I was having trouble breathing and felt an intense pressure on my chest. I thought I was having a heart attack. Turns out, it was a panic attack.
I never really gave much consideration to mental health until recently. It was in this past December that I realized my brain had a mind of its own. I know other people wage their own internal battles, but it wasn’t until our recent Chef to Chef Conference in Charlotte, N.C. that it was put in perspective for me.
I was listening to Chef Michael Matarazzo, CEC, Executive Chef of Farmington Country Club in Charlottesville, Va., discuss “The Three R’s: Relevance, Recruitment and Retention.” He talked about delicately handling a specific employee who was dealing with some personal issues. While he couldn’t afford to let that employee miss a day of work, he made sure to check in on him, monitor his well-being and let him go home as soon as he could.
Matarazzo also shared a story about his own battle with the mind. He had what amounted to a mental breakdown while taking the exam to become a Certified Master Chef. The stress mounted and became too much to bear.
I know the feeling and experienced the same reaction in December.
I’ve been claustrophobic for as long as I can remember, but always managed my irrational fear of tight or crowded spaces by avoiding those situations. My day-to-day life was never really affected. Then it happened.
I had scheduled a trip to Phoenix to visit a property and was looking forward to playing the golf course and touring the club. But something wasn’t quite right.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, I began having trouble sleeping. I’d wake up in a cold sweat from a bad dream about the flight. Every time I closed my eyes, something else would pop into my mind.
The last straw came the night before my scheduled flight. I tossed and turned for a few hours before finally giving up on the thought of sleeping. I was having trouble breathing and felt an intense pressure on my chest. I thought I was having a heart attack. Turns out, it was a panic attack.
I didn’t make it to the airport the next morning. I wasn’t even sure I could ride the elevator up 26 floors to the office. I did, and started making phone calls that day. I sought help, and received it, and have been able to travel successfully several times since.
I not only have loving support at home, but a very understanding and supportive work atmosphere. Not everyone has that. The aforementioned employee working under Chef Matarazzo has a strong advocate in Michael, and I hope each of you reading this column shares the same mental foundation. Beyond that, I hope you take a step back and consider what people in your life may be battling—whether it’s verbalized or not.
Chef Matarazzo received a lot of instant feedback and appreciation after his presentation at the Chef to Chef Conference. It was clear his remarks struck a chord with many who have dealt with similar situations, both personally and with those they work with.
If you have a moment, I’d love to hear what you and your club might be doing to help everyone—from part-time staff to management—cope with their feelings and handle day-to-day stresses that can sometimes become too much to handle.