A new start after 60: catatonic depression left me unable to walk or talk. Now I teach cookery – with laughter

In her 50s, Zeenat Fayyaz lost three years of her life to a breakdown. Her recovery began with electroconvulsive therapy – and continues with the classes she runs at a community cafe

Many of us would agree that laughter and good food make life worth living, and Zeenat Fayyaz combines both. She runs a five-week cookery course at a community cafe near her home in south London and each lesson begins with five minutes of laughter yoga. She demonstrates one exercise – exaggerated movements where she pretends to make and then drink a milkshake that finishes with a great “Ha ha ha”. “The concept behind it is your brain can’t differentiate between real and fake laughter, so you get the same health benefits,” she says. Besides, it’s so silly that real laughter follows. “It connects people; it’s an icebreaker.”

Fayyaz, 62, says she wanted “to do something for myself, something I can call my own. I’ve been cooking all my life and so I’ve turned my life experience into something I can support myself financially with.” It feels like “a miracle”.

In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123, or email [email protected] or [email protected] In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 800-273-8255 or chat for support. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis text line counsellor. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org

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