Her “perfect life” drove her to depression. In her True Calling story, food, travel, and lifestyle expert Jackie Kai Ellis takes us through her journey, from leaving everything behind for Paris and pastry school and opening her own bakery, to finding her true self through a new career, and writing it all in her first book, The Measure of My Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris. Now, Jackie lives between her homes in Paris and Vancouver and because she has harnessed the power of choice, the next phase of her life is teeming with possibilities. In this True Transcript, read more about Jackie’s struggle with depression, the ideas she used to fight through it, and how she found the life she now lives and loves.
I had my own design firm, and at the time it came to a point at which I was striving for all of these things in my life to prove to everyone else that I could do this. I could have a successful company, have the fancy car, have the house or the condo, have the handsome husband—it was the perfect life according to culture and society.
I woke up and I realised I was more miserable than I had ever been in my entire life. Once I had accomplished it all, I thought, “Okay, well, this is it.” But it really wasn’t. I actually fell into a really deep depression at that point because I thought, “Well, there are no answers, what am I supposed to do with my life now?”
The deepest part of the depression—imagine there’s the universe. You look at the sky, and you’re in outer space, and imagine that there’s only one star there, and that’s you. There’s nothing else. That’s what depression feels like, you look around you and it’s just empty space. You wish that there was something else, even a sound, but there’s nothing. It’s very intense.
Depression isn’t one of those things that just goes away. You have to really work at it, give yourself tools and figure out what kind of life you want to live. As a way to discover things that made me happy, I started to cook in the kitchen a lot. I got back in touch with food. When you’re going through that tough part of your life, little things like smelling something, connecting back to your body, tasting a sauce—these all get people out of their heads and back into living in the moment.
As I was doing that, I started baking. The more I baked, the more I realized that I was baking myself out of house and home, and giving away all these foods. I started a farmer’s market bakery just to bake more and it became this obsession to bake.
As I was baking, I was healing myself. I became more interested in life, interested in being out there, and also making decisions to make myself really happy. All of these, in combination with each other, started creating this healthier life. I think what caused me to make the career change and shut down the design firm and go to Paris to study pastry was really when the risk that it takes to stay the same is more painful than the risk it takes to do something different. It’s more painful to stay where you are than it is to fear the unknown.
I had been saving all of this money for a house that I didn’t want, and kids I was no longer having at that time. I just thought, well, what am I living for, then? I decided that the life I was living wasn’t what I really wanted then I thought, what life do I want? What do I truly value? I realised that it all came down to, on my death bed, I would not want to have any regrets about not having tried anything, or not having done something. I wanted to experience all the things that I hadn’t experienced yet, and one of them was travel, because I was such a workaholic.
That’s why I wrote the book, because I wanted people to understand that it’s possible to be in that space and feel completely alone, nobody understands what you’re going through, and to be able to find out that that’s not true. I want people in that place to know that it’s possible to live a really beautiful life, because they’re not alone, and it’s not that it’s not unique, but it feels disgustingly horrible in the moment, but that there are really beautiful things if you just, step by step, get out of it.
After I came back from my travels, I decided to make a list of all the things that I would dream of doing if I could choose anything in the world. What was on the list was: open a bakery, be a travel food writer, do food tours in France, and write a cook book. It was only really five, six years from the time that I wrote that list to today. It makes a difference I think, when we define and suspend reality, and we allow ourselves to think of impossible things that we truly desire. There’s power in that.
The best thing that you could do is to know yourself, because you can’t create a life that you love if you don’t even know who you are and what you love.
As told to Missy McIntosh. Photo by Flytographer, courtesy of Jackie Kai Ellis.