This is a longer post than I usually write and I considered breaking it up into two or three posts but it’s an important topic and all my thoughts should be together. Please read it all, and include the links to other named articles, I feel they’re an important part of this post. “Additional reading here” are links for those who want to learn more. By allowing me to share this post with you as part of my self-discovery and healing I hope you’ll understand me better and you’ll also understand many of those crazy folks in the back of the house that just don’t seem to function like most people. If you identify with what I’m experiencing then find a source of help (message me through Facebook if you like, I’ll chat with you in full privacy. I’m no expert, but I’ll listen). I started with my doctor and he was able to set me off in the right direction.
Speaking Out by Chef Daniel Patterson hits very close to home. I don’t mean close to home as in I know someone like that, I actually mean closer. This could have been written by me.
I’ve had this article saved for a while, but hadn’t really read the whole thing until a week after officially being diagnosed with a long-term depressive disorder, given a prescription and a referral to a therapist.
I’ve been taking my medication for a few of weeks now and I can see clear glimpses of happiness, increased energy, and motivation. It’ll be a while before I see a marked improvement, but I’m on the right road, and feel a strong sense of hope that I have not felt for far too many years.
Depression in the professional kitchen is a big problem. I suspect the profession in general lures a particular type of individual, and those of us that work in the industry are prone to mental illness and defect, compounded by long stressful hours in a usually hot kitchen day after day. We’re under-paid, over-worked, and often under-appreciated. Many of us are haunted by the pursuit of perfection. We miss weekends and holidays with family and friends, we drink too much, use drugs, have a high divorce rate, and are typically out supporting each others’ bad habits late at night. Long-term relationships with regular people are usually difficult to maintain because of our schedules, workloads, and emotional defects. Additional reading here.
I think about how my career and life has gone, and one thing I have come to realize over the past couple of months or so is that I’ve been chasing happiness for a very long time (or often running from it). I have left a lot of chef’s jobs not because the job solely made me unhappy, but because I was unhappy long before I started any job in this business and I was simply seeking something else, something that I had convinced myself would make me happy. I am sure that there are a lot of fellow chefs that can make the same claim. We move around a lot, and I’ll venture a guess that the common thread is depression.
In my last chef’s position, especially, I exhibited most of the following symptoms of depression. Many of them were also part of my regular routine for the better part of my career and my life as far back as I can remember. I have had one session with a clinical psychologist, and part of my therapy includes writing down some of the shit in my head that pertains to my depression. I have chosen my blog as a place to write some of it with the hope that some of my fellow chefs and restaurant workers (or anyone else that has felt like crap most of their lives) will recognize some of these symptoms and talk to someone about them. I found this list of symptoms here through an old Table Hopping post on depression in the restaurant industry where most of the comments show a lack of understanding what depression is.
- Persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness – I cannot say exactly what I’ve been sad about, but there are a lot of things in my life that I’ve never dealt with the way that I should have. The emptiness is evident in my recent lack of enthusiasm or from limited fulfillment I’ve had from any success.
- Frequently feeling irritated, anxious, frustrated, or angry – Anxiety has always been a big part of my life that I’ve been able to hide well. Irritation and frustration have always been commonplace for me as well, especially in the kitchen. I have simply had a difficult time understanding why FOH employees rarely took as much interest in their jobs as I have, or why there were certain owners that didn’t understand the value of putting in a good day’s work in their own restaurant. The frustration often turned to anger, sometimes warranted sometimes not. I often enough looked for reasons to get angry.
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, helpless, or guilty – Guilt for sure. Lots of it and for a long time. Feeling worthless? Not necessarily, but I don’t think I’ve ever put myself in place where I belong. While I have often shown myself to be confident in the kitchen, I have always been filled with self-doubt. I have always wondered if I am the chef that people say I am, and my abilities really as good as my performance.
- Fatigue and decreased energy – I was always tired at Chez Nous. It was definitely not from over-working or long hours. That was one of the easiest chef’s jobs I’ve ever had. I could have worked harder, but what was the point?
- Changes in appetite and eating habits – Chefs have strange eating habits anyway, that doesn’t mean we’re crazy. Work with food as we do, and the hours we work and you’ll have offbeat eating habits too.
- Inability to concentrate, remember details, or make decisions – Focus has been a big issue for a while now, but is improving as I recognize my issues and deal with them. Tasks like writing a simple holiday menu seemed like a difficult job as my level of enthusiasm dropped. I got to the point that caused me to put forth sub-par work. Product ordering was also difficult, I sometimes would go without items rather than try to concentrate on the responsibilities of my job.
- Sleep disturbances, such as sleeping more than usual or insomnia – Sleep disturbances aplenty. It’s common for me to wake up in the middle of the night and wonder how things can go badly the next day at work.
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyable – This is became very clear to me at the end of my time at Chez Nous. I had little interest in cooking, developing menus, or new dishes and recipes. I didn’t care, and I got to the point that I didn’t care that other people didn’t care. Quitting the restaurant life seemed like the only viable option. That’s just starting to change for the better as I start to adopt a sense of hope with the acceptance of my illness and the seeking of treatment.
- Unexplained body aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems – Most of the aches are due to many years of abuse to my body, some perhaps due to my mental issues, it’s hard to tell.
- Thoughts of death and suicide – I have never considered suicide, it seems like too much of effort. Honestly, I’ve certainly thought of it, how I would do it, and what the effects on others would be but I has never been a serious consideration. I could not imagine being so deep in depression that I would take my own life. As much as I feel poorly most of the time I still like life, and even some of the people in it.
- Slowed thinking, speaking, or movement – Years on busy restaurant lines have made it impossible to think and move slowly.
- Reckless behavior – If you consider heading down to the walk in cooler at The Wine Bar every once in a while following a stressful event or dinner rush to have a beer as reckless, then yes. Otherwise, no.
- Substance abuse – Depends what you consider abuse.