Barbering has helped Aimee Stewart to cut a new path in life. Now she wants to help others with mental health conditions. Laura Drysdale reports.
Aimee Stewart has heard the words ‘you are going to die’ come from the lips of many of those close to her.
She struggled with substance abuse for most of her life and when in the grips of addiction, found it anything but easy to settle down in a job.
But for more than a year now, Aimee, who has a personality disorder, has cut a new path in life through barbering.
And she plans to use her craft to positively impact on others too with a barbershop fundraising day for mental health charity York Mind.
Government drive to recruit thousands of social care staff
“Just over a year ago I got an apprenticeship barbering, something I have now come to have so much passion and love for,” she says.
“I was addicted to drugs for as many years as I can remember – I thought it was a normal life. I never settled anywhere or in any job.
“Now I get up every single day and do something that to me isn’t a job. It’s taught me self criticism, it’s taught me to learn and listen. But most importantly, it’s taught me to be someone I didn’t know could exist.
“The barbering industry is something I’m so lucky to be a part of because everyone wants to help each other and come together. So I’m going to take this time to give back to other people who suffer like me.”
Aimee, who grew up in Scotland but now lives in York, began taking drugs when she was just 14 and was thrown out of school a year later.
It was only two years ago that her life began to take a different direction. She had gone “completely off the rails” after a break up with her partner and decided to seek help.
“I felt like I had lost everything,” she says. “I hit rock bottom but I took that as ammunition.
“I thought I can either sit here, go downhill and prove everyone right, or I can shock people and turn my life around.”
Aimee, now 28, saw a GP, mental health nurse and psychiatrist and was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2017.
It is characterised by emotional instability, disturbed thinking, impulsive behaviour and intense but unstable relationships and many people with BPD have another mental health condition or behavioural problem including drug or alcohol misuse.
“Every time I read something about it, I cried and cried, because word by word, it was everything I felt and did to people.” Aimee says. She was both relieved and upset.
“Part of me was really happy that it was something that wasn’t my fault. But I was really upset that it took me to the age of 26 and that I had ruined my life and those of other people around me as well.”
The diagnosis changed her mindset and helped her to realise that the life she had lived wasn’t who she was.
She found the strength to change her lifestyle to try to improve her mental wellbeing, stopped taking drugs, and began to think more about work and her future.
“I have always said to people that I would love to be a barber,” she says.
“But when I was taking drugs all the time, I didn’t think about anything at all. There was no thought process whatsoever.”
She decided that she wanted to take a barbering course and a friend helped her to secure an apprenticeship, which she began in September 2017.
At first, Aimee struggled to get the hang of it and had it not been for a colleague taking her to a barbering show in Manchester, she would have given up.
At the show, she met Sofie ‘Staygold’ Pok, a barber and influencer from Los Angeles.
Full of admiration, Aimee began following her on social media, where she posted examples of her work alongside motivational quotes and recommended self-help books.
Aimee had never finished a book before, but for the first time, she started to read.
“It was like my life completely changed – the way I thought about things and how I felt about things.
“My barbering changed – I went from not being able to do anything at all to people telling me my barbering was amazing.”
For the first time, she felt she had a purpose – and the books also inspired a new interest for Aimee, who now enjoys reading about how the human mind works in her free time.
“Every day now when I come to work, I have something that I want to be better at,” she says.
“I have managed to channel the negativity that went into taking drugs instead put energy into barbering.”
Shortly after Aimee started her current role at Blak Bear barbers on Walmgate in York city centre in December, she opened up to a friend and colleague about her BPD and how she had struggled.
“We got upset and in that moment, I took everything in and realise how lucky I was, because it was literally life or death,” she says.
She is now taking action to help other struggling with mental health by opening up the shop’s doors for a fundraising event on Sunday.
Eight barbers will take part from noon until 8pm and there will be food, drink, a DJ and raffle, with prizes including vintage clothes and products from barber supply companies.
People will be asked to make a minimum donation of £5 per service by any barber for York Mind.
“Every day I meet more and more people who suffer in silence,” Aimee says. “More and more people are taking their own lives.
“I have been in the darkest place more than a few times and I know there’s other people like me who aren’t as lucky to live the life I am grateful to have now.”