AN AMAZINGLY honest and soul-baring book, I Thought There Would be Cake charts a pilgrimage of sorts, through the choppy waters of mental ill-health and emotional turmoil.
The book’s title originates in the author’s childhood view of adult life as one long party with plenty of cake; reality, as she has discovered, is a very different thing, more like “mushy, overcooked brussels sprouts”.
Katharine Welby-Roberts was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety at the age of 19, but her struggles with identity and the desire to fit in, while feeling like an outsider, began when she was younger. Added to this mix are her chronic-fatigue syndrome and the less than helpful response of some Christians towards mental illness.
Many people are never assailed by self-doubt, but for others, like her, it can be severely debilitating and affect the whole of life. She writes with understanding about how hard it is to live with perfectionism and a fear of failure, a need to be approved of by others, a lack of self-worth, and a sense that the rest of the world is having a great time while she is not.
This all rings true. I know; I’ve been there; and that was in the days before the rise of Facebook “likes”, airbrushed happy families on social media, and a heightened need to compare one’s posts with those of others. Back then, a book like this one would have given me hope and encouragement to know that I was not alone in what I was thinking and feeling.
Welby-Roberts doesn’t just describe the issues, but explores how she attempts to counteract the false voices that assail her. Each chapter focuses on a particular negative aspect: failure and avoiding responsibility, low self-worth, seeking approval, comparing oneself with others, perfectionism, inappropriate boundaries, social media, regret, and expectation. She uses scripture in a light-touch way to make some of her points, and also passes on some of what her counsellor has helped her to discover about herself.
Self-knowledge is something that grows in those who are able to accept their frailties and work with them. In this, she is well along the way, and I wish her well in her endeavours. For far too long, mental-health problems were brushed under the carpet and something to be ashamed of. In being open about her journey, Welby-Roberts is doing us a service. I hope that those who have never shared these feelings will read this book, as well as those of us who recognise them only too well.
Allowing God to plant deep in our hearts what we trust to be true in our heads because the Bible and experience tell us so — that we are loved and valued as we are — can be a life’s work and prayer. It is the underlying theme of this book.
I hesitate to pen any criticism when I know how hard that will hit the author. I personally found the style of writing slightly frustrating. It’s almost like a personal journal, but written with an eye to its being read by others, which gives a slightly false feel. But that is a minor gripe, and doesn’t take too much away from her sincerity and candour.
The Revd Sarah Hillman is the Rector of Puddletown, Tolpuddle, and Milborne with Dewlish, in Dorset.
I Thought There Would be Cake
Church Times Bookshop £7.20