Six months later and what have we learned?

I get it, change takes time but I’m not seeing it. Six months later and well…..

When the news hit, it hit hard and sent shock waves in the industry. Depression and substance abuse had been a part of the game for as long as misfits have been cooking yet this was the first time we were all forced to step back and pay attention. In an industry that will argue over anything and everything, one of the few things we all agreed on was our admiration for the man. He wasn’t one of the pretty boys, he was one of us who, through almost sheer luck, made it, and then in turn became a voice for us.

It was a  perfect Friday morning.

A friend posted a picture of her with him and something just felt off. I searched the name and autofill did the rest.

His history with substances was well known and an overdose it wasn’t out of the the realm of possibility. Suicide however, was never on the table. His public persona was that of the reformed tough guy who had changed his ways after becoming a father. He wasn’t the whiny artist type that’s the stereotype for this kind of thing.

The simple fact is that he hid it.

It’s the stigma and the whole idea with things like depression, mental illness and substance issues. Most people don’t really understand it including doctors and hence why most people don’t really like talking about it.

Let’s face it, the Kitchen culture is still very much a chauvinistic tic place where we take pride in working the utter dogshit out of ourselves. If you’re not working 80 hours a week and living off of Red Bull, you’re a fucking pussy. Think I’m joking? Read any of the Culinary message boards on Facebook and you’ll see it’s the case.

Admitting that you’re dealing with depression is still very much viewed as a weakness and liability. It means that you’re going to be the one who snaps under the pressure of the dinner rush. It’s viewed as a defect, that it makes you less of a man. This is why we do our best via drugs and booze to suck it up and tough it out. Then we snap.

We’re dropping like flies.

Coming up in the Kitchen, I remember hearing about a French Chef who killed himself after hearing that his restaurant was losing a star. That was it.

Social media brought us together as community. Then you hear about the Sous Chef of a guy you know, then you hear about the guy who replaced you at another Kitchen. Both of these are examples from just the past 6 months. We all know someone who knows someone but it’s a scary fucking subject and most of us still don’t want to talk about it.

When the news broke that he had hung himself, it was another sucker punch none of us wanted to face. This was a guy who, on the surface, had it all. Why would he, of all people, make the choice to go out like that?

That’s the thing about this, when it hits, nothing else matters. Your perspective gets skewed and logic fails. The hardest part is that during the shift, you feel yourself losing your mind. The pain and grief overshadow everything else. It’s hard for those who don’t understand first hand that we can’t just snap out of it. As cliche as it sounds, no one wants to die, they just want the pain to stop. It’s hard to know that a guy that had such a massive impact spent his final moments alone, scared and desperate. He deserved so much more than that.

Having spent far more time in that state of mind, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. The irony is that, despite my struggles publicly with this, I still have a hard time keeping myself balanced. I still view it with the same stigma and prejudice. It’s this attitude that has to change.

The holidays are here.

Unless you’re one of those people who just walks on sunshine, this time of year tends to be stressful. If you’re working in the restaurant industry, it’s even harder. We need to do a better job checking in on each other. Chefs need to be leaders and take care of not only their crews but themselves as well.

The truth is that that were going to lose a few over the next few weeks. Sometimes there are warning signs and other times not. If you’re concerned about someone, speak to them. If you’re getting weird, find someone to talk to.

I wish I had some magic cure all that could fix this but the fact is I’m still struggling with it everyday. I don’t have any answers for this. All I know is that if we as a community of Chefs, waitstaff, business owners, if we don’t come up with something, our brothers and sisters are going to continue to drop.

If you need help, fuck your ego and pride, ask for help. If you’re alone for the holidays, find a place to volunteer, find a way to get out of your own head. Find someone who knows more than I do.

The damage has been done.

Bourdain changed the game and there won’t be anyone like him again in our lifetime. Six months later and we all owe it to him to look after each other and make sure no one else has to go through that hell.

 

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