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The Secret Chef: The True Cost of Dining

25 December, 2020

It is this cultural environment that attracted me and many others. We came to cook and stayed for the dopamine dump - the drinks, the drugs, the partying, the pub, food, the sex, the celebrity. We wanted it all and felt we had earned it, and if we hadn't earned it we took it anyway. It doesn’t take long for a person’s brain to associate certain behaviours or substances with the sweet rush of dopamine. There were so many enablers that it was impossible to recognise that you were on a narcissistic, serotonin-deprived path to destruction. As a chef and restaurant owner, it was better in that you had at least reached a significant career goal. I made the mistake of believing the hype, which is about as coherent as sniffing your own farts. My personal celebrity, and its pursuit, just prolonged and amplified the damage.

Until seeking help, I suffered from anxiety-induced panic attacks, which became increasingly more prevalent and difficult to deal with. My doctor quickly diagnosed a significant depletion in serotonin. He also said I needed to regain a sense of perspective. 

I consider myself a survivor. Many didn’t. Some succumbed to ‘the black dog’ or depressive disorder (endogenous or exogenous - it didn't matter), most just to burnout. Technically a ‘mismatch in the workplace between desired state and reality’, in practice, starting your work life at 15 years of age in conditions not much better than being press-ganged onto a merchant vessel bound for an unknown horizon. By the time you are 30 you are done, physically, emotionally and - if you ever had it - creatively. You may have been through several significant relationships or none at all. You would have missed every significant family event and be well accustomed to the arguments at home and the sound of slamming doors.  

Depression and burnout have outward manifestations that can appear the same. They can coexist, especially where work and home life overlap. There is a fairly simple test - are the symptoms persistent outside of work? Like on holiday? An important distinction, because the treatment is so different. Depression is an amorphous catch-all term that we hear a lot now. It is generally inaccurate unless clinically diagnosed. Depression is a brain disorder where, even if people recognise they have all of the blessings in life, they still may have no desire to live, as their pleasure centres are completely shut down (giving them the ability to override the most powerful instincts of survival), which is why we find it so difficult to understand Anthony Bourdain. 

We all feel sad, despondent and anxious. It is part of our normal human emotional range. But if we can, we get up and carry on. Our nervous systems are built to be resilient - to weather the normal assortment of shit that life can throw at you. 

Illustration of a silhouette of a Chef

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