Glance at the Instagram feed of My Little Panda Kitchen and it looks like any other stream of elaborately decorated bespoke cakes. What you won’t expect are the candid discussions about managing a mental disorder that emerge in the captions and comments.
“Mental health, both struggles and wellness, is a huge part of who I am, and it felt disingenuous to just be a pretty cake Instagram and a small business that is really just me, and not actually talk about the real things happening for me,” says Annabelle McMillan, owner and sole worker behind My Little Panda Kitchen.
Annabelle deals with a range of mental health issues alongside managing her two businesses, My Little Panda Kitchen and Maker Kitchen – a shared commercial space in Petersham.
“My particular issues are around Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), dissociative disorders and complex trauma, and all the other stuff that comes along with that, like anxiety and depression”, she says.
If you are one of her almost 20 000 followers on Instagram, it’s likely you already know this. Annabelle is incredibly open about the state of her mental health and is not afraid to chat about it in the comments.
She uses her posts to facilitate an honest discussion about mental health and give advice on how to manage it.
“Today I’ve been sleeping, went to the doctor to get my mental health plan review and do blood tests to check my iron and B12 levels, picked up my meds prescription cuz I ran out last week, bought laundry powder and dishwashing detergent… it’s amazing how much life admin falls to shit when you’re running yourself ragged with work. If I don’t take time to take care of myself, I can’t keep doing what I love (and what people want from me). A tough but important lesson to keep remembering,” a caption on one of her Instagram posts reads.
The brief: “she loves chocolate, mango, blue, tropical and native flowers.” Well, this is what I came up with! 💧🐠🌾🍍🍰 Email catch ups happening ASAP. Today I’ve been sleeping, went to the doctor to get my mental health plan review and do blood tests to check my iron and B12 levels, picked up my meds prescription cuz I ran out last week, bought laundry powder and dishwashing detergent… it’s amazing how much life admin falls to shit when you’re running yourself ragged with work. If I don’t take time to take care of myself, I can’t keep doing what I love (and what people want from me). A tough but important lesson to keep remembering! 💕
In an era where people make careers from branding themselves on Instagram, how does discussing mental health so openly affect a business?
“I think there’s a lot of pressure on social media for businesses, and people, to be beautiful,” says Annabelle. “…it is really difficult to post about the nitty gritty stuff, because maybe an advertiser or business won’t want to engage with that,” she says. “You can miss out on valuable opportunities because your stuff isn’t beautiful and perfect all the time.”
Mental Health in Australian Workplaces pic.twitter.com/E0CpOPHKya
— Helena Ladomatos (@helenalado) March 24, 2018
But this hasn’t been the case for Annabelle, as talking about her mental health has strengthened her relationship with customers.
“I really found that if I was more honest, then people were more receptive.”
According to Dr Grant Blashki, prominent people talking publically about their mental health is a good way to encourage conversation in the community.
“When high-profile people are prepared to talk publically about mental health, it really raises the profile, and also helps people to feel more comfortable to talk about their own experiences,” Dr Blashki told SBS News recently.
As well as discussing the state of her mental health, Annabelle also uses the platform to share advice.
“If I have this platform and for some reason nearly 20 000 people want to look at my f**king cakes, then they can also listen to me talk about how to access a GP and get your mental health plan so you can get to a therapist,” Annabelle says.
The latest topic being discussed on her Instagram centres on the idea of self-care being just a pamper session.
“A super frustrating thing is the idea of self-care being just spending money, which is stupid,” says Annabelle.
“No. Self-care is setting boundaries, which is good for your overall health – mental health, physical health. Make sure that you’re looked after… so doing life admin even if its fucking boring like going to the doctor … is so, so, so important but it just gets lost or forgotten about and people don’t talk about it.”
As a result of her honest posts, Annabelle has built a two-way stream of communication, with followers often commenting on posts with their experiences and advice.
“I’ve been thinking this so much lately seeing all the self-care lifestyle posts. Nothing against yoga or face masks, both of which I do enjoy, but my current self-care is accepting that I need to increase my meds and following through with it,” Annabelle’s follower dimsimkitty comments on a post.
Annabelle also uses her platform to talk about mental health issues for people of all demographics.
Her large number of followers respond well to it, often thanking her for providing information on a particular issue, such as transgender issues.
“I love you and everything you stand for hun! I’ve learnt a lot about the personal and emotional issues surrounding transgenderism thanks to your honesty and captions. And you do it in such a non-patronising way which I appreciate!” comments rainbownourishments on a post.
“Thank you for using your platform as a voice for others and raising awareness – and holding a mirror up to unquestioned social conventions and norms. You are doing a great job and are an exemplary citizen,” user jessdunnthis replies.
For Annabelle, the benefit of being transparent with her audience is what they give back in return.
“I think the biggest thing has been being able to and feeling safe to be vulnerable and ask for help if I need help… I think one benefit of building community is that then you can lean on that community when you need to.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, you can visit your local GP or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
This article was subedited by Dylan Vidal.