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Wedding Hour Podcast with Wedding Industry Mental Health

Gracie Pritchard
Hello and welcome to the very first episode of the Wedding Hour podcast where we talk about anything and everything weddings, and we’re so excited to finally get this up and off the ground, it’s been in the works for a while, and who doesn’t love a podcast and we thought why not make a Wedding Hour one, and today we are joined by none other than James Pearson. Thank you so much for joining us.

James Pearson
My absolute pleasure Gracie, I’m glad to be here.

Gracie Pritchard
And so, James, you are the founder of Wedding Industry Mental Health, and the owner of Wedding Espresso. So I thought today, we would talk about mental health as it is such an important topic and it’s talked about a lot, but nowhere near enough, and especially how I know in the wedding industry, it’s supposed to be such a happy time. Nobody thinks about the behind the scenes of things do they? And so we’d love to know really, a little bit about your business and how that works.

James Pearson
Cool, yeah. So let me take you back over a decade. It’s a long winding story so I’ll give you the highlights. I was just wrapping up doing a computing degree at uni, when my brother jumped on the phone and said to me, James, I’m photographing a wedding, the videographer has let the client down. Can you film a wedding. You like movies. And so I thought about, I thought well, yeah, I do like movies actually and I thought well, okay, I’ll give it a go.

James Pearson
So I literally went out, credit card in hand, bought what I thought were the best cameras I could afford. We only had two choices, back then it was a or b. It was that simple, because I didn’t want one of these big BBC like shoulder mounted jobs, I wanted something that was subtle. Bought all the gear and went out to film the Wedding. And of course, it went a bit wrong, having never done it before. I really messed up the sound. It was crazy but the clients loved it and I absolutely loved doing it and I was literally filming another wedding the next week.

James Pearson
And so I kind of fell into wedding filming, and at the time it was very frowned upon because it still had this kind of old school connotation that this, you know, sort of black suit, black tie guy was going to turn up with a big BBC camera and massive tripod. It was going to wreck your wedding. So I had to fight that the whole time, and it was amazing to see the wedding industry grow from being that old school traditional place to being far more digital and innovative. And over the years I was just obsessed with pushing the boundaries to see what could be accomplished, and that went from the most amazing kind of discoveries, to just things that were just mad, and had to be abandoned immediately, because they were just too silly. But it’s basically at the extreme that you discover all the fun stuff. And the real highlight was in America, there was this massive wave of cinematic wedding films coming out, that we had never seen before. And I was very quick to jump on that bandwagon because I loved it. I think this is true, and I haven’t had anybody challenge me on it, I was the first person in the UK to import a full body pack glide cam for my camera. Stanley Kubrick invented it for the film The Shining. And so we were able to create the smooth flowing motions that nobody else had done before, especially here in the UK. So very much the pioneer of that.

James Pearson
And then into stop motion wedding films, which again, were very niche, and could have taken off, but I don’t think really did. So that was another sort of evolutionary path that we were involved in, and then family planning. So Rachel and I sat down, we had a chat about how we were going to maintain all this wedding filming whilst raising a child, and doing all that, because our parents don’t live very close, and so we don’t really have a strong support network, and we thought this is going to put too much strain on the system, we have to do something else.

James Pearson
Basically, after a couple of experiments, as you know, as people do, they never go in full bore, they try something really small first, Wedding Espresso came out of a process of development and experimentation. And at the time, if you rewind, pushing on nearly four years now, what we’re doing here today was not common. Everybody knows about Zoom now, it’s become the thing, and I think to a certain extent, some people are talking about zoom burnout, because they’ve spent the last year just, you know, “Zooming” people. They just want to get face to face again. But at the time, I had the vision that it would be so amazing if clients who were looking to book suppliers, could have the opportunity to actually see the supplier, in person, without having to go to a wedding fair, etc. To break down these barriers and make everybody more accessible as people.

James Pearson
So that was the Wedding Espresso innovation, but that has been and gone, I think COVID certainly has changed the ballgame dramatically, and for everyone. So definitely time to reflect and pause and kind of reassess where everything was in the industry, what the future of the industry held. So we’re very much back in innovation mode right now, which has basically birthed “Wedding Industry Mental Health” as a result of the conversations that I was having with suppliers throughout lockdown. And I kept the communications going all the time, even though we couldn’t really do anything, and suppliers didn’t have the material to show anybody, and everything just dried up. But I kept the communications going and I tried to entertain them with fun stories and keep them perked up a little bit, remind them that there’s going to be a brighter future. Let’s keep going! Let’s see what we can do! And the response to that was very, very strong, and the number of people who have emailed me throughout this time and basically said without that level of support, they probably wouldn’t have made it through, that hit me hard.

James Pearson
So I realised I have an opportunity here to take whatever skill set I’ve developed over those years, and these relationships, and the way I talk to people, and form a new support system for wedding suppliers, which became “Wedding Industry Mental Health”. And basically the idea behind it is really to bridge the gap between professional mental health services, and just accessible mental health services. I myself, I’m a trainee mental health worker, so I’m not fully qualified, but I have the ability to recognise in people, the services that they may need, and can refer. It’s definitely our intention and our hope to offer a frontline first response kind of system for people that maybe don’t need a fully blown counselling service or psycho analysis service, maybe they need something just a bit lighter to get through the day. That’s where we come in. And certainly we hope to in the future secure funding sufficient to be able to actually sort of triage people, and if they do need a greater level of service, we hope in the future to be able to offer that to people.

Gracie Pritchard
Fantastic and you’re obviously seen as a sort of beacon of light I suppose in the wedding industry, one of the ones that people go to, and what I suppose my question to you is why in the wedding industry? What sort of made you want to stay within the wedding industry? And can you see yourself ever branching out to other industries? Obviously, mental health is something worldwide and industry wide, so can you ever see yourself branching out and if not, why do you think that it’s so important to stick to supporting the wedding industry and with their mental health?

James Pearson
Yeah, it’s a really good question. I think the basics of it are, that within the wedding industry in particular, we are blessed, and cursed with a certain kind of package of qualities that make it quite difficult to remain entirely functional, and well, all the time. And I think anybody who works in the industry would agree with me. It’s unique in the sense that it’s very, very seasonal. So we’ve got ups and downs, the way the industry is structured is such that it’s actually very, very hard, and an amazing accomplishment, to have a full diary. So it’s quite common for people to work two jobs to help. Their wedding business as their hobby business, and to also to work a second job. That’s quite common. So, the stresses are huge.

James Pearson
And the other thing that’s happening now is, I think couples are way more switched on, because they have all this amazing access on the internet to information. And this has raised the quality bar in all sectors, just time and time and time again I log on to maybe Facebook, or LinkedIn, and let’s say photographers are posting, you know, galleries of their recent weddings, and I am blown away the quality of work that’s on display today. It would have been absolute A plus, plus, plus, plus, plus, plus, plus grade, you know, maybe even just three or four years ago. So there’s been this explosion in quality, which is fantastic, I’m all for it.

James Pearson
At the same time, that explosion in quality has increased the pressure. People need to perform at ever higher levels of excellence, and I think that’s good. Professionally, I think that’s good for creativity, but the offset is that’s not so great for mental health and well being. And so it’s really, really important that there is something within this industry that people can turn to and say, I am experiencing this anxiety or this low level issue, or just to give you an example, it could be that you’ve worked for years maybe to get onto a recommended list for a venue, and that venue brings you in 10 jobs a year. So you’ve got that squared away, and it’s all going very nicely. The wedding planner then leaves, a new wedding planner comes in, and she or he decides, I’m just going to start from scratch, so they erase the entire thing, drop you off the recommended list, and you lose those 10 jobs, and suddenly, you know, panic, because this is your livelihood, you might be supporting your family with it. This is serious. So, in those kinds of incidents, it would be nice if there were somewhere to turn, that now exists, where you can just come and talk to a human being that understands what you’re saying, and just say, “listen, I’m experiencing this, it is stressing me out, you know, is there anything I can do with my thought process and we can actually talk it through?”

James Pearson
So, it’s really my experience within the wedding industry and having filmed weddings for over 10 years that really gives me that first hand experience of what wedding suppliers go through, both visibly and invisibly. There’s very little that I haven’t been through myself. Recently even as recent as a few months ago, I developed extreme vertigo, which paralysed my ability to work at the speed and efficiency that I’m used to. And creative people tend to thrive on being able to work very quickly, and be very, very kind of spontaneous, and it just took that away from me, and it made it incredibly difficult for me to think as well. My mind was just not sharp, was all foggy all the time, and it became incredibly hard to do anything. And in that kind of example, you know, someone would normally go to the GP and say, I’ve got vertigo. And as it happens, there’s no cure for vertigo, there are only manoeuvres that you can do to try to relieve the symptoms. And so I was left with, basically just go home and deal with it. Now, I would have loved to be able to speak to somebody and say these are the challenges I am now experiencing, it’s massively impacting my mental health and it’s really, really dragging me down. And although I’ll put a nice spin on it, behind the scenes, I’m struggling. It would have been great to just have somebody to talk to, not necessarily a psychologist or a counsellor, I didn’t need anything on level, I just need somebody just to put me straight and get my thoughts in line. So that’s why the wedding industry.

Gracie Pritchard
Yeah, well that actually personally brings me on to the next question, as someone that deals with extreme anxiety myself within the wedding industry, and how important it is as we have jobs where we work for other people, how important it is to take the time to care for yourself. And I know you’re someone that has lots of side hobbies and projects, and you write music, and you also have a social life, and you have a child as well. So how can you be this beacon of light and remain this person that gives such fantastic advice, while also juggling it all with your own stuff? How do you cope with that?

James Pearson
I think it’s been a process of discovery Gracie. I am sort of by my self nature, very, very self inquisitive, and I spend a lot of time just zoning out and going into myself and doing some deep thinking and exploration. And I think there’s a certain level of mental programming that you can do. It can come from books, it can come from other people, videos, blog posts, and if you’re willing to make change, you can take on board the task of forcing yourself into a certain state of mind, saying, I am going to change this, whether that’s being more accepting of people, or not getting cross when somebody has a go at you on social media, and saying okay, I can change my point of view. Instead of thinking about how I feel, I’m going to change it to think about how they feel. And once you start to do that, suddenly everything changes, you start to understand that they may be going through difficulties, they may be having hard times, they’re not lashing out at you because they hate you. They’re lashing out at you because they’re struggling. And then you start to recognise these qualities in people. And so, definitely it’s a process of going through that change and forcing yourself into that system of reassessing everything you’re thinking all the time. And checking your thinking too, is my thinking accurate,? And that’s something definitely that we aim to help with through “wedding industry mental health”, and using a technique which I’m calling “authentic experiential empathy”, which is a version of what exists within mental health already, but there’s a level of authenticity there because I understand what the wedding supplier is feeling, in the context of trying to do that job. So that’s sort of like a more honed in version, if you like. And that two way conversation between us, what I would aim or hope to achieve is to try to guide that person towards a greater level of understanding about self care and how to manage those thoughts and feelings.

Gracie Pritchard
Oh, I definitely agree and I think it’s the best thing to do. I think once you realise that what’s happening is a lot more about the other person, that it does yourself, and you put yourself into that mentality, it just gets that little bit easier, especially in the job that we do. So you work for the people and a lot of the time you can neglect yourself. So once you get into that mentality, it’s so important I suppose.

James Pearson
I’d also add, I just remembered actually that you mentioned about hobbies, which I didn’t address, and I think yes, it’s really good to be busy. I think creative people are busy people, but at the same time, I think having lots of interests, and I think you find creative people tend to have a lot of different interests. The one single thing I found the most helpful is the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is I get up, get out of bed, and I ask myself, what matters most. And 99 times out of 100 that thought is my son. And so the first thought in my head is everything that happens today, good or bad, is fed through that process. And having that beacon in anybody’s life, it doesn’t matter what it is, maybe it’s music, and maybe it’s any kind of anything that really, really energises you. That’s the thing to focus on first thing in the morning, and that would change is the day. Absolutely.

Gracie Pritchard
Yeah, I completely agree. I think anybody working in the wedding industry would love to know who’s possibly struggling with mental health, or even frightened that their mental health is declining, is there anything through your work that you think is a specific trigger, or a danger to mental health, specifically within the wedding industry?

James Pearson
Wow. Yes, it’s such a broad and intricate subject. I think we’re still, everybody’s still learning about mental health, and I don’t think it’s a subject that really ever concludes. No one could close the book on it, because I think mental health and wellbeing evolves as our society changes and evolves. And so, all the new technology, all the new hobbies, all the new habits, they all change how mental health works in us, and with us. So the triggers within the wedding industry are certainly very much linked to the fact that we are creative people and creative people, as I’ve always said, in order to create, you have to be able to see what doesn’t exist. And that in itself is a basic level psychosis. Because the voices in your head are literally shaping what you want to manifest in the world. And so you start out from that place anyway.

James Pearson
And then I think the passion, the passion of creation can manifest in extreme happiness and extreme rage. And I know that art represents both of those extremes quite often. And it’s really difficult to find any true sense of satisfaction when you go out and you nail the perfect job. Next week, you’ll be wanting to do better, and you want to go out and get it even better, and even better, even better, and there’s no end to that process. So you end up in a cycle of continuously trying to one up yourself. And so I think that rather than there be any kind of specific triggers, because it will vary from person to person, I think the setup of working in the wedding industry is almost in itself an alarm bell that you need to be very, very highly aware of. This will test and stretch you, and really press your buttons. And at times, even if you’re doing super, super, super well, and if we take what’s happening today in the wedding industry, everybody is absolutely flat out with work, catching up on years worth of postponements and delays, and that’s exactly what they wanted all along, and now it’s happening. But everybody’s gasping for breath, and I wish I could just have a weekend off, absolutely just flat out crazy and so you’ve got to be aware of the dangers of all of this. And I think for the most part, you know, people can and do cope, but at the same time, I would challenge anybody to stand up and say I have not had a day a week, a month a year, where I have just collapsed with stress, and I’ve needed someone to talk to.

Gracie Pritchard
And normalising that as well I suppose, like what you said, you’d challenge anybody to stand up and say, I’ve never done that. It’s what everybody goes through and that’s the thing, especially within the wedding industry, because it’s perceived as such. And it is such a magical, wonderful happy space, I think there’s a misconception there. I think a lot of people in the wedding industry struggle specifically because if they do have a down day, or they have a bad day, or they’re feeling like they’re having a bit of a lull, and they take it very negatively, more so than usual, because they are such happy times. So, I suppose that’s really it isn’t it? Normalising the fact that people do have bad days and sometimes bad weeks. Usually it happens, but it’s normal, and you will find ways to cope with it, it just happens.

Gracie Pritchard
I think for me specifically, working in the wedding industry, and working outside of the wedding industry, as a creative, I do find it difficult when you’re busy, and you’re being creative, and then you do hit that lull, like it’s the weekend, or you have a day off, and you’re not doing anything. And that’s when I found that I struggled the most with my mental health when, you know, there was nothing to do, or occupy my mind with. So what advice would you give to someone, I think a lot of creators busy themselves at work, and then when they actually can sit and ponder their feelings, what they’ve been through, they struggle. So what advice can you give us to someone who has been busy and then when they have time to let the dust settle, that’s when they struggle?

James Pearson
Yeah, Absolutely. I think the worst example of that hitting is… I actually coined the phrase “Production Frustration”, which is where you want to be working, and you don’t have any clients. So I think the best system for that is really to go into note mode. That’s, what I do. I keep endless strings of notes, and I have them all organised into folders. So if anything ever pops into my head at any time, rather than have that thought bounce around and not go anywhere like, I’m so excited and I want to do this, like ping pong in my brain, I just get my phone out, I get my notes up, and I’m like right, that is a note to go in here. And then when I get around to looking at that specific thing, I can get these notes out, where was I? Oh yes, X, Y, Z, and I can apply that. I think definitely one of the processes that has helped me the most is to just get my week segmented and have days to do specific tasks, so I’m not running around like a headless chicken, trying to remember what I’m doing. I need to do this, I need to go on social, I need to upload this, I need to put that video there, it creates chaos. And so if you just get yourself organised into a structure, combined with the notes, that enables me to just be able to switch off. I’m happy at the end of the day to think Xander’s coming out from nursery, it’s now father and son time, and that’s what we’re doing, and I’m totally on it. I’m totally engaged. So just getting some structure into it and keeping it structured.

Gracie Pritchard
I suppose it’s having that good balance as well, isn’t it? Like you said, it’s having the ability to switch off. I mean a lot of people can’t cope when they switch off. Or, either they can’t switch off. It’s hard to focus sometimes and have time for your family. And time to do this, and time for yourself. I think it is important that we sort of find that sort of way you can channel all of that energy into something positive. And I don’t know whether you’ve found this whilst doing your work, but I know there’s loads of different methods of self care. There’s journaling, or there’s meditation, or there’s mindfulness, you know, so do you think that there are any specific methods of helping to cope with mental health, that work especially well for people within the wedding industry? Or like you said, everybody’s mental health journeys are different. So ultimately, it’s what works for you, do you think through your work you found that any one method works best, or have you found one that people enjoy the most.

James Pearson
Yes, and I’m really happy to say yes. Because the answer should be no, because like you said everybody’s different, they have a different approach to these things, so there are wonderful resources out there. There are fantastic blogs to read. There are amazing video courses. There are the guru guys who are very, very insightful if you follow them. So I think whatever system… and books, books are massive, whatever system works for you is the best system. But then the bolt on will always be taking what you’ve just learned, like let’s say you watch a video, you read a book, you read a blog post, and you have an aha moment, you’re thinking, okay, I am going to get up every morning, and I am going to think of the one thing that’s most important to me in the world. And that’s the thought I’m going to carry through the day. You have that eureka moment. What you need to do is go and talk to somebody about it, because you need to explore what that means to you. And once you explore what that means to you, then it sticks. And often, I like to think we kind of have two people inside us, we have this internal person. And then we have an internal person. And when we experience things like when we watch a film or read a book, it’s so insular, that it’s the internal person that experiences it. And I think it’s important to then go and reflect that experience onto somebody else, so that they can reflect it back to you, so that you can see it truly for what it is, and you’re like, oh, that’s the experience I’ve just had. Because somebody else has shown me what my experience looks like, if that makes sense. And that’s exactly what I’m doing, yes, because that’s what people need to talk and that’s what we’re here to do, to listen. Absolutely.

Gracie Pritchard
I think that’s so important for a lot of people I suppose. Thankfully it’s 2021. Mental health awareness is something that is widely spread, we know about it, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s normal. Almost everybody in life goes through a struggle with their mental health. I can’t stress enough the need to normalise it. I have had anxiety my whole life, and I only realised when I was in my teens at University. And then going into the work place, you start to explore it more, explore ways to cope with it, but it’s normal. I suppose as a last finishing question, and as you said, try to find any one person that can say they’ve never needed help, especially within the wedding industry, but for anybody that hasn’t yet to struggle with their mental health, and been on this journey, can it be avoided?

James Pearson
Right. Quick answer no. Long answer, it’s such a complicated issue that people come in all different shapes and sizes. They come from totally different cultures, and even in thinking about mental health within the UK, we have a view of it in that the person is the one doing the suffering. There are cultures around the world where individuality is less of a thing, and community is more of a thing. If one person suffers a mental or mental health problems, then the community suffers a mental health problem. So, it’s often context that kind of changes the understanding of what it means to have a problem with mental health. And I don’t think it can be avoided because one of the phrases bounced around a lot actually within the mental health space, is this idea of happily ever after. Which we find in books, which never can be obtained. Because even when you succeed in acquiring your heart’s desire, there will always be something in life that comes along to trip you up, often kind of outside of your sphere of control. I think there’s a quote in Jurassic World actually where the boss of Jurassic World is saying, the most important thing in life is to understand that we’re never truly in control, something like that. And I think that is the mindset that we will never ever get on top of mental health and wellness, because it constantly changes. And life is such that we cannot obtain perfect continuous happiness, it’s something to strive for, and I think it’s something to fight for every single day, but understand that there will be ups and downs. And that is the experience of life, and there is no dark without light, so there we go.

Gracie Pritchard
I completely agree. And who would have thought we’d end off with a quote from Jurassic World?

James Pearson
I always try and squeeze one in!

Gracie Pritchard
Thank you so much for joining us today, it’s been an absolute treat. The people that interact with Wedding Hour are going to absolutely love this podcast. We can’t stress enough how important it is to have that leeway, that ability to have someone to speak to, especially because a lot of people don’t feel like they can do within their own environment. And also being conscious of how important it is to reach out to people if you need it. It’s not embarrassing, it’s normal. And everybody goes through it, ultimately, in their own way. And so, if need be, it’s lovely to know that people do have the ability to come to people like you, Wedding Industry Mental Health, and get in contact and speak about this. Do you have any projects or do you have your socials you’d like to give a push while you can?

James Pearson
Yeah, it’s just just two things then. Please, if anybody is suffering, or even suspecting that they’re suffering from mental health issues, then please do head on over to our website which is www.weddingespresso.co.uk. And you can access free support services there, and I would urge you to just consider this to be a first port of call. As I said, we’re not a counselling service, we’re not psychotherapists, we’re just offering our time to help out. More often than not, talking to somebody face to face is the first step. And like you said very kindly Gracie, it is normal. It should be normal, and it’s just okay to talk to people, and it’s really important to talk to somebody actually that you don’t know, because then the opinions, and the reflections, will not be coloured by your pre existing relationship. So it’s great to talk to somebody like that.

James Pearson
And we’ve also got a really cool music project on the go, which we invite people to join. We’ve got an amazing Facebook group, over at https://www.facebook.com/groups/soundslikeawedding, and I apologise for the length but that’s Facebook. And this was set up to support the mental health and well being of couples getting married. We are writing a new, original wedding song every single month, and recording it with stars from Broadway and TV. These are very, very cool people. And every single month, we give somebody the opportunity to win a free personalisation of one of our songs. So it’s a pretty cool thing to be involved in, we’re having a lot of fun over there. So if you’d like to come and join us, it’s totally free, come along and have a look and see what we’re doing.

Gracie Pritchard
I think I’ll definitely be having a listen, it sounds like my kind of thing. But yes, thank you so much for joining the show. Thank you so much to everyone for listening or watching. Remember we hold wedding hour between eight and nine every single Wednesday. On Twitter, which is at #weddinghour, all one word, all lowercase, and we’re also on Instagram. Feel free to send us a message. So if you’d like to get in contact, or even just to push your business a little bit, we’re there to help you. So thank you so much for listening and remember to tune in, and thank you so much James for joining us today it’s been an absolute pleasure. A fantastic first guest for the podcast.

James Pearson
An absolute honour Gracie.

Gracie Pritchard
Thank you so much, James.

James Pearson
Thank you.

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