Bittersweet Brownies with Matcha Frosting + The Stigma of Bipolar Disorder

An easy recipe for Bittersweet Brownies with Matcha Frosting + a discussion on the stigma associated with bipolar disorder.

An easy recipe for Bittersweet Brownies with Matcha Frosting + a discussion on the stigma associated with bipolar disorder.

“Never give someone a reason not to hire you” – a well-meaning friend. 

Frozen. How many times have I used that word to describe myself in the past few months? I’ve lost count. I said it when I wrote a post discussing how sad I am about the state of things in the US right now. I turned off commenting on that post because it felt like the right thing to do. Maybe I should have done that here as well, but at some point it seems counter-intuitive. I’d hate to stifle anyone’s thoughts, especially if they connect with what I write.

An easy recipe for Bittersweet Brownies with Matcha Frosting + a discussion on the stigma associated with bipolar disorder.

For the most part, I’ve always been a private person, and I’m not sure how I feel about people commenting on my life. Also, I know that some folks will skim directly to the recipe and only comment that the brownies look yummy. Or that matcha is gross. Or delicious. Whatever, that’s fine. Most of the time, I only write about food; this is not one of those times. If you’re not into it, scroll to the recipe. This is a no judgment zone.

An easy recipe for Bittersweet Brownies with Matcha Frosting + a discussion on the stigma associated with bipolar disorder.
An easy recipe for Bittersweet Brownies with Matcha Frosting + a discussion on the stigma associated with bipolar disorder.

“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls.”

-Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking

A few weeks ago, Jeff and I watched a documentary on Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, released in 2016. The filmmakers followed them, had quite a bit of unrestricted access, and were given old family footage. When Carrie’s struggle with bipolar depression was addressed, I became emotional. Surprisingly, I think that was the first time I listened to someone describe their experience.

I have bipolar II disorder. I wrote about it in the intro to my cookbook, but I’ve never put the words down here, or anywhere publicly online. I wanted to write about it a few years ago, but a friend talked me out of it. When I asked around, others agreed with her. It could hurt my business. Companies might not want to work with me. Bipolar is a loaded word. It evokes fear and uncertainty.

An easy recipe for Bittersweet Brownies with Matcha Frosting + a discussion on the stigma associated with bipolar disorder.
An easy recipe for Bittersweet Brownies with Matcha Frosting + a discussion on the stigma associated with bipolar disorder.

“That person is acting so bipolar.”

Why is there so much stigma attached to bipolar disorder? In my opinion, it has to do with a lack of understanding and Hollywood dramatization.  For the most part, people’s entire understanding of bipolar comes from the media. Images of Brittany Spears shaving her head or Bradley Cooper’s character in Silver Linings Playbook. Did you notice I said I have Bipolar II? Did you know there’s Bipolar I and Bipolar II? Most people don’t even realize that Bipolar II exists. It’s not nearly as exciting and it gets less attention. Those who suffer from clinical depression are often comfortable discussing it openly because the stigma has been mostly removed in our society. The stigma of bipolar disorder will never be removed unless people talk about it. I was moved by Carrie Fisher’s willingness to speak so openly.

If I’m told not to talk about this because I could lose work, the implication is that I’m somehow defective. I’m not. This isn’t some shameful secret. In fact, the more I speak up, the more empowered I feel. People are usually surprised to learn about my diagnosis, because I seem so “normal.” Yeah, I’ve gotten that reaction. You know, modern medicine is a glorious thing. But I’ve struggled a lot over the years. I’m not going there right now.

An easy recipe for Bittersweet Brownies with Matcha Frosting + a discussion on the stigma associated with bipolar disorder.

The world can be a scary place and this is a frightening time. I live in a suburb of Washington DC, and you can cut the tension here with a knife. There are constant calls to action. Not to get completely off track here, but I feel very strongly about this and it’s relevant to the topic at hand. If you suffer from depression and/or anxiety, remember to take especially good care of yourself right now. It’s important to step away from social media and the news sometimes. Disabling Facebook was incredibly helpful to me. I have a feeling there will be calls to action for a very long time, and it’s ok if now is not the right time for you. That’s not privilege. That’s listening to your mind and your body, and taking care of yourself. There is no shame in stepping away if that’s what’s best for you. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

An easy recipe for Bittersweet Brownies with Matcha Frosting + a discussion on the stigma associated with bipolar disorder.

A few brief words about the recipe. Chocolate and tea are very soothing to me, which is why I chose these brownies to accompany this topic. I’m extremely late to the matcha baking party, though I’ve been drinking it for years. Some blogger friends surprised me with a gift of hot chocolate mix + matcha marshmallows for Christmas, and I was immediately hooked. Culinary grade matcha is a bit pricy, but a little goes a long way. It pairs incredibly well with the chocolate.

Print
Bittersweet Brownies with Matcha Frosting
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
40 mins
Total Time
1 hrs
 

An easy recipe for Bittersweet Brownies with Matcha Frosting + a discussion on the stigma associated with bipolar disorder.

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Servings: 16 brownies
Author: Jennifer Farley
Ingredients
For the brownies:
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 1/2 ounces (5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 ounces (1/3 cup) all-purpose flour
For the frosting:
  • 8 ounces (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 - 2 1/2 teaspoons culinary grade matcha powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, and grease an 8x8-inch pan with baking spray or butter. Optionally, line the pan with parchment paper, allowing two sides to hang over the edges (this will make the brownies easier to remove from the pan).
  2. In a large heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, stir the bittersweet chocolate and butter until evenly combined and smooth. Remove the pan from the heat.
  3. Add the sugar and whisk vigorously until smooth, followed by the eggs, vanilla, and salt. Add in the flour and stir until smooth.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the brownies to cool to room temperature.
  5. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on high speed until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, then scrape down the sides. With the mixer on low speed, add the sugar, 2 teaspoons of matcha and salt. Mix until the dry ingredients have incorporated (add another 1/2 teaspoon matcha to amp up the flavor if desired). Scrape down the sides and turn the speed up to medium-high, allowing the frosting to mix for another 30-60 seconds, until light and smooth.
  6. Carefully lift the brownies out of the pan and place them on a cutting board. Use a spatula to evenly frost the brownies. Cut into 16 squares and serve.

 

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  • I’m glad you’re talking about it. I get the hesitation, but you’re right–that stigma needs to go.
    Stepping away was scary at first. I was told through a mutual friend about the Facebook disabling and tried it. It’s helped immensely with my anxiety. You’re right–there will be plenty of calls-to-action to come. Put face mask on first before assisting others. Lots of love to you.

  • I heart this post so much.
    Thank you for being so honest and sharing your struggle. I feel like we’ve come a long way towards accepting mental illness, but there’s still a lot of misunderstanding around bipolar.
    The world is a messy, scary place right now, and self-care is more important than ever. I miss your posts on FB, but I totally understand.

  • My mother has bipolar I and is an incredibly difficult lady, and for years we just went with our dad’s explaining away of all of her bad behavior to her bipolar disorder. It wasn’t until my siblings and I grew up and I went to med school that we realized that the bipolar wasn’t the problem at all– the problem is that she has malignant narcissistic personality disorder with quite a few borderline personality disorder characteristics. (Imagine having someone who behaves like Donald Trump for your mother. Fun times.). And she’s a raging narcissist all the time, whether she’s manic or depressed or neither, so she’s always a horror show. It made me realize that a lot of the time when someone uses the term “bipolar,” they are really talking about this cluster of personality disorders. Like that Katy Perry song “Hot and Cold”– I remember listening to it and going, “That’s not bipolar! That’s borderline!” And the difference between bipolar I and II is very significant. I’m glad you are getting the word out. It’s not an easy topic because so many people misunderstand.

  • I’m glad you’re talking about it. I admit, I had not heard of bipolar II, so I did a little minor research on it. Hey, you’re educating people, and that’s another step towards removing the stigma surrounding bipolar disorder. Also, the brownies look great. ;)

  • Am so hearing you!After losing 3 people in my 55 years;(my ex father in law,an old friend that was present with the birth of my first daughter,as well as a young man I had known for most of his life).They all had woven themselves in and out of my life,but I was aware of troubles that two of them had dealt with.Not getting diagnosed,nor treated for mental illness.My ex father in law,I honestly have no clue why he chose to take his own life.Obviously they were in severe emotional pain.So,I,being only on Pinterest;created a “Mental Health Awareness”,board.Not much,but I agree with the stigmas.Was in therapy for years,due to horrible things done to me in my youth.Was diagnosed with ADHD and PTSD.Am meds free,and am at peace with most of my past.Is what it was.Life is short and fleeting.Embrace and love yourself and life with all it has to offer.Are a strong,talented,and giving woman.Wish you only the best in all you endeavor

  • I am so glad you are talking about this. Sadly, I do not know much about bipolar disease. However, I do believe that what makes us unique are the challenges we go through in our lives. A lot of people feel okay with keeping a face on their blogs that make them look perfect. I feel bad for those people as we all know that life is not perfect. On the contrary, it sucks, most of the time. As a blogger and a reader of a lot of blogs, I love people who are willing to be vulnerable as they share their stories and life struggles.
    I applaud you for talking about yours and willing to share your personal story. Your bravery is truly inspiring. Perhaps, I need to look into my own struggles and share them a little more. Who knows how many people we will get a chance to help/connect with??
    On a side note, these brownies look and sound so good. I haven’t gotten on the matcha boat yet, but I know that this recipe is one that I’ll try when I do so.
    Much love,
    Ice

  • Thanks for sharing, Jen. You’re very brave! The stigma of mental illness is one that can only be combated by people talking about it and realizing it is nothing to be ashamed of! xox

  • These brownies do look great and I was just thinking about buying matcha, so you’ve given me an excuse.

    However, I am glad you opened up! Sharing is important even if people can be mean. I have OCD and as you know germs are my main fear. Sometimes is affects how people perceive me when I don’t want to shake hands or stand there like a princess when something is dropped on the floor in public. But I have to remember that if people can’t accept me for who I am, I probably don’t want them in my life.

    I also wanted to comment on your political post since you turned off the comments. I do not agree with you politically, which I hope you will understand, but I think this is exactly the time when we should be baking cookies and trying to forget if just for a bit. The tension is terrible, the media is tough to watch, so sometimes it’s okay to turn on a movie or TV show (if you have Netflix watch Santa Clarita Diet – DO IT!) and bake and have a dance party and pretend like everything’s okay.

  • I’m so proud of you, Jen. Your candor and bravery is exactly what we need more of. Social media, especially, has us painting these perfect pictures of dreamy lives…while the reality is, most of us are pulling our hair out in one way or another. I needed to read your words about self-care. It’s not about being selfish or uncaring…it really is about preservation and wellbeing. Sending you big, fat hugs, my friend. OH…and these brownies are just gorgeous. <3

  • I happened across your blog because I am thinking of starting one of my own. I read your post with the 20 tips for new food bloggers and was in love with your writing; clear, succinct, with melody. The title of this blog post caught my attention, and I wondered, “can she do that? Can you blog about food and relate it to life? Especially something so stigmatized.”

    After reading the post I am humbled by your writing and oddly peaceful. I’m glad that you are using your platform to address issues like these, they are important. I’m sorry if you’ve received negative feedback on this post, but I must say I was personally engaged throughout.

    Again, lovely writing. Beautiful photography. Great posts!

  • Honesty could, in my opinion, never hurt. It is an inspiration for the rest of us to be braver and stand out with our stories. Thank you for the lines, thank you for the incredibly good photos, thank you for the dessert, but most of all , thank you for the lesson ! Thank you so much !

  • I think it is so great that you are sharing this because there are a whole lot of people with bipolar! My husband has it and it is not an easy thing to live with. He has managed it best through diet and yoga. The yoga has been incredible, to say the least! No one can tell that he has it because it is not obvious. Bottom line is it is nothing to be ashamed of! Some of the greatest people have it! xO

  • Thanks for sharing your story. I agree with you completely that we need more stories like this, not less. Though scary, it’s brave of you to open up and I’m sure your words will let many of us out here know that we are not alone. In a larger sense, I think blogging has changed in the wake of the political turmoil in the US right now. It feels easier to have an opinion, to share more, and move the discussion beyond what’s yummy – it feels a little more like the early days of blogging. Take care, Jen.

  • Kat Kinsman wrote a memoir (Hi Anxiety, 2016) about living with anxiety disorder. David Leite wrote a memoir about living with manic depression (Notes on a Banana, April 2017). Here’s the thing your story is yours. Thanks for sharing some of it and entrusting it to your readers. Kat went on to start a forum called Chefs with Issues with the intention of trying to help destigmatize mental health issues in the restaurant industry. (And, you must know, I’m a sucker for matcha and chocolate any day of the week.)

  • Thanks so much. I’m currently going through a diagnosis process and I already know I will be diagnosed, it’s just a matter of accepting it. Reading experiences like this are so so important and incredibly helpful. So big thank you from the bottom of my heart. Once I get this thing sorted in my head I will join you and do my share in talking about this loud. All the best!

    P.S. I just found the delicious looking photo in Pinterest and then saw the bipolar connection, the timing couldn’t have been better.

  • I baffles me too, because it is a mental illness. Not like people choose their condition. It is awesome and brave and excellent that you shared your story Jennifer. I love knowing that doing so makes you feel stronger. Brava! Oh, and the brownies do look good. ;) xoxox

  • Thank you for sharing, Jennifer! The more people share, the more they understand. It is so hard to decide how vulnerable to be in these spaces. But ultimately, I feel like we are here because of the connection we make with each other, whether that be food, personal stories, or all of the above. Knowing we aren’t alone in our own struggles is huge. Hugs to you. xo

  • all the more power to you jennifer. in all honesty, i’ve experienced a mental illness in the past too – mine was the type that i could fight and it doesn’t control my actions anymore. i’ve spoken about it publicly, it’s made my work what it is and turned my blog into something that i’m extremely proud of. i view myself in a different light since sharing my story too, and i’ve never received a harsh reaction. the word ‘normal’ gets me all the time too! what is normal? other than another meaningless label society coined. i don’t believe anyone is ‘normal’. i love reading honest stories like this, it makes the other person on the side of the screen all the more human and endearing. oh, and gorgeous brownies too Xx

  • looove that beautiful matcha frosting! I’ve never used matcha in baking and feel like I need to make that happen…sooner rather than later.

    And thank you for opening up here – I’m actually currently on my psychiatry rotation at medical school, and it has been really eye-opening as to how devastating the stigma associated with mental illness can be. Take care of yourself <3

  • You are brave. Thank you for sharing. I have my own “stuff” and I agree with you completely, sometimes cutting out social media is important. It’s scary, sometimes I fear that these “timeouts” will be a waste of my life. Hope you are going strong!

  • These brownies look incredible. I’ve made matcha with white chocolate chip cookies – love them!
    More importantly, thank you for sharing that you have bi-polar II. I’m a veteran with PTSD and honestly, baking really helps when I’m having a yucky day. Your gorgeous recipes will definitely come in handy :-)