'I was broken. I couldn't continue the way I was going'

The  Staff Canteen

No matter how desperate things feel sometimes, it doesn't have to be that way.

Last month, we launched a series of discussions in partnership with The Burnt Chef Project on the topic of mental health in the hospitality industry. 

For the second stream, our editor Cara Houchen was joined The Burnt Chef founder Kris Hall and ambassador chef Adam Simmonds.

Adam, as many, can't pinpoint what triggered his problems. 

All he knows is that both his mental health and his addiction worsened until he reached a point of despair. He does, however, distinctly remember the moment where he realised that he wasn't coping. 

"It's as clear as it was yesterday, he said. "I was sat at the end of the counter at The Test Kitchen and I was broken. I couldn't continue the way I was going. 

"I was a daily user, and I used a lot."

"There was a trigger inside my head that said that I couldn't continue like this."

The first person he called was his sister, and for him this was a pivotal moment. 

"From speaking about it, that gave me the ability to say: 'I've got to change.' But I had nothing. No soul, nothing. I was the shell of Adam." 

Telling his family was the hardest thing, but the support he received after was "immense." 

Crucial to recovery of any sort, he said, "It's about having that safe environment."

You need people who you can confide in,"where you can feel protected - and that's another factor of why people don't speak out." 

Prior to opening himself up to talk about it, "the stigma was so strong," he said.

"I wanted to talk about it, I wanted to get off the hamster wheel years before I did, but it was about how I could." 

"I wanted to talk about it but the words wouldn't come out. It's silly really how I thought about it then." 

Like The Burnt Chef project, he believes that "it's about learning that there is no shame about it. It shows great strength to talk about it. I've lost friends to it, but it doesn't matter to me. I don't need those people around me."

Thanks to the work he's done, the chef truly feels like he's been able to turn a page.

"It's better, I can deal with life on life's terms, and I can deal with what life throws at me 90% of the time." 

Lockdown 2.0 

We've all seen the headlines about how the coronavirus and lockdowns can be psychologically detrimental, and we've all experienced it once, so know that it's anything but easy on the mind.

And for those who struggled the first time around, isolation, weather changes and further economic uncertainty is likely to be difficult.

"The first time around, Adam said: "I had no idea what to expect."

While he kept busy, "mentally, I wasn't prepared for what was going to go on in my head." 

But by eating healthily, writing his thoughts down, and keeping in contact with the outside world, he feels a lot more mentally prepared.

"You have to adapt to changes," he said. "ut that's fundamentally where I'm at right now." 

More than anything, especially for chefs, "routine is so important."

"We're used to getting up and going to work - routine is about getting up at a regular time, making sure that I'm active in the morning, I make sure that I eat properly, and it is so important that it is balanced - because it's all good for the brain." 

He exercises twice a day, he said, "because I know that it will help me, and I need structure in my life." 

Only listening to the news once a day, in the afternoon, he said: In the first lockdown, "I watched it in the evening and I would go to bed thinking about it." 

"It's very difficult not to think about the situation. As much as we say that we have to be positive, it's surrounding us on a daily basis. You have to think about how to do things to avoid the anxiety." 

As for what employers can do to support their teams in these difficult times, Kris suggested that employers "should jn'tust let people go for a month," and instead that they should try to check in regularly, perhaps even taking advantage of the rule which says that two adults from different households can meet outdoors for exercise. 

"The employer has a responsibility to check in and make sure that they're okay," Adam said. 

Going back

Through becoming an ambassador for The Burnt Chef project, Adam is hoping to help others like him speak up about their problems, but also to help employers navigate them.

"One of the biggest things for me," he said, "if you turn to addictions - is that employers don't cut people loose. That's not solving the problem, it's still there. It's about giving people the ability and the support to change. It's about saying: 'you're going through a change, but we'll support you.'" 

"It is an industry problem - not one property or one business. 

"We can all say that it's been like this for years - but that's not the point. 

Kris agreed, and added: "It's about changing the conversation. It takes a brave business owner to reevaluate how things are being done."

One thing is for certain, and that is that despite everything happening in the world, there are indeed changes taking place in society and in the industry when it comes to talking about and dealing with mental health issues. 

"Making myself redundant - that'd be the best case scenario," Kris said. And while we don't wish joblessness on anyone, his might be one we could make an exception for. 

Tune into our Facebook page for the next live discussion on the topic of mental health on Wednesday 11/11 at 4:45pm, where we will be joined by The Burnt Chef Project co-founder Kris Hall and Andy Lennox, chef and owner of Zim & Wonky Table. You can rewatch last week's talk with Alice Bowyer, executive chef at the Butcombe Brewing co. on our YouTube channel.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th November 2020

'I was broken. I couldn't continue the way I was going'