Category Archives: Personal Essay

Sother Teague: Fighting the Darkness in Plain Sight

Sother Teague is the beverage director and head of the bartending team at Amor y Amargo, co-host of The Speakeasy on Heritage Radio, President of USBGNY and partner at Coup. He’s sharing his story in the hope that it will help other people in the industry know they are not alone.

I was recently in an accident. Typical New York City story, hit by a car while commuting on my bicycle. It really is a jungle out there. Luckily, the only injury I sustained was a broken humerus which isn’t as funny as it sounds.

This poses a significant obstacle in my daily life. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be an inconvenience for just about everyone but, as a bartender, I can’t perform the basic functions of my job without the use of both arms. Not only does this mean I’m lifting and pouring from bottles, scooping ice and, shaking drinks, I’m entertaining people. And I’m doing all of it in my favorite hiding place: plain sight. I’m practically on stage with the audience a mere two feet away and yet I’m keeping something from them.

In addition to the current physical injury, I also carry a mental affliction: depression. It’s been a part of my personal vernacular since childhood. Back then, I’d avoid social situations and spend a great deal of time alone. Then, as I got older I realized it was pretty easy to mask my symptoms by being extra-social, a clown or a cut-up. It helped me feel like I fit in. At the time I had no way of knowing that I was beginning to build a lifelong strategy for how to cope with my issues.

As time progressed, I became a good storyteller and conversationalist. These skills helped me get employment and generate a facade of normalcy. But inside I was typically in pain and struggling with anxiety. So, I generated my most effective coping mechanism, the one I rely on most today: overworking. It’d be unfair if I didn’t mention that among other mechanisms overindulgence has played a major part in the form of alcohol, sex, exercise, food, television and, lately social media. But, overworking is the undisputed king. Plus, I figured out a way to do it right in front of people and still hide.

Bartending puts me back on that stage every night and I put on the show. This doesn’t mean that I’m insincere, it does however mean that a great deal of it is sort of out-of-body for me. When I’m at work, I’m ON and afterward comes the big crash. So to maintain the high, I keep taking on projects. I almost never say no to an offer and this keeps me going. The dial is always turned up to 11 and I am coated in a veneer of confidence. The reward for hard work is more work.

Now with this broken arm I’m stopped cold. I’m having trouble getting out of bed and facing the world. I can’t be ON. The depression and anxiety are always at the forefront of my thoughts. I’m struggling again as I have so many times before. Suddenly I feel as if the best of times are behind me and that the dark clouds will plague whatever time I have left. I’m trying to understand what joy is and if I’ll ever achieve it again or if I ever actually have before. Food is as tasteless as it is when I have a cold, the skies seem endlessly grey and, a general sense of numbness is beginning to take me over.

I’ve been in and out of therapy for over 20 years. Sometimes it helps, other times not so much. I’ve also talked to friends and loved ones individually about my issues with similar outcomes.

But this time, I did something different, for the first time, I spoke out about my depression through the loudspeaker that is social media. I didn’t go into great detail but I made it clear that I was not doing well. I thought long and hard about it, wrote several drafts and held on to them for weeks prior to finally posting. I’m not entirely sure what compelled me but I can make the educated guess that it’s because so very many of my friends have slowly been revealing similar issues of their own on this platform. It seems that depression, anxiety and addiction are all prevalent in the hospitality sector and so, it felt reasonably safe to expose myself. I was nervous but, it felt good, somewhat cathartic.

Today, I awoke to dozens of responses from people telling me to “hang in there.” All were sincere but understandably a bit trite. It’s difficult for people to sit idly by while another is in pain. However, and most interestingly, I also received a great many accounts from people I know who are dealing with similar issues. Many publicly and an equal or greater number reached out to me privately. I’m not going to say that knowing other people are in a similar pain or fight as mine makes my pain diminish but, at least knowing that I’m not alone makes me want to overcome it more. As well as help others overcome it.

I hope that this message reaches people who are seeking to break free from depression and emphasizes to them that they are neither broken beyond repair nor alone. There are resources all around us and there is support in unlikely places just when you need it most.

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?”


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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