We have to unlearn habits that were taught to us within a chaotic/traumatic upbringing! Lizzey Gregory
Barista, Grain & Hearth Bakery/Chocolatier
I have suffered from mental health problems since I was about 12 years old and onwards, it’s always been a huge chunk of my life that I generally tend to keep to myself as it stems from childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault. At 18, I was hospitalised after a failed suicide attempt and it was there under, under observations, that I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), PTSD and Anxiety. The most difficult part of my mental health, is explaining what my diagnosis’ mean and trying to diminish the stereotypes that come along with a Borderline diagnosis. It is common for borderlines to be labelled as manipulative, controlling, evil or uncapable of love, when in reality we are individuals that are hurting a lot. We have to unlearn habits that were taught to us within a chaotic/traumatic upbringing, it is a mood disorder that comes with huge variations of symptoms which can be very debilitating and where there is stigma, there is shame felt by the sufferer. When I was younger, I used to pretend to run a restaurant, I would bring everyone plates and cups and pretend to take their order and as I grew up food has been the one career, I saw myself getting into. I really liked that I could fill somebody with joy just by making a dish with love, we all know how great that feeling is when you see your food coming in a restaurant, but do we all think about what goes into that plate of food? Do we think about the impact this industry can have on one’s mental & physical health?
My first job was in a small pub as a commis chef, whilst on shift I had to cross the restaurant to get to our cold stores and I was confronted by a group of customers staring at me. They made very loud complaints to my manager and head chef to say I shouldn’t be allowed to mix with the customers because the self-harm scars on my arms would upset their children. This was probably the first time I really received prejudice for my scars, but most definitely not the last. The general treatment I have received from previous employers regarding mental health has been very poor, there was never any understanding or empathy shown when you expressed your struggles, any endeavours to take time out to rest was always denied and pushed aside as an excuse not to work – I found this to be even worse in bigger, high-street corporate companies; you were often made to feel guilty for calling in sick which often caused me to have panic attacks because I’d feel an internal push and pull between listening to my body & allowing myself to rest or listening to my boss, continuing to work and eventually burning-out and adding more stress to my situation.
For me, this industry is probably the hardest to be in. It’s tough, long hours and very little time for your friends or family, we rarely get a real break or to spend holidays with loved ones because we are busy cooking/serving a restaurant filled with other families. Being a very MALE dominated industry, it also comes along with underlying toxic masculinity and you are automatically treated with less respect for simply being a female chef. They either believe you are incapable, despite your skillset, or think you are “just a pastry chef’ only capable of making simple desserts and nothing more. You then get told you can’t hack the job when in-fact it isn’t the job you can’t handle; it is the circumstances that come with it. The emotional challenge it inflicts. (I’m not saying all male chefs do this, it’s just a popular opinion and feeling amongst female chefs). Chuck in mental health struggles and all the stigma that comes attached to it, mixed with staff that aren’t trained or educated on the subject and you’ve got yourself a bit of a sticky situation, to say the least.
Since moving to a smaller, independent work-place I have seen the huge difference there is in regards to how they look after their staff but unfortunately that isn’t the case everywhere. They have shown great support as employers and show much more kindness and compassion towards each other. I believe the only way to improve the lives of hospitality staff is to implement mental health training in the workplace that benefits both employee and employer, if we do not educate people about these issues we will continue to have severely depressed chefs/hospitality staff that continue to use alcohol, cigarettes and substances as a means of dealing with their stress.
We should be opening up the conversation to our colleagues, checking in with each other so we can support each other wherever there may be a need for it.
Photo Credit:-Dave Bullivant