Walking the Dogs – part 3: Edinburgh restaurateur David Ramsden on his early life, adolescence and grapples with mental health
- David Ramsden
- 4 September 2019
Ramsden continues his reflection on life in the hospitality industry with a revealing insight into his background and on-going struggles
I don't know any other anorexics. It is, after all, a secretive condition, rife with guilt, anger, and shame; not to mention a crippling lack of self worth. Where does it come from? What is its purpose? Is it a demonstration of power over self, for preservation? I have seen a few over the years: the condition seems to give one a kind of radar.
I am 65 this year, which means I have been in anorexia's grip for 47 years. I can't really remember clearly who I used to be. There are two very distinct versions of myself, who do share common characteristics, but appear substantially different: the younger version who was pretty joyful, mischievous, outgoing, and a bit of a risk taker; and then the later, post-teenager, self, who is less outgoing, more emotionally cautious, and very much underdeveloped as an adult.
I have never read any scholarly works on mental health, or anorexia in particular. I've never been very good at study anyway. It seems so strange, at my age, to realise the extent to which I am still in the grip of anorexia: the control (every day must be ordered, with no surprises); the fluctuations between hope and anxiety; the dull thud of self deprecation; and a feeling of utter worthlessness.
One morning I took a few things, and ran away. From home, from school, the lot. I was 15 years old. I hitched to London, without a plan, with very little money, and no fear that I can remember.
Preceding this, I had become extremely adept at escaping my Edinburgh boarding school, largely to socialise with 'locals'. I started taking really idiotic risks by climbing out of windows and down drainpipes to go to concerts, parties and so on.
How I was neither discovered or injured, I have no idea. It was the first time I had met such folk, and I really enjoyed their company. It also led to mild drug use, alcohol, and some fumbling sex.
The police found me in London. My parents came down to collect me: my mum (never saw father) persuaded me to at least go to a hostel, which I agreed to, but only stayed for one night. I returned to Edinburgh, but the next couple of years were bonkers: I was completely out of control, bouncing around the country in a crazed explosion of manic behaviours. It was a time of abandoning a past and attempting to cobble together a present and future. I had no tools to live by, and only got through with the help and support of some very long suffering people.
There were some odd jobs, I think, and much wildness, including a fondness for LSD, and pot/hash. At one stage, I was kept, and employed, on a pig farm, which I enjoyed a lot. I was hanging with my elder sister Barbara, and her motley crue of semi-aristocratic disasters, a crazy mix. When the summer ended, the fall began. I can't remember exactly how it happened, but somewhere I gave up, I realised I couldn't go on, and asked to come back to the family home in Murrayfield.
It seems very possible that this was the moment the lights went out, and so began the slide into profound illness. It was remarkably quick, only a year or so, and I found myself in its vice-like grip. The return home must have been something of a negotiation, because overnight, there were serious restrictions imposed: curfew, clothes burnt, friends vetted, and a general takeover of my life's direction.
I towed the line, pursuing whatever line my father thought appropriate, including school again, and then college, all done deep in the horrendous fog of the neurosis. Anorexia, I would suggest.
It was the time my relationship with food altered. As a child, I absolutely loved my food. My mother and grandmother were fabulous cooks. I believe some of it was a way of currying favour, but, goodness, I enjoyed it. My father's name for me at one point was 'Davey dumpling'.
The change was very subtle to begin with, but fairly quickly it took hold. Even now, it is so hard to describe what it felt like; a kind of withdrawal to a core, where all that was important was to shut down all involvement with the outside world and its inhabitants. There had to be complete control of everything, especially nutrition.
It should be stated that in the grip of this ailment one becomes incredibly devious, deceitful and utterly self obsessed, just to keep the fragile balance.
I question how much anger it must take to allow this to happen. An unconscionable amount, I believe. Yet I still don't know who I was angry with.
Looking back, it seems I was a rudderless ship, utterly reliant on my father making all my life decisions for me. I was getting no 'life' training at all; no agency. It's a wonder I have got this far.
The next stage was the realisation I couldn't carry on being someone else, but had no idea how to extricate myself, and so resorted to cries for help, which were two botched suicide attempts. Neither were that serious, but enough to have me hospitalised for two six-month periods in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.
Despite being in the safest environment, I apparently would not let go and submit to treatment. In other words, I appeared to resist being dependent. When it was decided I should leave, and return to a life, I patently was not ready or equipped for the release, but nor was I willing to accept help.
Although unsure of what had been achieved, 'normal' life resumed, as far as I can tell, without having the core problem resolved. I remained fairly detached, and directionless. However, this period did include a marriage, and a brief period as a first-time restaurateur. Neither lasted very long. Both indicate how immature I must have been, and without adequate guidance was using up valuable assets that had been left to me. Despite the fact that independence appeared to be my goal, it was as though a responsible dependable figure was required.
The next six years were spent in the music industry, commencing as a stylist for Capercaillie and Deacon Blue, and then progressing to managing bands, including the Indian Givers, and Baby's Got A Gun. This went really well for those years, but came to an end when one client decided he wasn't up for success while another felt they weren't achieving as much as was their due.
The next act was my involvement in the hospitality industry, which has been described previously. It was a brave attempt, and there was almost success. It has been an interesting journey, but ultimately a disappointing one. How much anorexia was involved or can be involved, I am very unsure. My behaviours impacted on staff and customers, of whom some understood, but others ran a mile.
My only real successes have been the relationship with my life partner Roz McKnight, and a hand full of lovely individuals who have remained friends throughout. To my shame, I am sorry to all the many kindly souls who offered succour and support over the years, but never received the thanks or credit they were due.
So, anorexia, you big black dog you: what next? All I see is a trail of failure, incompetence, immaturity and self-obsession. If you are still about, which I believe you are; how are we to move on?Catch up on the other parts of the series of 'Walking the Dogs': David Ramsden's life and career in restaurants: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4. For support, advice and information on issues of mental health within the hospitality industry, go to hospitalityhealth.org.uk