Harrison Ward

Mental Health
Young People

Making great food to fuel great adventures

June 14, 2023

Trigger Warning: Suicide

‘Alcohol is optional’

My name is Harrison Ward, I am also known as Fell Foodie. I am a mental health advocate with a passion for cooking, hiking and combining the two.

I grew up in Carlisle in a loving and supporting family. As a child I was this happy go lucky, glass half full kind of character. One might even say I was extroverted. As I reached adolescence, however, everything changed for me. Almost overnight I experienced a wave of self-loathing, demotivation and insecurity. Suddenly I was forced to put a mask on every day before I went out, so as not to be a burden on anyone.

For me it wasn’t an option to tell anyone, not even myself. At that time there was a male bravado aspect around talking about mental health in the form of the expectation to simply keep calm and carry on. I thought that if I acknowledged this problem to myself and others I would be seen as weak. So, I suffered in silence, hoping to get through the day.

At the same time, I started a Saturday job as a pot-wash. The job gave me a bit of pocket money and independence, but also introduced me to a new realm of people and harnessed me with a trade. By the time I was 15, I had progressed to waiting on the tables. By 18, they had trained me up as proficient behind the bar.

Bartending would be my first introduction to alcohol. While I enjoyed the social aspect of chatting with my colleagues, over a pint after a shift, what I looked forward to the most was the sensation that alcohol gave me. A few pints and all of the thoughts of self-loathing and insecurity stopped, just for a while. Finally, I had found an escape.

Due to this, I decided to go full time at the pub alongside my studies. The more shifts I worked, the more money I had to buy pints with. Alcohol became a key part of my life.

At 19 I moved to York for university. Academically, this was the move I wanted, but I was now drinking heavily most days and I relied on it medicinally. So, whilst I should have been focusing on my degree, I found myself back in the hospitality trade full time.

Nothing had changed, I was just in a new city. Still battling with my mental health, alcohol allowed me to escape the bad thoughts and work provided me with the money to do this. Consequently, I dropped out of university to pursue bar work full-time.

By the time I was 20 years old I had reached 22 stone, drank 20 pints and smoked 20 cigarettes a day.

One particular moment that sticks out at me from this time was my 21st birthday. My home friends had come to visit me in York, and we went out drinking. One by one they left to go back to their respective cities of residence. When the last friend left, it dawned on me how alone I was in this city. I had acquaintances but I had bounced around between groups because no one fit my drinking schedule. I had become almost reclusive, uncontactable due to having no phone or social media.

This stuck with me, I stumbled home in the early hours, picked up a payphone, called my mum and said “goodbye”. I had been battling with my own head for so long and had reached my limit. I was going to go up on the tracks and take my own life.

I survived this, but if anything, I was annoyed that I had let someone in. I got brought back to Carlisle and sought medical treatment. But everyone kept asking me if I was okay and I hated this. I wasn’t willing to change. Within a week I had booked a train back to York. I continued the exact same lifestyle for another 5 years. I was a walking zombie.

During this time, I entered into a relationship. This was something I had always wanted, a partner to share life experiences with. However, in reality I was in a more important relationship at this time, and that was with alcohol. Initially I was able to keep the extent of my drinking habit a secret from my partner, as she worked a 9-5 office job, and I worked evenings in hospitality. By this time however, alcohol was my sole purpose each day. I would even drink from a coffee cup behind the bar. Consequently, as time went on little things were noticed; arguments between my partner and I cropped up, over me turning up to things late or slightly drunk.

One night my partner and I had another argument. My reaction was to go to the pub and get blackout drunk. I got so drunk that I was unfaithful to her. she found out and it was the end of our relationship.

I went to work the next day and my boss noticed I wasn’t acting my normal self. He asked me if I was okay, and I broke down. My boss then told me to take a minute outside, and I just stared at this wall for hours. So long in fact that my college had come to take over the afternoon shift. I had realised that my habit was hurting others around me. That wasn’t who I was as a person, but the alcohol made me behave in hurtful ways. I started to realise that I was an alcoholic.

After some time, my boss joined me outside and handed me a pint. “here” he said, “this will sort you out”. I looked at my boss and said, “I don’t drink anymore, John.”

From that day forward, I vowed to try and get sober. I moved out of York overnight without saying goodbye.

One day a friend turned up at my doorstep and told me we were going on a hike. I had none of the right equipment, just some battered old trainers and a jumper I wore to the pub. He took me to an outdoors shop, bought me some hiking boots and drove us to the base of Blencathra. There I was, 2 weeks off the booze and cigs, overweight struggling up one of the highest mountains in the Lake District. One foot in front of the other. At the top my friend  looked at me and said  “Helvellyn next week”. 

Something changed for me that day, a new addiction was sparked. For me, hiking became the ultimate metaphor; pushing through the pain, not knowing the destination, but having faith that I would make it in the end.

After this, hiking boots became running trainers; 1k became 5k and 5k became 10k. By the end of the year I had signed up for a marathon. 

Not a year had passed since I had started my sobriety journey and I had managed to drop  7 stone in weight and complete a marathon. This was a huge moment of self-redemption for me. 

When I got sober I had much more spare time to fill and one of my other passions had been food. I had learnt a lot from watching the chefs in the hospitality industry and thought it would be nice to make a stew or risotto and take it up the mountain with me.

My hiking mates, often jealous when comparing their soggy sandwiches to my grub, commented that I should actually take a stove out and cook from scratch on the fells. It gave me an enormous sense of solace. 

I created an Instagram account called Fellfoodie to anonymously document my cooking and ended up getting a substantial following. I decided I wanted to put my story out to the community I had built through Fellfoodie. The response was outstanding – so many others came forward and shared that they too  had found solace in the fells for similar reasons.  

Now I give back to the community by continuing to document my journey and teaching adults and children how to make great food to fuel great adventures. 

This tale was written by Millie Davies based on the interview with Tales to Inspire.

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