Category Archives: Personal Essay

Chef Daniel Patterson speaks out on depression

I am so grateful to and impressed by my friend, chef Daniel Patterson, for writing this raw, honest, gorgeous essay about his struggles with depression and the crisis he sees in the industry he loves. Please share it with the people you know who need it.

“I mean, how many chefs you think are depressed, anyway? Like 95%?”

I was standing in a bar, talking with a chef friend. It was late. We were drinking. And talking about depression.

I’ve always had my ups and downs. Some days were harder than others. Some years were harder than others. I thought it was a more or less normal outgrowth of a flawed character, something I should accept, endure, survive. I never considered medication, though. I wasn’t one of those people.

Then something changed. Instead of bouncing back I fell lower and lower until I began to actually worry. It felt like the blood had been drained from my body and replaced with lead. I was barely functional, and even the simplest conversations required vast amounts of energy. Then one day I discovered that my creativity was dead, inaccessible to me, and that’s when I became scared enough to do something about it. I could live without many things but not that, so I called a doctor and made an appointment.”—Daniel Patterson

Read the rest of Speaking Out at MAD.

Feeding my beast

I tried to win friends with sugar because I was sure that was the only way I could. Other kids were cooler, prettier, had fancier toys, but I figured out early on that if I could bake and make extra-strong Kool-Aid, they’d keep coming to my house. The good ones came back even when the pitcher ran dry and the pan was empty, but I always felt a little guilty for not having anything to feed them.

I suppose that meant something like friendship, and certainly community. Even as a kid, I knew my people when I saw them—the ones who got quiet for a minute while taking that first bite, maybe even closed their eyes to shrink their universe down to the tip of their tongue. And then, AND THEN, they’d want to talk about it.

E. did. Even though he’d been practically wedded to my best friend since before any of us could drive, when we all ate together, E. and I were tuned into a channel only the two of us could hear.

“Is that ginger? I think it’s fresh ginger.”

“I dunno, my mom only has it powdered in the spice cabinet, but I’m gonna find out.”

“I want to try this recipe, but it calls for…tamarind.? What the hell is that and where can we get it?”

“I guess I can go try Kroger?”

“Dude, that would be awesome. When I’m a chef and I open my own place, you’re totally my taster, right?”

“Totally.”

And he totally did marry my friend and become a chef, but the restaurant—his restaurant—never happened because the drugs bled the dream out of him first. I don’t know, maybe this thing was coiled up inside him all along, and the heat of the kitchen made it wake, swell and strike. Maybe it slithered out from the grease trap and wound around him slowly, but either way, he was stuck. He stopped coming home to his wife, daughter and twins-to-be, preferring the company of the people in the half-shadows, like him. When he did show up at the kitchen table, sweaty and bloody-knuckled (a server’s ex had needed to be taught a lesson—and yes of course, he was screwing her), I could no longer tune into his frequency.

He’s a chef, my friend and I nodded. That’s just what happens to them. That’s what we had learned at 24.
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