#wearenot9to5 Daniel Bui

#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.

Daniel Bui @chefdanbui

My name is Dan Bui.  I’m currently part of the sous chef team at Rosalinda, a plant-based vegan Mexican restaurant in Toronto. This year has I have truly put into place the learning experiences that I have acquired.  Happiness is now my main priority and it feels good.

I have struggled with mental illness for a large part of my young adult life. It didn’t come out of nowhere. I have always had low self esteem and serious anxiety since I was a kid. I didn’t know it as that. I thought I was just shy. I thought I just got stressed easily, because “life is hard”. I didn’t realize that being a first generation Canadian coming from a lower-middle class conservative Vietnamese family had an impact on who I am.  It really did. It shaped my understanding of life as a kid, and my understanding and values.  My parents raised me the only way they knew how, to work hard, make sacrifices, don’t let people know your vulnerabilities.

Growing up, I didn’t realize what depression was. I didn’t realize that other people struggled the same way that I have. I had the wrong idea that having “mental illness” means you are crazy, you are damaged, you are a reject of society. I didn’t want people to think I was weak, that I was sad and afraid. Its taken me a lot of practice and growth to be transparent and real with myself. I have learned that I need to acknowledge my feelings when they arise. I need to be honest with my emotions and my intentions.

In 2013, I had my first suicide attempt. I had my first crush in my adult life and I didn’t know how to deal with these emotions.  Things did not work out as I planned which launched me into a very bad place. The depression that I felt was unreal and it lead me down a dark path. It made me become a person that I don’t like and to making bad decisions with this person that eventually cost me our friendship. Through all of this, I couldn't see past that one person, I didn't know how to move on . I felt that I had made mistakes that I couldn't live with and so I made a decision to take my own life. 

At the hospital, I was diagnosed with OCD and instituted until they were convinced I wasn't going to try to harm myself again.  I learned a lot about myself there. To date I have made 4 attempts now in my life, and the most recent was a little over a year ago.  Life constantly gives you struggles, you just have to learn how to deal with them. I learned that my OCD has been a huge part of my success as a chef, but it has also been a crutch. I get too obsessed with things that just aren't worth it.

I have learned that my mental health and happiness need to come first no matter what stresses me out at work or in my personal life. None of that other stuff is as important as my mental well being. When I am at my best, everybody and everything seems amazing. Positivity reinforces and creates more positivity. I have been fortunate and grateful to have had many wonderful people and souls in my career that have been like family, and have been non-judgemental and empathetic while I have been down. I also acknowledge that it is I who have created a support network around me. 

The biggest lesson for me is that perception is everything. You can attain information and experience, but you have to choose to apply it in your life or not. You choose to be happy and you choose to be positive. When I realized this, my life became magical, and possibilities have been endless. The restaurant industry is hard, stressful and it is intense. It's okay to leave the industry if its not working out.  It's okay to not want to be under constant pressure. You don't have to be on edge all the time to get the job done. This isn’t life. 

I'm now at a point where I feel really comfortable bringing mental health discussions into my place of work. My coworkers know me as the person to talk to when they are down, or having trouble coping with something. I try to be a person who can hold space for others in a safe and non-judgmental way. I love to encourage wellness. I often talk about meditation and breathing, but dancing and smiling is what I advocate the most. I dance almost all the time, its liberating for me, and my teenage self definitely couldn't predict who I would be today.

I think in the end, it's just really important to remember that you are where you are supposed to be, and that’s okay. Patience is a virtue. There is nothing that has to be right away, and expectations don’t always have to be met. Smiling is important! Don't be scared of the future or live in the past, it doesn't do anything positive for you. You're in the present, look around, there are beautiful souls and moments happening everywhere. Breathe in that fresh air, soak in the sun. Feel that sensation? I am here, you are here, you are beautiful, and trust me, life is pretty sweet.