I am not one to talk about personal moments of my life, but doing so today, in this newsletter, seems quite appropriate.
To start with, when I was only a baby (well, in order to understand the present you need to look at the past, all of it…), it seems I could not sleep, and somewhat did not manage well breast milk (crying constantly, until my mother introduced solids by 6 months, and the crying went, but a monster appetite). But in those days, there was not much choice, and I do not believe my mother would have considered baby formulas. A few years ago, I have asked my GP for a Lactose Intolerance test but came back negative – although, I have naturally given up on cow’s milk over a decade ago.
Aged 6, I already suffered from horrific Psoriasis (being quite an anxious child), several fungal skin infections every year, and just could not put on weight. I was always too small and too skinny for my age. But I had a massive appetite.
Until my late teens, I was also prone to Hypoglycaemia, and could barely engage in strenuous activities. During all those years, I could only sleep 3–4 hours a night: writing up a shocking overdraft in my sleep bank of about 35 hours a week. I was sent to a Homeopath and then to several Acupuncture sessions, but still could not sleep.
Until I was 15, I was also prescribed several courses of Vitamins and Minerals, as it seems I was not assimilating anything from foods, at which time I left home for catering school, and studied for over 6 years to become a Michelin-star trained chef. The last 2 years also included private wine tutoring, and being a non-participating member of the Sommeliers of the Hotels and Restaurants of the Côte d’Azur (Nice. France). I was working evenings and weekends as a freelance chef/waiter to pay for the price of independence. A typical week at my Catering College was about 65–75 hours, with over 24 hours of practical. On a Friday, I would finish our cooking class at 10.30 pm, the whole afternoon, cooking at the college restaurant for paying clients.
At 21, I was send by Alain Ducasse to one of his Private Membership club in London, and worked there for a year, with 1 day off a week on minimum salary, working 18 hours a day. Not really able to afford central London rent I was in a flat in North London, and travelling back at 2 am would take me about 1 hour and 15 minutes. I would have to be at work at 8 sharp the next day. Feeling I could not carry with the intense rhythm, I moved on to work for a chain (I had in mind to go back to France, but only when I was fluent enough in English), and within days I was made Sous-chef. This also meant I had to go to work on days off to cover absent chefs, or execute (the much needed) Head-Chef tasks.
Feeling unappreciated, I went to work for some of the most prestigious outside catering companies, and I was welcoming the change. Especially, that not one day was the same. But it also meant that at busy times, I would not have a day off for at least 4 months at a time.
In down times, I would be jobless, until the high peak season started again, and the cycle would begin again. During the less busy times, I would work for agencies, and it was a great eye-opener, as for the very first time, I was diving in the kitchen of English-run establishments. I was sent to over a hundred restaurants in a year. With my Michelin-star background and intensive training, and self-discipline, I could not bare the carelessness of so many kitchens, the lack of quality and the keeping of the kitchen itself – so many restaurants I would never set foot in, for I know what the kitchen looks like and what is happening there.
I needed a change, and I was still young enough. I wanted a break from it all. Still considering going back home. I worked in a small brasserie in Covent Garden as the sole chef, and then moved on to working at the bar. It was such a great change. Fast-paced but I was grateful for the human interactions.
Then the company asked me if I wanted to work in one of the trendiest clubs in London. And off course, I said yes.
I was still not sleeping regularly, so it was fine working until the early hours of the morning. I would work at the club Thursday to Monday nights. At the same time, the previous chef agency contacted me because they had a great opportunity: breakfast chef at a 5 star hotel in Noting Hill. A pposition, which could lead to me becoming Sous-Chef within months. I accepted the position after only one day working there.
The intense schedule meant that I was working from 6.30 am at the restaurant until 3.30pm (since I had to join different brigades, to familiarise myself with the menu and the philosophy of the place).
At 4.30 pm I was back at the pub, until 2.00 am Tuesdays and Wednesdays. And, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays, I was working overnight at the club, from 6.00pm to 6.am. On Sundays, I would start at 4.00 pm till 10.30 pm. Sundays were the only days I could afford to sleep. Every other day, I would only lay down in bed for 1 hour.
I was also cycling to and from work. It was so much faster and convenient, and cheaper, than using public transport. It meant I was cycling for about 3–4 hours a day.
I never felt so happy. So wired. So healthy. So it seemed.
After 1 year and a half at full regime – running on empty, with no proper diet and no sleep –, one morning, I literally could not move. I tried to get up from bed but collapsed, unconscious. Not only once but three times. By 2.00 pm, discombobulated, and quite scared, I asked for my GP for an emergency visit.
His face said it all. He told me to stop everything and just rest. Even if I wanted to, I could not ignore his recommendations. For three weeks I was unable to move from the bed, my body aching, my brain drowning in a constant fog, and unable to eat a proper meal. It took 6 months to feel normal again.
I had Adrenal Exhaustion.
With 4–8 strong coffees per day, I felt invincible, but the subsequent crash was a price I could not afford, nor the rent.
Psoriasis was back. During all those years, I would have a bowel movement a week, or sometimes it could be 10 days to 2 weeks (I was sent to the Cromwell Hospital, because I had passed 3 weeks and the pain was just too debilitating to ignore).
I suffered from painful reflux, gut discomfort, such as constant bloating and pain.
It seems that I did not learn my lesson.
I was given the opportunity to work as a private chef, for one of the most influential composers of our time, and I was so very honoured I could not refuse. For the next 7 years, I mostly worked 7 days a week and in several locations, sometimes on different continents, never having any me-time.
Then another wake-up call pulled me out of the routine. I had pneumonia. I thought it was because I was working in an air-conditioning-blasting kitchen on board a motor yacht, and sleeping only 2–3 hours a night for months on end. Something had to give. I was sent home and I would not get better after 3 months. I could not swallow any food for my throat was so painful, and had 41˚c fever for over 21 days, at which point, I asked my GP to stop all Antibiotics course and to see a consultant. I was lucky to get an emergency appointment at the Nose and Throat hospital in South London on a Saturday morning. The consultation was the most heartbreaking and appalling (in the way it was conducted). The Consultant was shaking his head, saying: “it doesn’t look good. It really doesn’t look good,” me with tubes running deep inside my nose, unable to talk [or scream].
I was told it was cancer, was send for biopsy, and that I needed to have surgery at the earliest possible availability. This was set for the following Tuesday.
I had lymphoma and one of the nodules in my throat was over 1.5’ in diameter, which was removed with other nodules and both tonsils.
I had lost taste for over 18 months. The inside of my mouth had been incinerated, and the following recurring throat infections would not pass. My immune system was far too overwhelmed to be efficient.
I took this sabbatical time to rest, having no much choice in the matter, and it is not so great when you are fighting infections, after infections, and fever makes you shiver in a hot summery day.
You would think I would learn my lesson?
Not as yet.
I was given the great opportunity to work for Fashion Week as a private chef and that meant I was travelling to great destinations, but working from 5am to midnight every single day. 7–8 weeks on 5–6 weeks off. In the weeks I was home I was working Monday to Friday as a personal chef, alongside personal trainers for my marathon-runners and competing clients.
But by then, I had a goal. I was ready to sail towards a new life, and I needed to save enough money for me to succeed. I did this routine for 3 and a half years.
Then, I was ready to start the first day of my new life. I had enrolled in Biomedicine, then Nutrition and Naturopathic Medicine courses.
Because, I cannot do things small, I also registered for a CBT courses, NLP and Personal Performance Coaching.
I know this is al lot. But I have a vision. And to turn my life upside down, I need to sacrifice just a few more months, then I am set. Just a last push.
I am already benefiting from nutrition, finally truly understanding the power of food. I have found my ideal weight, no more yoyo-ing, no more inflammation, no more gut discomfort, no more stress, and my bowel movements are exemplary.
But, one fact still remains. After decades of damaging my Circadian Cycle, I still cannot sleep properly. One night a week or every two weeks, I can say I am sleeping soundly and waking up refreshed. On other days, I sleep 3–5 hours. And on some days, and at times, I would not sleep at all. This week, for example, I have not yet slept and it is already Friday.
I have tried several treatments, which include Acupuncture, Homeopathy, Tissue Salt, Herbal supplements, Aromatherapy, Meditation, Mindfulness, Binaural sounds, massages, and socialising. And trying my best to be in a good mood every day and smile – smile and look up at the sky –, just because.
What remains is that STRESS is my number one issue, and this is preventing my brain to switch off. Until I have dealt with the root causes of stress that is impacting on my life, I will not sleep. This newsletter was therapy for me, and I wanted to share this journey with you, because I believe STRESS can ruin someone’s life, and the medical conditions linked to stress are too debilitating to ignore.
My personal advice: be selfish. It is ok, at times, to want to be alone and enjoy life. Put a foot on the break and let go of all that is heavy on the shoulders, and just say stop: “This is my time now, and I am taking it!”
Learn to listen to your body. Tune in!
Do the things that make you happy. Socialise with the people who are making you a better person and make you laugh. Laugh and Laugh some more. Smile and look at the sky. Smile, just because.
If you cannot escape from stress, especially at work, then manage your work load better. If the deadline is too short. Mention it. Remember a bit of stress can increase productivity, but if the deadline is all you are thinking off, this is now counter-productive!
Registered Naturopath, Nutritional Therapist, Iridologist, Lecturer, NLP practitioner and Personal Performance Coach.