Living with those thoughts....
I, like many others, have truly little to be unhappy about. I am truly fortunate and lucky to have an amazing group of supportive family and friends, I know many don't, and this only adds to my feeling of helplessness and despair. My anger is sometimes uncontrollable, I lose control and so far fortunately for me, I have an amazing wife who keeps me in check. For how long I don't know, what I do know is it can't continue, I feel like a dog who should be put out of its misery, it would be the kindest thing to do. Being honest like this is somewhat of a relief but also compounds my depression even more. I have two beautiful, amazing, and wonderful children who I would lay down my life for, but again, some days that annoys me because, some days, my life has little value to me, and they deserve better.
Reading this you may have already judged me, and that's ok, I judge myself too, which is part of the problem. We live in a society that breeds competition, where there are winners and losers, achievers, and non-achievers, and those of us who hold ourselves to standards we will never achieve and therefore will never fit these labels. Chefs fit the latter, always striving for perfection, but honestly, do we ever really achieve it? If we reach perfection, is it then a job worth pursuing? Is it worthwhile? For the betterment of oneself, these questions are Rhetorical. I hope I never reach perfection because that's the day I stop discovering and learning. However, coming to terms with this, is another issue, it's another way of looking at yourself in a negative light.
Low self-esteem, plays the biggest part in depression for most, not knowing your true worth is difficult to comprehend, when especially sometimes feeling like just a number is a common occurrence, especially in this industry. I feel there is a lack of building people up, through fear of competition within the ranks, to admit sometimes someone is simply better and embracing them, without taking it to heart.
I live with multiple, long term conditions, which leave me crippled for weeks on end, and in pain that is so distracting, I just want it to end. My knowledge and collection of painkillers would rival most hospital doctors, and I now have severe secondary conditions, because of them. I have tried them all, and I can assure you the only way is up, and not just in the high sense. I started with over-the-counter painkillers self-prescribed, then the doctor moved me on to opiates, and now have the displeasure of oral morphine for an hour's relief. It is not constant, but I have monthly flare-ups, sometimes weekly so I'm constantly waiting for the next crippling attack, sometimes the knowledge of just knowing it's coming back, makes me ask if it's worth it.
Some may say that's weak-minded, and I would agree on first thoughts, I'm disappointed constantly in myself for asking the question in the first place, but I would ask what would you do in my situation? I'm open to ideas, as I'm at the point I want them amputated because I would be better off without them. How do you explain this to people who can't comprehend that level of pain? It's hard, but I'd rather live through one more epic pain event in my life, than a life of constant not knowing when the next attack will come. I am young enough I could adapt to my new legs and the lifestyle changes that come with it, but for many, this is too drastic and not an option in the UK.
Health and mental wellbeing go hand in hand. If I were healthy, not constantly drugged up and not worrying about the next potential flare-up, I wouldn't be depressed, therefore I wouldn't need medication either, so for me it's a downwards spiral all stemming from my physical health. I got lazy and I put on weight, my diet was terrible, and I was always far too tired for exercise. I didn't help myself at all.
I recently found my birth mother and now have knowledge of my family history. All those years I had beaten myself up about my health issues being of my own doing, I now know are genetic, predetermined, and not all down to me. Funny, for some reason I feel relief in knowing this.
Many of you by now have formed an image of who I am, some would say, the typical chef, anger issues, mental health issues, physical health issues, poor diet, drugs, and generally pissed off. I wouldn't blame you. However, i am more than this, I am Son, a husband to an incredible wife, a father to two amazing children, a friend to those in need. What we portray daily in life to those around us, might not be who we are in the depths of the night! We may seem strong but can cry ourselves to sleep, we may seem like a leader, but really all we want to do is run and hide, we may seem angry but all we want is to be understood. These pressures are what breaks us. These unobtainable macho bullshit ideals of perfection, which are impossible to reach, as the bar is always moving.
How can we switch off to this mentality when it is us who put these pressures on ourselves? Inevitably we set ourselves up to fail, and many fall into the depths of addiction, to escape the ever-growing picture before them. Given the current situation, time off, and fear and worry of financial issues, I can imagine it's a hundred times worse right now. The constant numbing effects of my prescribed medication is what keeps me away from the illegal ones, so I can be thankful for that.
Talking to people helps, but much easier said than done. How do you explain to someone who has never felt or experienced the lowest points in life, that sometimes giving up seems the easiest choice? Well, the answer is you don't. There are people like me who understand, that are willing to hold out a hand to help, even if it is just to chat. There are like-minded people, who feel just the same in one way or another, and collectively we should be helping each other. Put the competition aside and ask your fellow chefs how they are, how they really are? Let them know they can lean on you if they need to, let them know you hope today is a good day. Acknowledge them and let them feel more than just a number, you never know when you will need the same in return. If someone is hurting, pick up the slack for them, help them, you never know when you will experience what they are experiencing. You may never know how brave they were being, just to be there to support you, you may never know the pain barriers they have been through just so you can have your garnish for a Friday night, you may never know how much they hate themselves for overcooking that one steak. Let them know at the end of the day, they are more important than the diner sitting in front of them. Small kindnesses go a long way, and for some they mean everything.
In these uncertain times, I find myself worrying more about what the future holds for my children more than I do myself, I have simply resigned myself to a life of pain management, but I'll be dammed if I'm going to lead a life of misery, I owe my family and perhaps, more importantly, myself a fair shot at being happy. This means wholesale change, dropping the opiates and the antidepressants, fixing my physical state, therefore improving my mental state of mind, and hopefully turning a leaf. I'm hoping to be drug-free by 2022 and on the road to self-improvement. My diet will change to a more plant-based diet based on an anti-inflammatory diet, as a chef, veganism has been a challenge so I wonder if as a consumer it will be equally challenging?
Spending more time away from the kitchen with people who have a place in my life will be the next major step in moving forward. Filling my immediate surrounding area with positive people creates a positive environment that can only lead to positive outcomes for me. Perhaps this is selfish, but believe me, I think I have earned this one.
The road to perfection is one that you need to be wary of, it's a fantastic ride, but the fall is a large one, and one they don't tell you about, the one you need to learn to deal with yourself and one many will run away from.
The outside world after life in kitchens is a scary place, routine disappears, the adrenaline surges have long gone, and new highs don't seem to quite cut it. Can we adapt to the new life and new ways? As you all know as well as I do, we are a very resilient type of human, we conquer new problems every day with creative fixes, we put our souls into our final plates and we love what we do, the only difference I'm seeing for myself now, is that my life deserves the same opportunities. In the same way, I will always wear my heart on my sleeve.