Recovery Conversations: A Q&A with Dayna Altman
**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. This story includes a reference to sexual assault. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
Dayna Altman is a mental health author, advocate, and entrepreneur. Her community-based organization, Bake it Till You Make it LLC, is dedicated to destigmatizing mental illness, normalizing mental health conversations, and promoting authentic healing and recovery. A dual graduate of Northeastern University and an active Boston community member, Dayna has experience both working in the mental health field and with youth-based nonprofits. Currently, Dayna works at a national education non-profit, and in all other hours of the day, she pursues public speaking, cookbook writing, documentary filmmaking, and exploring new ways to change the world using her own story. Follow her on Instagram (@daynaaltman).
Recovery Conversations is a question-and-answer series that features voices and stories of eating disorder recovery. In this post, Dayna Altman joins us to reflect on the lessons of her recovery and the power that she has found within the storytelling medium.
Your work is rooted in storytelling. How did storytelling play a role in your recovery process?
Storytelling has always been important to me in terms of hope and recovery. In my early recovery, I feel I was searching for stories of recovery that were not only inspiring but also authentic. I think it was hard to find those stories in some ways. I was really searching to learn from someone who was in recovery, not necessarily “recovered.” As I really grew into myself and into my own as a mental health advocate, I aspired to become “that person.” Now, my own storytelling has been an invaluable part of my recovery. I get to share my own narrative and, in turn, help others feel courageous to seek treatment, support, and/or therapy. It is also through my work that I have given the space for others to share their stories and truly elevate the community voice. I have been so honored to bear witness to stories of recovery. In fact, I created a way for others to share their recovery stories through mental health cookbooks made by my organization. Bake it Till You Make it combines stories, recipes, and mental health resource pages.
How would you describe Bake it Till You Make it, and what was the inspiration behind it?
Bake it Till You Make it is a community-based organization that uses food and baking as mechanisms for mental health storytelling. We aim to inspire authentic mental health conversation in the kitchen, around the table, and beyond. Through the creation of mental health cookbooks bound together and sold on Amazon and at places like Barnes & Noble and Target, the facilitation of live cooking demonstrations and mental health presentations, as well as the hosting of community events, Bake it Till You Make it hopes to create a more “palatable way” for all to better understand mental health. The inspiration for Bake it Till You Make it has been my own story and struggle with mental health. I live with depression and OCD, am a survivor of sexual violence, and am also in long term recovery from an eating disorder. I have found power in combining food and storytelling and have seen what being given an opportunity to share has done for others–that is so special.
Tell us about your pop-up exhibit, Watch Me Rise.
Watch Me Rise is an immersive exhibit meant to inspire exploration of voice, power, and purpose in mental health recovery through poetry and baking by Bake it Till You Make it LLC. This exhibit combines select poems that I’ve authored and illustrations created by Bake it Till You Make it community members. This experience is meant to inspire visitors to discover their own voices through reflecting and engaging with both the poetry and interactive art pieces in this exhibit. Targeting college-aged students and young adults, this experience is ideal for those continuing to learn about themselves and build their identity. During the pop-up event, all visitors will receive a journal for reflection. This journal includes prompting questions inspired by the poetry and a QR code link to an original score accompanying the exhibit, as well as a link to a community Pinterest board to upload digital reflections.
As participants move throughout the exhibit, they will also obtain the components of a bread making kit with the hope that at the end of the night, the bread will be baked at home and shared with loved ones. Each component of the kit will be aligned with the progression of the poem sections to mirror the steps in the bread baking process. At the end of the exhibit, there will be opportunities to further get involved with Bake it Till You Make it, purchase the poetry book, and take free mental health brochures, pamphlets and resources, as well as posters with hashtags for social media posts.
What do you see for the future of Bake it Till You Make it and Watch Me Rise?
I have been thinking about this and have so many ideas! In terms of Bake it Till You Make it, I hope to continue to do more of what I have built, including creating more books and hosting presentations and events. I hope the name becomes recognizable in a way that if someone needs inspiration, resources, or support, they know they can come to me or the brand. Watch Me Rise is new and I am so excited to introduce both the poetry book and the exhibit to the world! One thing I do have in mind for Watch Me Rise though is “Watch Us Rise” which will be a weekend retreat to support the creativity and advocacy of young people!
What one word would you use to describe life with an eating disorder? What one word describes recovery?
For me, one word that describes life with an eating disorder is “controlled” and one word to describe recovery for me is “free!”
What strategies help protect your recovery today?
I think my therapy team has been at the foundation of my recovery. Not only the weekly support, but also knowing they believe in and care about me has, in turn, inspired a lot of confidence in my recovery. I have also found joy in movement and baking (as you may imagine!); two things that felt very scary in the throes of my eating disorder. I also love to write and create art, whether it is journaling, working on a book, or painting in my room. I love the process of sharing my thoughts in a way that is meaningful to me.
If you could go back to the beginning of your recovery, what would you tell yourself?
I think my biggest barrier to recovery was my self-hatred and belief that I truly did not deserve it and that makes me so sad. I would love to be able to tell myself that there is no threshold or “perfect” level in which one would deserve to recover or like themselves and that it is okay to not only prioritize yourself, but also be proud of yourself.
What words of comfort/hope can you share with those who are still struggling?
If you are struggling, I hope you know that there is a life for you on the other side. It may not feel like you have anything without your eating disorder, but I know from experience if you step into the freedom that comes with recovery, you will truly be unstoppable!