David Chang Has Nothing To Be Depressed About

“To Fight This, You Need Help. Medicine, Yes, But People Are Key. You Can’t Do It Alone.”

David Zahl / 9.30.20

A trenchant passage from David Chang’s new memoir Eat a Peach, a book which has made headlines for its openness about the chef/restaurateur/Netflix personality’s history of depression. Apparently Chang decided to shift the direction of the book after the death of his good friend Anthony Bourdain. I for one am glad he did, ht CWZ:

You want to know if I still think about suicide. Well, there are periods when I don’t, and when I do, it’s usually more academic than emotional.

I think about how nothing I’ve achieved would have been possible if I hadn’t been ready to die from the outset — how my success is completely tied to my depression. I fear losing more of my heroes to suicide … I wonder out loud to my friends if we’ve been sold a false idea of happiness, and I worry I’m just telling myself that as an excuse to be happy.

“Come on, Dave,” you’re saying. “What the hell do you have to be depressed about?”

Nothing. There’s nothing to be depressed about. For those who know me well, it can be a struggle to reconcile my depression with the look of joy on my face when we’re eating and goofing off together. You know how much I love my family and my job and the people I work with. But if you’ve fought depression or know somebody who has, you know that no amount of money can fix it. No amount of fame. No logic. The continuing stigma around suicide and mental illness tells me that not enough people truly understand it. I don’t really blame them — it’s impossible unless you’ve lived it. But there’s this puritanical notion of … depression as some kind of failure of character. Too many of us assume that antidepressants and suicide hotlines and generalized compassion are antidotes — that painting the train station a calm color is going to stop people from jumping. You wouldn’t suggest to a cancer patient that calling a hotline would cure them, would you?

To fight this, you need help. Medicine, yes, but people are key. You can’t do it alone.

For Chang, finding a way to live with his depression ends up sounding a whole lot like AA’s “one day at a time” philosophy.

This all raises the question of whether depression is something you can control by simply sucking it up. My answer is no, I don’t think you can overcome it with willpower, but I do believe that dealing with depression is a choice that needs to be made. You have to choose to stand up everyday and keep going. To reject your default setting. To offer another silly analogy, I always liken it to being a  Jedi. It’s easier — and probably cooler — to give in to the dark side. The only way to be a Jedi is to do the hard thing and reject your base instincts.