If you’re into food and live in Manchester, chances are you’ve heard of Mama Z.
Cooking up a range of Filipino treats – including jackfruit adobo pops, lumpiang shanghai and crispy chicken chicharon – Mama Z has been making a name for herself on the culinary scene of Manchester for the best part of four years, having worked across a number of the city’s trendy kitchens and bars in order to fund her passion.
And now, it appears that the hard work looks to have paid off. Throughout the summer months, Mama Z brought her skills to the streets of Manchester, taking up residency at Hatch – one of Manchester’s hottest new pop-up retail and leisure spaces. If this move represents this year’s big break, it’s fair to say she’s earned it.
Since graduating in 2014 from MMU, Mama Z, or Zosima Fulwell to use her real name, has had her fair share of ups and downs.
Having battled through the stresses and anxieties that come with dissatisfying jobs and unsociable working hours, the role her mental health has played in the story of her self-funded business won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
“You never think you experience it until you come of out it and reflect on things”, she begins.
“I would say that after over two years of being in a rather sad and depressive mental state - due to stress and anxiety in the workplace - I am much happier now doing my own thing.
“Experiencing stress through situations I couldn’t control was probably the worst element over the past few years, which was always heightened when I became frustrated in certain situations.
“The going home and not being able to ‘switch off’ was awful too, as was taking orders and sitting down and having to think about so many things for the following day, working super hard for other people and being made to feel inadequate. It was all just really crap.”
When asked how this all reflected on her daily life and her relationship with others, Zos presents the following response:
“The workplace experiences did affect my everyday life and those I lived with at the time.
“My head space was just so clouded that I used to get angry over the smallest things, taking it out on my loved ones. It sucked, hard.
“When I used to be at my lowest it was hard to see past it sometimes.
“I think the thing that was really bad was how it affected me when I did try to apply for jobs. I felt I wasn’t good enough and my self confidence was just so low and knocked that I thought I could do no better.
“On my days off I was so exhausted that I would just catch up on sleep or house work. Life seems so grey when you are just working very hard for very little and not experiencing that much.
“Luckily I found a way to relax through cooking at home, despite absolutely hating it when I was at work.”
Hating work. Check. Feeling anxious and stressed out about work. Check. Feeling so beat up by work that when you actually get some time to yourself, you do nothing but shout at the ones you love. Check. Self worth destroyed. Check.
What’s interesting about Zos’ story is that it sounds much too familiar. How many of us, over the course of our careers, have endured a similar narrative – without even realising it at the time? The answer will likely be a figure that’s way too high – even by our own shitty standards*.
How do you turn the corner? Like so many of the people we’ve interviewed here at Pressures and Perspectives, the answer often lies in creativity – or rather, doing more of the thing you love – and a support network that’s filled with positive, like minded people.
“I do feel that the creative process of what I do has 100% helped me deal with my mental health and issues that I face” explains Zos.
“My friends and family, the amazing talented people I work with who have helped me create my brand have really understood me as a person and it’s refreshing to collaborate with like minded individuals.
“Going into the street food business which has a little community of its own has been so welcoming, so it feels amazing to be part of another extended family almost.
“I think Manchester is good for that community spirit though, everyone is so creative here in their own way.
“There are still things that affect me in terms of my confidence and my anxiety of not being good enough, but sadly, after being made to feel like you aren’t good enough by others does take its toll.
“However, I have learnt since becoming self employed to enjoy cooking and doing the job I love with people that are like minded. I thankfully do not have to work with people who I do not get on with so that has made such a big impact on my working life.
“I can also creatively cook what I want now and it’s now my business, so I do not feel restricted and therefore frustrated in my job. It has made such a massive difference that I am doing what I love for myself.”
*According to a recent survey, one third of the British workforce stated they were happy with their work life balance – a figure that’s one of the lowest in the western world.
**Not advisable on an empty stomach.