For 12 years, I made dessert for a living.
I’ve always told others that I half-expected someone to walk into the kitchen one day and end my frivolity. Who is lucky enough to bake a dessert every day and get paid for it?
So when my boss told me in March 2020 that I had been fired because my job was not essential amid the coronavirus pandemic, I was not surprised. In many ways, I felt relieved.
Losing my job was scary, but it was also the biggest relief for my mental and physical well-being.
As scary as it might be to face the fact that I would need to collect unemployment, deep down I was so happy to be allowed to rest.
Throughout my career, I have rarely taken vacations or sick days. I wasn’t ready to admit to anyone that I was horribly exhausted. But the quality of my work had deteriorated, I was exhausted and in poor health, and I hated my job.
The restaurant industry has done to me what it has done to countless others – it has made me a bitter, angry person.
I have spent years losing myself gaining success in my field
From the outside, I was a successful youngster, but no one could see my desperation, shame and pain.
On good days, I worked 10, 15 and sometimes 18 hour shifts with minimal conflict. On bad days, things were thrown at me, cursed and insulted, and cursed by bosses who never bothered to learn to be decent people or managers.
I finished each shift with at least a few drinks to relax and soothe the pain in my back. On the weekends, I got drunk on drugs and alcohol.
Everyone I knew was doing the same. We’ve all lived paycheck after paycheck, not only because of our lifestyle, but also because we never really got a living wage. For a while, I was making $ 50,000 living in San Francisco, one of America’s most expensive cities.
I rarely went to the doctor because health insurance was an occasional extravaganza, and what would the doctor have told me anyway? I knew I had to stop drinking so much and eat healthier.
I was also not able to maintain a healthy relationship with a partner because instead of addressing or dealing with my trauma, I was connecting to it every day. I used it for fuel, and spiraled around.
Not many people know that when I was on a team receiving three Michelin stars at a restaurant in San Francisco, I made regular trips to the Golden Gate Bridge to consider dying by suicide.
I wanted to be the best and thrive in the upper echelon of American restaurants. All my pain was the price I had to pay for this success.
This model followed me from San Francisco to New York.
As others enthusiastically returned to the kitchens reopening, I began to prioritize my own needs.
A few months after the start of the pandemic, my former colleagues told me they couldn’t wait to get back to the kitchen. I did not share their eagerness.
I was exercising regularly for the first time in my life, eating healthy meals that I wasn’t hunched over a sink in a restaurant’s basement in, and seeing the sun every day. I discovered therapy and took time for daily meditation practices.
I also cooked things I wanted for the people I loved, not out of obligation to a company that didn’t care about my well-being.
There was absolutely no way I would go back.
In June 2020, I decided to pursue a new career. In October, I signed up for a software engineering boot camp, and now I’m looking for work in this industry.
My well-being means so much more to me than any success in the restaurant industry
My identity was so closely tied to being a pastry chef that separating who I am from her was more painful than I could ever have imagined.
I am not natural at anything like I was at making food. But I persist because I know the life that awaits me back in the kitchen.
More than anything, I want to be emotionally and physically healthy, have financial stability, and find real, healthy love that I can nurture from a place of sincerity. I want all of this more than any amount of recognition or perceived success.
I am also motivated to help other people like me.
We don’t talk enough about mental health in the restaurant industry, even after we have lost so many people to suicide or drug addiction. People who work in the hospitality industry are natural givers, and when exploited by an industry that refuses to adopt fair labor practices, they become envelopes of themselves.
Catering workers deserve better, and sadly, it took a global pandemic for some to finally start believing in it.
Read the original article on Insider