but because of how it made my entire self feel. I fell in love with making cake because I loved the entire process. I loved finding a recipe I was excited about. I loved learning the steps and how the baking process works. I loved the artistic elements of decorating. I loved messing up and figuring out what to do better the next time. I loved how being in the kitchen, trying something new, and being creative made me feel. I loved the connections with people and having something in hand to welcome, console, celebrate, or reward.  

Ever since that first cake, I continue to step into the kitchen for those same reasons.  I hope to create joy in my own life and in yours… but even more, I hope this cake journey of mine helps you find what you’re searching for on your journey, whatever that may be.   

If you are facing any kind of mental health struggles, you are not alone. The world needs you. The world needs the amazing things you have to offer – and I know some days we don’t think we have anything to offer, but I PROMISE YOU, YOU DO! Don’t give up on yourself. Talking to someone and diving into learning something new were two huge life-savers for me. I encourage you to do the same. Have hope. Don’t give up. Happiness is waiting for you. 

XO,

Courtney

Mental Health Resources

From the VAULT: EPISODES FROM MY PODCAST



Written by bourbiza mohamed

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