EXCLUSIVE: The original Aussie MasterChef Julie Goodwin shares her mental health struggles

TV’s MasterChef mum Julie Goodwin built a career doing what she loves best but, she tells Michael Sheather, the drive that helped make her a success also pushed her to the edge.
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Sometimes we need to see ourselves as others see us before we can finally see the truth.

For Julie Goodwin, the woman who cooked her way into our hearts as the very first winner of TV’s MasterChef, that moment of clarity came through the eyes of her loving husband, Mick, one evening in January this year.

“We were in the car, on the way home,” recalls Julie, a 49-year-old mother of three.

“I’d been at the kitchen where I run my business and cooking classes and it had been a long day.

“I was due to begin back as a morning radio host in just a few days and I could feel the stress and anxiety building in me.

“I got into the car and I was telling Mick how I couldn’t see how I could keep going, how I could keep doing what I was doing. It was too much, too much.”

Julie’s intense distress was all too obvious. Tears were streaming down her face. She was holding her face in her hands, sobbing as she detailed all the things that she needed to do.

Though she didn’t know it, Julie had finally reached her emotional and physical tipping point.

“Mick pulled the car over to the side of the road,” says Julie.

“He looked over at me and said softly, ‘I need to take you to the hospital’. I was stunned and said: ‘I don’t want to go to the hospital. I want to go home’.”

“He said, in the softest voice he could, ‘I am not equipped to deal with the things that you are saying to me right now. You need to see someone who can help you, but right now, that isn’t me.

Julie admits that she still feels some shame about what happened.

(Credit: Photography by Alana Landsberry. Styling by Jamela Duncan.)

“So, Mick drove me to the hospital. I kept saying I didn’t want to go, that it was an overreaction and that I would be all right. But thankfully Mick didn’t listen. He took me to the emergency room at Gosford Hospital on the NSW Central Coast, where we live.

“They took me into an examination room and sent a psychiatrist in to see me. And then I fell apart.”

Julie Goodwin is a rarity in the Australian media landscape.

She owns and runs her own cookery school, Julie’s Place, on the Central Coast north of Sydney.

She is an author, a celebrity and appears regularly in magazines (including, of course, our very own The Australian Women’s Weekly) across the country.

Julie in March 2019 with frequent MasterChef guest chef Anna Polyviou.

(Credit: Image: Getty.)

Until earlier this year, she was the host of a morning radio show. And she’s a devoted wife and mum to three grown sons.

For years, Julie’s family and friends have looked at everything she has achieved and wondered how she found the energy and the determination to do it all with such grace and style.

But the unfortunate truth is she didn’t have boundless reserves of energy.

Underneath that smiling facade, Julie Goodwin was barely keeping it together.

She was, and remains, one of millions of Australians who struggle with acute depression and anxiety, much of it brought on by an inbalance in brain chemistry and a combination of self-doubt, overcommitment, peer pressure and an inability to say no.

WATCH BELOW: See the moment Julie Goodwin won the very first season of MasterChef. Story continues below.

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It’s a malady affecting three million Australians – one in eight of us. And, as Julie knows, it’s an illness that strikes with such suddenness and savagery that it can change your life in an instant.

The day after Mick drove her to hospital, Julie admitted herself to a psychiatric ward for examination and recovery.

Doctors expected Julie to stay in the ward for two to three weeks. She remained there for six weeks.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Julie says.

“It was so surreal. I was sitting in a hospital bed saying to myself, ‘How on earth did I end up here?’

“How did I go from being a business owner and a radio host, contributing member of my community, to being an inpatient at a psychiatric unit? I just couldn’t get my head around it.”

Yet the signs were there. Julie says that she experienced several bouts of anxiety during her life, but she has always pushed against it.

“I have experienced it before,” she says.

“It hasn’t been a constant companion, but I have been through it at certain stages when I was younger.

“But I was really reluctant to get it diagnosed. I suppose I didn’t want that to be my story. I didn’t want that to define me. I didn’t want to give it that energy. I just wanted to carry on – my life was always up, up and away we go.”

It was an attitude that was ingrained in her as a child. She was brought up by parents who had lived through the Great Depression. Stoicism was a valued attribute, not a failing.

Julie says that she experienced several bouts of anxiety during her life, but always fought it back.

(Credit: Photography by Alana Landsberry. Styling by Jamela Duncan.)

“A strong work ethic was valued and looked on as something to be respected,” says Julie.

“So, when things in my life became difficult, I would cling to those values.

“To me, the harder I worked the better I was. If I could just keep that up, then everything would be fine. I would be fine.”

So, when the opportunity came to be a morning host on a local radio station four years ago, Julie jumped at the chance.

It was a job she came to love, but the obscenely early starts robbed her of cherished time with her family.

She is grateful for the love of her family and friends, and especially for the support of her three boys: Joe, 24, Tom, 23, and Paddy, 21.

Julie credits her three sons for her recovery, saying they “couldn’t have been more beautiful and more supportive.”

(Credit: Photography by Alana Landsberry. Styling by Jamela Duncan.)

“My beautiful boys,” Julie says.

“I didn’t want to burden them with my worries at the time. I was never fully open with them about it, so when I went into hospital it was a terrible shock for them.

“But they couldn’t have been more beautiful and more supportive of me, telling me how proud they were of me, sending me funny jokes to brighten my day when I was in the psych ward, visiting and checking in on me. I was so proud of the way they stepped up. And I am grateful to them, too.

“It was difficult because I’m their mum. I’m not the one who’s supposed to need support. I’m the one supposed to be doing the nurturing, not needing it.

“I’ve also realised I need to be my own friend. Now, I must be a mother to myself, even though I have a beautiful mother. I must speak to myself in those warm and nurturing tones.

“One of the reasons I wanted to speak out about my experience is to help dispel some of that shame people feel about mental illness. I hope that people will see it’s okay to reach out and ask for help. There’s no shame in it.”

Read the full interview with Julie Goodwin in the May issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly, on sale now.

The Australian Women’s Weekly May 2020 edition.

(Credit: Image: AWW)

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