What the Fuck is Wrong with Me? Mental Health and the Cheffing Industry
An honest and eye-opening story from a dear friend of his experience with mental health and the confusion that led him to a dual diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder. This person has given me permission to publish this blog and share some of his own artwork which has supported him throughout his journey as a man living with many mental and emotional challenges; battling his way through a normalised, emotionally abusive industry. Below is just the beginning of his story, and by writing this he hopes to encourage others to reach out and talk.
"I started in the cheffing industry at around 15 years old. I had already had my first experience of depression in school but I wasn’t aware of what it was at that time. During this time, I discovered quite a few different substances from an early age. So, from 15/16 -19/20, I had various addictions to amphetamine, cocaine, and prescription drugs all whilst holding down a full-time, high pressured job.
I was always aware I had a huge fear of abandonment due to my childhood and because of this fear, I regularly felt a huge pressure to please my family and so despite all the internal battles, I had to keep on working. I knew something wasn’t right as I wasn’t drinking and using drugs to have fun; It was to numb my brain and put it into a state where it didn’t work.
I am in an industry where mental health doesn’t exist; being anything than tough is classed as weak. I was told regularly to “man up and crack on” When I look back, I realise this was abuse but as a young man, growing up in a society where mental health wasn’t talked about, I internalised this and believed there was something wrong with me for having such deep sadness and anger within me.
I would regularly look at other people who seemed to be functioning just fine which left me even more confused about who I was and what was wrong with me, I thought everyone’s brains worked the same until I spoke to a friend about how fast my thoughts raced through my head and it quickly became apparent that he didn’t relate to this at all.
My rapid thoughts could either keep me focused on a topic for hours or they would overwhelm and immobilise me, like fast-moving chunky soup.
I began to hear voices at this point which left me feeling even more alone than I already did because I was in an environment 12/14 hours a day where I had to be something/someone else. I began feeling alone at this point, who the fuck was I gonna talk to about hearing voices. I couldn’t speak to my family as I was too afraid of being abandoned and as I said above, the cheffing industry is brutal.
My addictions became a form of self-harm and I didn’t give a fuck whether I woke up or not. I would regularly end up in 10s of thousands of pounds of debt because of my addictions, so as you can see, things spiralled.
At around 24 the anger I had always experienced hit a climax when I found myself in an uncontrollable fit of rage whilst at work, surrounded by very dangerous kitchen utensils; had my friend not supported me and prevented me from causing harm; I would have landed myself a life sentence in prison.
I realised I needed professional support as I knew I wasn’t a horrible person but there was something inside me that I had no control of. So, I found a private therapist.
My therapist was the first person I’d seen professionally. I had already started googling/YouTubing certain things to see if anyone else struggled like I was. The first thing I thought might be wrong with me was schizophrenia which seemed to fit. I carried on with endless research and began counselling at the same time.
Within 10 minutes of my first session. My therapist referred me to the GP, it was as if she just knew. This woman changed my life, she was the first person I had ever talked to about what goes on in my head. It was the most alien experience to go in there and talk, I had dealt with everything in my whole life by myself so it felt unfamiliar.
For 24 years I had mates but no one ever really knew me, who I was, because I kept myself/my thoughts/feelings hidden. I was working with my therapist for around a year. I don’t know what it was but we just clicked and she was mint, and we got on. The whole angry, aggressive, bad man persona I had on; she saw right through that shit. My parents didn’t even see through that shit.
There were things I experienced that I didn’t think were even real, I didn’t think anyone would believe me. And she did believe me which completely changed my life. I was able to talk about my whole life, and she was the first person I felt safe enough to do that with. I never went in with my head melted from whatever drugs I could get my hands on; I went in with a straight head-on.
I thought I had gone through all the hard times and constantly fought my way through life but I realised not dealing with problems and not talking about them is far easier than facing them, so that became the hardest part. As a man, growing up and working in an industry surrounded by other men who never showed any emotion other than their anger and high pressure to get the job done, it was weird to go into a room and be vulnerable, this took guts and it was the best thing I ever did.
Up until this point I'd always been viewed as a nutcase, hence why the cheffing industry suited me because… I was talking about something but I’ve forgotten where I’m going so let’s fuck that bit off.
It took a while for me to believe this worked but I realised therapy was the scenario I needed, she was someone I didn’t know, she was able to get me to talk and it was that simple. That one person, that one woman, she did that.
There was one session I had where I was in a rage, I kicked the door open and told her I didn’t wanna be there. Her response was “thank you for coming” She didn’t give a fuck that I was so angry, she wasn’t phased. I was bouncing. She gave me some felt-tip pens and some paper and asked me to draw something.
I told her to “fuck off,” She asked me what I liked and I said I liked waterfalls so she told me to draw a waterfall… I didn’t know how to draw, I was constantly told by my art teacher I couldn’t do it. However, I started drawing and 30 minutes later she said my name, I looked up and I genuinely had a smile on my face, I wasn’t in a rage anymore.
My first diagnosis was Borderline Personality Disorder, I had seen 3 psychiatrists and was diagnosed within 3 months. Shortly followed by a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.
The first part of this was tricky, I was sacked from a few places and I don’t blame them I wasn’t fit to work. Once I had come to terms and had the diagnosis, I felt I understood myself a lot more. I understood why I felt different and couldn’t relate to other people so I looked for other people with similar experiences
I still now have to make a conscious choice not to get fucked up with drink, I don’t enjoy getting to that point but I have an addictive personality with a lot of shit in my head so I have to be aware of that.
The prescription medication side of it is a tool that helped me ensure I can sustain a job and be a member of society. I can’t emphasize how important that is. I don’t like to admit it but it is a tool, it doesn’t have to be a permanent tool but it helps.
For anyone reading and relating to any of this here are a few coping strategies that have helped me:
· Breathing – learn about breathing, if you’ve got anger /rage learn how to breathe. Learning about breathing changes everything.
· Dealing with uncontrollable emotions, as soon as you can become aware of the triggers, and warning signs, breathing is the first thing.
· Outlets – you need to express each major emotion and creativity any shape or form can give you a form of expression, writing, pottery, drawing – anything at all.
· Find outlets for anger, expressing a beast within, I’ve thrown things, punched walls, ended up in fights etc. Finding healthy ways to express those intense feelings will help release them.
· Alone time/ space – knowing yourself, know what you need and when you need it. Knowing you need alone time is imperative to making a relationship work. Having an understanding relationship who supports you and is willing to accept you and what you need. Someone to confide in and whom u can trust.
· A safe/comfortable environment
· My main outlet is music, chill-step in particular, the silent forest mix (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18NHV4nJLQc) and art.
The be all and end all, you can’t compare and compete with other people, everyone’s experiences, disorders, and life are different but it is possible to feel useful, be successful, productive, to do something. This shit isn’t a life sentence, sometimes it’s harder than others but it’s made me who I am.
Getting to the point where every day is not a huge battle anymore is a freeing feeling. I don’t see myself as different or compare myself to others anymore as this is my life and my experience.
Society is changing how we deal with mental health and the cheffing industry is too, speak out, there is no shame and the sooner you access help, the sooner you can deal with it. The more people speak out, the more awareness is out there!
Thanks for allowing me to share my experience and I hope this helps someone else reading this."
Guest writer, male, mid-30s