Graduating Soon: Need advise on dealing with depression/ Mental Health and pursuing a career in culi

Joined Mar 14, 2017
I am a student at Johnson and Wales University majoring in Culinary Arts/ Food-Service Management. I'm trying to work towards becoming a chef but I feel held back mentally. Two years ago I received my associates degree in Culinary Arts. When I started the program I was so excited to be there. Overtime I felt like I couldn't do anything right. I felt myself giving up and my grades were dropping. I was showing up late to class but not on purpose I just didn't feel I had a purpose in life anymore. It was hard to get out of bed. The only thing that pushed me a little was the fact I was paying all this money. Also my mom would encourage me by saying you only have 1 year left try to push through.  

My chefs would ask me why I was doing so poorly but I couldn't talk to them about what was going on. I was taught you had to be tough in this industry and I didn't think anyone would understand me. The chefs were frustrated with me. I did great with the actual cooking but there is more to a chef than just cooking. At that time I didn't know I had depression I just knew I felt bad. I just tried to push through and thought it would get better but it had gotten worst. I almost didn't graduate in 2015. The next fall I was back at Johnson and Wales in Charlotte but left after a semester. I was getting help mentally and then coming back but ended up transferring to Johnson and Wales Online. I had gotten so nervous about coming back I just stayed online. I recently was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder/severe depression. I fell like I can't function but I'm still alive so that means I have a purpose.I am in the process of getting on medication and will continue to see my therapist. Right now I'm at about the lowest point in my life. I was mad at myself because of how I did at Johnson and Wales. The sad part is that I'm still struggling. This spring is suppose to be my last semester I graduate this May. I want to push through and work on becoming a chef. I don't want to give up I feel like I owe it to myself to follow what I want to do. I just wanted to give you some back ground information about my situation and ask for your advice on being in the Culinary Industry while dealing with mental health. Do you know any chefs that have been through it and made it. My other question is what do I tell chefs when they ask me what happened. I'm concerned that I will be turned down if I say what happened to me. 

I know my journey is so far from everyone else's but please don't judge or bash. I just want to heal, grow and move forward. Thank you in advance for the advice it is greatly appreciated.
Joined Oct 31, 2012
     First, Congratulations on getting yourself help. That's the biggest and most important step. You should feel very good about that. 

Second, Don't get ahead of yourself. Take it one day at a time. Go to class and learn. Keep doing that until you are finished. Don't worry about graduating months from now. Concentrate on successfully getting to class and completing your work this week. Then next week and so on. 

     Third, Everyone, Chef or not, suffers from mental illness of one kind or another at one time or another. Some resort to alcohol, others drugs. Not everyone gets the help they need. 

Fourth, this may sound trite but I have found it incredibly helpful when I am feeling down or depressed, to count my blessings. I mean this quite literally. I count out loud those things I have in my life that make it worthwhile. My health, a roof over my head, clothes to wear, food in my refrigerator, many good friends, the coming spring fruits and vegetable seasons, a concert next week, dinner out last night with friends, etc. etc. I don't have to do this very long before realizing clearly I have much to be happy about. 

      Concentrating on problems is like looking through a microscope for too long. You lose the ability to see the bigger picture and begin to believe that your problems are  all that matter. Step back mentally every day. Recognize that whatever you are concerned about is only a small part of your life. As an older person, I can tell you that it will pass and all too soon you will be remembering this time as just a memory from too long ago. 

     The Serenity Prayer is another trite saying to put into actual practice. Do those things you can do something about. Go to class. Finish your assignments. Focus on cooking while you are cooking.

Those things you have no control over, leave alone. You are only responsible for those things you can control. Anything you can not control is not for you to concern yourself with. 

Having courage and "being tough" in this business or any other is about continuing to make the effort despite not feeling like you can and refusing to quit trying. At the end of the day, you go to bed saying "I did the best I could" The next morning you say "I'll do the best I can". 

     As a J&W graduate, I will also suggest you go back to campus, get back in to things and don't be afraid to be honest about your struggles. You will be very surprised at how many of your fellow students and teachers will understand and relate to you. 
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Joined Aug 21, 2004
I just want to heal, grow and move forward.
Goodatcha! That actually makes for a nice short life mantra. I am going to borrow that from you if you don't mind.

I know chefs (and other people) who have been diagnosed with MDD and have come out the other side successfully.
 My other question is what do I tell chefs when they ask me what happened.
What is going to make them think anything happened? And what did happen? On your resume it will say that you attended JW.

What is going to make them think anything happened? And what did happen? Life happened... Medical issues happened... Personal issues happened...

Two things will happen if the subject does come up. People will understand or they will not. I don't have MDD, I have my own issues (MDD is just one of them), and I would want to work for the people that understand. The people that don't understand are not people that I would want to work for. It comes down to the basic character traits of empathy and humility. Life is too short to work for people without those traits and I don't care (nor should I have to) to settle.

heal... grow... move forward  :~)
Joined Mar 14, 2017
Hi Chefwriter and Cheflayne thank you for responding back to my post your advise has helped me a lot. Since the last post I have graduated and found a mentor.  I've been taking it one day at a time. I am happy to say that I am healing,growing and moving forward. Again thank you!!
Joined Oct 31, 2012
Congratulations on your graduation and improved outlook. Let this experience guide you in the future when faced with tough situations. If you did it once, you can do it again. 
Joined Jun 27, 2012
Great thread.


I am sure it is difficult to have to take your life out and examine it inch by inch in order to figure out where everything went so horribly wrong.

Suggested reading for anyone dealing with depression and working towards a happy ending.

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Joined Mar 14, 2017
@chefwriter  Thank you for the encouragement it's greatly appreciated.

@flipflopgirl  Thank you it has been hard but going through the pain is what's suppose to help me grow. In my class called the "the working life"  we read this poem called " Hoeing " by John Updike. It really helped me out a lot. 
[h3]Hoeing - John Updike[/h3]
I sometimes fear the younger generation will be deprived
     of the pleasures of hoeing;
     there is no knowing
how many souls have been formed by this simple exercise.

The dry earth like a great scab breaks, revealing
     moist-dark loam-
     the pea-root's home,
a fertile wound perpetually healing.

How neatly the green weeds go under!
     The blade chops the earth new.
     Ignorant the wise boy who
has never performed this simple, stupid, and useful wonder.
Joined Jul 28, 2001
,I hardly think your situation may be particularly field related. I absolutely agree with everything said before me. I just wanted to throw in 2 cents from a very long time associate of food service. These are just my personal feelings only.
I'm not a big believer in the mental health aspect of medical care. It basically lacks scientific testing and results. The professionals/experts have developed a few popular prototypes of the human being. The tendency seems to medicate or experiment with medication
until the patient shows to be somewhat conforming to the mold. No two people are the same, there is a natural difference in the way they think, grieve, love, work, etc. I've never met the perfect person. I've witnessed personality change, but usually medication driven.
Just from your OP. Depression is a label usually diagnosed by ones actions. Feeling shackled and not wanting to get up in the morning can be the results of many things. You may be overwhelmed. You might be having clutter (to many priority issues in your mind), etc.
There is not really a way to speculate how a chef/instructor evaluates you unless you've walked in their shoes. You graduated. That right there is a good reason to negate evaluating your feeling of being mentally held back.

I'm only mentioning this because I have been in both a instruction role and mentoring role. My focus on anyone is to try to get an understanding of their mental functionality. This is a very basic analysis( due to time constraints) but quite a few apprentices who others
would classify as, depressed, lazy, never going to make it, etc. basically had one issue that I needed to address before moving forward. Many did not fully have the ability to focus. This is normal in an environment where there are numerous things happening around you.
To get a handle on focusing, you need to eliminate the distractions (including mental), the clutter (an abundance of thoughts dropping all at one time). Prioritizing is of the utmost importance. Sometimes this takes pre-thought and sometimes writing a prioritized list of things
you want to accomplish that day, one by one. With out focus and organization, it's almost impossible to return home at the end of a day, feeling like you accomplished anything. Then on your down time, you FESTER (completely different from focus) on the unresolved tasks.
With the things I mentioned before, you would have to have an uncanny ability to keep this list in your head. ONE ITEM AT A TIME. More than one will result in being scattered. FAILURE. Don't even listen or react to the term multi-tasking until you develop a feeling of focus.
Just some unsolicited thoughts from an old fart who's been there, done that. One more suggestion. On your down time, see if you can find a distraction unrelated to your field. Hobby.
And remember, when things do get quiet, and you find yourself sitting on the couch alone, and you start to think, question, or reason. You're not alone, someone like myself is sitting right beside you.

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