Over the course of my lifetime I’ve had moments in which I have felt isolated and alone.
I have noticed that in part, I isolate myself and keep myself alone.
When I became a chef, I began to understand the notion of ‘family’. You’re with people all day, who you can laugh with, go through stressful times with and smash through service together. The kitchen is more than just a place of work, it becomes your family home. This sort of family that can either lift you up and support you mentally, or, because they are so close, they can play a part in dragging you down.
When I am struggling with workload or with my mental health, I have often resorted directly to cigarettes and alcohol.
I tend to isolate myself from the crowd, hide, and not speak. When this happens my head to takes over, my mental illness can control what I’m doing and make an already stressful situation worse.
As a commis I learned very quickly that any progression in this career would also bring with it increased stress levels. The more I worked, the harder I tried, the harder I played and needed help to get by. I never asked, I never burdened and I never cried.
The family style life we get from kitchen work with its loaded responsibility for getting a job done well, meant I never felt I couldn’t speak to my brothers and sisters, just that illness, be it physical or mental seemed to not be allowed. You would be letting your crew down.
If you took a day off sick, people didn’t believe you were actually ill – so why would anyone believe you about any mental health issue.
I suffer with a strong form of disassociation.
It makes it that much harder, not having any recollection of things I’ve done when it gets bad.
I had a head chef, who, after I first tried to kill myself really stepped up to help me. He was really supportive. Really drove me. But still I could not speak. I just always said I’m okay. And there are times where I still say ‘I’m okay’ when I am not to this day.
After a heavy down period I turned myself into a robot to get through. This was the point where I decided that it was time to start being able to open and push for a bit more support at work. I wanted to find a way to make a change in our voiceless industry so that people were comfortable enough to start talking about it. Accepting that mental health illness is real life, a lot of us live with ill health and we do not have to be ashamed. It is not a weakness.
This is how Pilot Light was born – working with Andrew Clarke to influence professional kitchen staff to speak out and challenge the stigma attached to speaking about mental health problems.
At Pilot Light we believe the more we talk, the more we can help.
Keep the fire burning, smash the stigma, you are not alone.
Don’t let that pilot go out!