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#wearenot9to5 Hassel Aviles

Updated: Aug 13, 2018

#wearenot9to5 is a series of mental health experiences from people in the F&B industry to fight the stigma & shame. Mental health affects us all.

Hassel Aviles @hassel_aviles (photo by: Brilynn Ferguson @brilynnf)

“I have never publicly told the story of how I started TUM (Toronto Underground Market). For years I felt too embarrassed and ashamed. Now I understand that its important to share my story. Putting my story out there makes me feel vulnerable and exposed but also proud that I am in a place now that I can openly share.


In Spring 2011, I had been a stay-at-home mom for 3.5 years. During both of my pregnancies I had antepartum depression. This really messes with your head because society looks to you to be ecstatic & glowing while pregnant. I felt irritable, sad and full of grief for my old life. After having my second child I also got postpartum depression. To add to that, my youngest daughter had colic and didn’t sleep through a full night for 14 months. She would sleep 20 minutes, or 45 minutes or a few hours but never more than 4 hours for over a year. The sleep depravation became almost fatal. There is a reason they use sleep dep as a method of torture. Not to mention that everything I did from morning to night was for the kids, I was lost in motherhood and hadn’t created enough space for myself. 


The negative thoughts took over my mind but I would find ways to cope. I saw friends, family and self medicated with too much wine, coffee, etc. One day it all became too much & I no longer felt safe being alone with my kids. I was thinking and feeling things that were unspeakable. I managed to ask their dad and my family to help me by taking the kids so I could make my way to CAMH ER. I had never been before but had heard about it and knew it was recommended for times of crisis. I was so nervous, anxious, terrified and was shaking uncontrollably. I feel nauseous even telling this story today, the fear I felt was like nothing I have ever experienced. 


I ended up with a team of doctors, therapists & psychiatrists who all suggested the same diagnosis & treatment. I was suffering from severe sleep deprivation, depression and anxiety. They all told me numerous times that I needed to rest, sleep and find people to watch my kids for a week. I fought hard against this as I felt it was an impossible ask but in the end settled on 5 days. I am forever grateful to my family that helped make that possible. I was also told to do things for myself and especially whatever makes me happy. 


Day 1 felt very foreign and I didn’t know what to do with myself. On day 2, I took myself out for coffee with my laptop. I decided to finally launch a passion project that had been on my mind for weeks. All of the fear I had felt about being a first time entrepreneur now seemed way less scary after this mental health crisis. The concept was centred around my favourite thing in the world: food. I had read about the underground market in San Francisco and felt that Toronto needed its own. That day I created a blog, a Facebook page and a Twitter account for TUM. At the time my ex-husband Andrew Richmond & I had already started the concept of La Carnita pop-ups with the other partner but I wanted to do something to help push it to the next level. After years of working in restaurants and now experiencing the struggle to start our own restaurant concept it became clear that this was a challenge that all food entrepreneurs face. Everyone has the drive, an idea and willpower but maybe not all the experience, knowledge or capital.


Within 48 hours I had dozens of media requests for interviews and hundreds of emails from people who wanted to participate. The rest is history in terms of what TUM became and what I was able to turn it into within a few months along with a volunteer army of incredible humans passionate about food. Meanwhile, I was healing from the rock bottom crisis I survived, facing my intense fear of having a spotlight on me and came to terms with my social anxiety. I got through that difficult time with lots of therapy, antidepressants, meditation, mindfulness workshops, yoga along with the love & support of amazing friends and family. 


Along with an incredible team, that Fall I brought to life the first event on September 24, 2011. We continued this almost monthly for 3 years. TUM transformed the food event culture in Toronto and helped launch dozens of careers and food businesses, many of which still exist today and remain successful. In the end something tremendous and beautiful was able to come from the darkest time in my life. It seems impossible but even in the deepest darkness comes light.”