As the night sky blankets Cincinnati at 3 a.m., a faint glow emanates from the kitchen window of a small apartment. While most University of Cincinnati students who are awake at this hour are up to their eyeballs in tedious lab reports and last-minute reading, James Avant is caught in a frenzy of mixing bowls, whisks and measuring cups. The apartment fills with succulent scents as he blends together lemon zest and raspberry puree. His everyday stress and anxiety pours into the batter, fills the cupcake tin and rises into lemon raspberry cupcakes.
Avant’s cupcakes are more than delicious — they’re the edible gratification of mental health. The 22-year-old began baking to relieve stress after he was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) about four years ago. “I spent a lot of my days just kind of cleaning and counting and repeating, and my mind was kind of clouded with worry all the time, and so one of the ways I was able to overcome that in addition to therapy was through baking,” he says.
After one year of baking to relieve stress, watching YouTube tutorials and a getting little inspiration from an episode of Two Broke Girls, Avant decided that if we going to bake so often, he might as well profit from it, too. So he started a business, OCD Cakes, out of his home.
Obsessive Cake Disorder (OCD) Cakes helps raise mental health awareness through tasty baked goods. “OCD Cakes exists to take a bite out of the stigma surrounding mental health,” Avant says. “Cake is something that is commonplace in our culture and linked with so many different emotions, so why not take something you already use and consume and change the way you look at it in order to start positive conversations about mental health?” he explains. Five percent of the profits are donated to mental health agencies.
Going through high school and college, Avant personally experienced some of the negative stigma surrounding mental health. He recalls feeling the eyes of everyone in his classrooms burning into the back of his neck as he scrubbed desk with Lysol wipes before sitting down or got up out of his seat to clean up stray marks left by the teacher when erasing the board.
“You can’t make people understand what goes on in your head,” Avant says. “You have to do the best you can to find things they can easily identify with to make that conversation more comfortable. That’s why I use cake, because everybody likes cake!”
Avant says he also volunteers for local organizations, such as Su Casa and the psychiatry department of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “I really want people to see that I’m more than just giving away my product,” he says. “I really want people to see that I’m engaged in the wellness of others as well.”
One of the goals of OCD Cakes is to change the way people think about mental health. Avant says one of the reasons for this is that mental illnesses are more common than people think; it is important not to push mental health issues under the table or discourage people from getting help, because our minds should receive the same attention as our bodies. Like he bakes to de-stress, everyone needs to find constructive ways to get their feelings out. That’s why Avant says he wants to be as loud and proactive as possible about mental health issues. “We’re only going to make progress is everyone’s involved,” he says.
For more information about OCD CAKES, visit ocdcak.es.