AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin mom Erin Lawler has dealt with generalized anxiety and depression for most of her life. But things took a more difficult turn after the birth of her daughter and the development of postpartum depression.

“In the weeks of her infancy, I experienced severe postpartum depression, which was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. And the only way I can describe it to people is I felt like my brain was on fire,” she said.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit more than two years ago, Lawler found herself with her four-year-old daughter at home and plenty of unstructured time. That brought back similar anxieties she experienced in the early days of her daughter’s life.

She launched her baking blog, Sugar and Spice Home Baking, as a way to spend more time with her daughter and put her love of baked goods to work.

“It gave a rhythm to our day and an activity that we both looked forward to,” she said.

Now, Lawler said she’s hoping to combine her baking skills and personal experience to raise awareness and hope for people struggling with PPD.

Lawler is one of several home bakers and bakeries participating in the Depressed Cake Shop, an initiative promoted by NAMI Central Texas each May during National Mental Health Awareness Month. Nearly 20 businesses and bakers are participating in this year’s challenge, which runs through May 14.

The Depressed Cake Shop concept was launched in England as a way to jumpstart conversations on mental health. The challenge to bakers is to create a dessert decorated with gray hues on the outside, and a rainbow design hidden inside.

“The idea is that, yes, during depression or during a mental health condition, we do face great times and we face difficult times — but then there is hope and recovery,” said Kate Hix, executive director of NAMI Central Texas. “And a huge piece of recovery is connecting with other people and speaking honestly and truthfully about your mental health condition. And so the Depressed Cake Shop begins that conversation.”

When crafting this year’s design, Lawler said she wanted to help visualize the difficulties new moms experiencing postpartum depression go through: The sleep deprivation, anxiety and overwhelmingness paired with the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

“I had plenty of people telling me there’s going to be light at the end of the tunnel….that was a very hard message to accept and believe at the time,” she said.

In her design, Lawler created a multi-tiered cake with a gray ombre design on the outside, topped with swirled gray fondant icing. When you cut inside, a layered rainbow emerges.

“I don’t think postpartum ever completely goes away, especially for people who are sort of wired that way. So I’ll always be anxious about my daughter’s safety, I’ll always worry about her,” she said. “But the relationship that we have now that she’s six, and I’m her favorite person on the earth and she’s my favorite? I couldn’t have imagined that….it’s like a cloudy day in a rainbow.”