Tonight is the first meeting for an organization I've been working on called Mile High Hospitality Hazards. Before I can open a meeting tonight encouraging people to have conversations about the tough stuff, I feel like I'd be doing a disservice not to share my own. So, today, I'm sharing the "why" behind this new project.
I’m one of those lucky people who’s always had an idea of what they wanted to do with their professional life. For me, it’s always been food, writing and marketing. But, if you’re close with me, you know I have another passion that lives within my personal relationships — and that’s mental health. I’ve never shied away from tough conversations, and my life is more or less an open book for others. Even when I was young, I got an inexplicable spark from investing deep in other people’s stories… those conversations that start with, “How are you doing, really?” and then charge on late into the night. I have friends that joke that having a friendship with me is, “I want to know everything, or I want to know nothing.”
Truthfully, a lot of this stems from my own inner-workings. I wasn’t formally diagnosed until post-college when a stomach ulcer had me in the hospital, but I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life. After my dad died, I watched situational depression turn into the clinical kind. I felt the open person I’ve always been shutting down. Although I was outwardly sharing stories of grief through writing, I stopped answering phone calls. I retreated into myself. I convinced myself that my own thoughts and feelings weren’t worth sharing one-on-one, frankly because they weren't positive. I didn't have a solution to offer people anymore. “You’re too depressing to catch up with right now,” was a common thought running through my head every time I watched a friend’s name pop up on my phone.
Therapy and medication have helped me tremendously, but I still I find more solace in opening up, even when it’s difficult. This period of my life has shown me a glimpse of what other people feel all the time — a true difficulty in sharing.
In April, I became obsessed with doing something about it. Specifically, I was intent on combining these two passions by becoming laser-focused on mental health within the industry I’ve worked with most closely my entire career — the restaurant industry. I owe my business, my passion, and everything to these folks. I wanted to find a way to give back to a group of people that has given me so much.
The restaurant industry is filled with this epidemic, and I spent weeks researching it for a piece I wrote for 303 Magazine. But, just shining a light on it didn’t feel like enough. My soul was aching for more. So, John Hinman - the main focal person of my piece - and I decided to start a group in Denver to encourage these tough conversations. To build a support group around people who need it most. To take better care of the people who are taking such good care of us in restaurants every night.
To be honest, I didn't expect much from it. John and I said we'd be happy if three people show up. We were so confident in a low turn-out that we're hosting the first meeting in his very small bakery space. But, timing is a funny thing. The news of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide has undoubtedly drug this uncomfortable conversation into the light. And, it happening just three days before our first meeting has been alarming at worst, and confusing at best. The event has been viewed more than 3,000 times.
I've spent the weekend stressing about finding the right words to say tonight. How do you lead a conversation about mental health to a room full of people who have just witnessed a public suicide of one of their idols? What do you even say? I felt that depressed side of myself creeping back up... like watching the phone ring and not picking up. Again I feared the only conversation I'd be able to carry on would be too depressing for the person on the other line.
But, this morning, I woke up with a little more clarity. I remembered that it's not about the right words as much as it is just being willing to speak at all. Sometimes, there's power in just standing alongside people who are feeling the same way you do. Throwing your hands up and saying, "What the fuck is happening? How can we be there for each other?"
Obviously, in the wake of a loss like Bourdain, there's been a lot of social media posts saying, "If you're hurting, reach out." And, there's been an equal amount of criticism calling those posts "empty words," pointing out that depressed people are usually unable to take initiative on their own. But, I'm here, as someone who still struggles with that daily, to say that you can't hear "please reach out" enough times. You can't create enough opportunities for people to plug back in when they're ready. We can't beat down the door of every person in the restaurant industry struggling, but we can keep providing a safe space for them to show up when they're ready. And, until we have better ways to handle and treat depression on a large scale, that will have to be enough.
I promise to share an update of how tonight goes this week, thanks for all of your support.