Written by James Burger
I had always been seen as an angry chef. Sort of followed me round job to job, the assumption I would lose my cool at the slightest hint of resistance. It wasn't until Kris came and took my photo for his new project, that I actually associated any of my outbursts with stress, burnt-out or depression.
The more I spoke about it and listened to stories, the faster it became apparent, I had been struggling with my mental health for years. I couldn’t ignore it any more when it eventually exploded into a full panic attack, one morning serving breakfast, after a string of chefs leaving, staff arguments, owners demands and building rota hours. I finally sought help and ended up with the diagnosis of anxiety and subsequently, depression.
I was horrible after the diagnosis, I was a victim of my own stigma, a complete misunderstanding of what it meant and how to react to it. My bosses at the time, whilst supportive, still didn’t completely get it, I struggled a lot, at first. Finding it hard to accept that the one thing I could do and the industry I love, could lead to my health being so seriously harmed. I argued with everyone about the help I needed. I Refused to admit that .
I eventually did reach out to a mate, told him about what was happening, how I was feeling. That each morning, the thought of running my car into a lamppost was preferable to work. He insisted I got help, and checked on me daily until I did.
But I was still working, I had moved job, thinking a reset and returning to my first job would help, then covid hit... and the flocks of idiots flooding to Bournemouth, to the restaurant, sent my anxiety through the roof. Even just doing takeaway, i was hurting, struggling. Then lockdown hit!
Everything I thought I wanted got thrown into question, I’d wanted to leave the industry, yet missed it. I wanted to re-train and find something new, but the time I said I didn’t have, I now did... yet didn’t use it. Instead I cooked. I played, developed, tried new things, brewed, pickled, fermented. Made kombucha, sour dough, vinegars, wines... I fell in love with food again through lockdown. It gave me time to reflect on what had caused me to decline, to Burn out. It wasn’t the industry, it wasn’t food or cooking, it was WHERE I was doing it.
I started more conversations through lockdown, with anyone I could, all the chefs I knew of in the area, chefs I knew had been supporters of The Burnt Chef Project. Touching base, hearing their stories of struggles and hardships as well as the positive experiences they have had. The Burnt Chef Project, through lockdown connected me to chefs and industry people I could relate to, and who understood what I was feeling.
It connected me, to one more than most. I got a message towards the back end of Lockdown from Kris, about a job opening in Butcombe. A group I new nothing about, but one with string links to The Burnt Chef Project. I got the job and started a month before food was allowed to be served again. What a company! Supportive, invested, forward thinking and food lead. I was back!! I loved being a head chef again. Felt brilliant to be doing what I loved again, back with people who got what I was doing. But around the re-launch and reopen snuck in and the self doubt I knew too well returned.
The planning, the work, the effort, the success, all meant for nothing as my mind told me it wast enough. Down the spiral I went again, every negative building and building. Every mistake adding to the last and every positive or success being ignored completely. I was tired , not through over work, but through over thinking! I didn’t sleep, my mind running through every mistake or slip I’d made the day before.
It was hard again, to think that despite the help, despite the pills, I still wasn’t ready to get back to where I had been. But up stepped Butcombe, recognising my struggle and moved me to a different site. One with less pressure, and here I thrived. After five months at the new job, I’m great. My mind is mostly clear, my family are looked after, my new son and daughter have a happy daddy and my wife has her husband for a reasonable time each week.
I would say to anyone who is struggling, who is close or at rock bottom. Please reach out, please talk to anyone, find someone who will badger you to get support. Support is not a weakness, it isn’t giving up! Without support, and badgering, I would still be burying myself in a thankless job for people who didn’t care for me.
I was lucky, I got lockdown to give me time to make me see what i missed about this beautiful industry. I do love it, in spite of its hardships and down sides. Where else would I put myself than in a room full of chefs? My best friends are from this industry. My wife grew up In It, its hospitality, its hospitable by nature.
We attract the misfit, and that’s awesome but dangerous. It can feel lonely at times, then again with 72 million people working in the sector, surely one of those people will get you!? Talk. Please.
If you need support, please reach out to us.
You can text BURNTCHEF to 85258 in confidence, free, 24/7 from the UK.
𝗕𝗨𝗥𝗡𝗧𝗖𝗛𝗘𝗙 𝘁𝗼 𝟴𝟱𝟮𝟱𝟴 (𝗨𝗞)
𝗛𝗢𝗠𝗘 𝘁𝗼 𝟳𝟰𝟭𝟳𝟰𝟭 (𝗨𝗦𝗔 & 𝗖𝗔𝗡𝗔𝗗𝗔)
𝗖𝗮𝗹𝗹 𝟬𝟴𝟬𝟬 𝟵𝟭𝟱 𝟰𝟲𝟭𝟬 (𝗜𝗿𝗲𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗱)
𝗖𝗔𝗟𝗟 𝟭𝟴𝟬𝟬 𝟭𝟵𝟴 𝟯𝟭𝟯 (𝗔𝘂𝘀𝘁𝗿𝗮𝗹𝗶𝗮)
𝗖𝗔𝗟𝗟 𝟬𝟴𝟲𝟭 𝟯𝟮𝟮 𝟯𝟮𝟮 (𝗦𝗼𝘂𝘁𝗵 𝗔𝗳𝗿𝗶𝗰𝗮)