Julie Goodwin: ‘I couldn’t find a single grain of joy’
When Julie Goodwin was convicted of mid-range drink driving two years ago, it wasn't just her license that she lost.
A decade of privately struggling with her mental health and public identity, after winning Channel 10's debut season of its wildly popular cooking competition, MasterChef Australia, the 49-year-old found herself down a well of despair.
The 2018 arrest which saw media camped outside Goodwin's Central Coast home and cooking school, set her off on what she describes now as "a very slippery slope," culminating in her hospitalisation for six weeks of psychiatric care.
The vivacious mother of three, who won hearts and a loyal following for her warts and all win back in 2009, took a metaphorical wooden spoon to herself, crippled by the shame of such a public misstep.
Ignoring the anguish and physical symptoms of her fall from grace was all Goodwin, "a good girl" all her life, felt she deserved.
"I could not find a single grain of energy or joy or anything. I was so worn down and I was physically really, really unwell. I had sores all over my scalp and ulcers all through my mouth. I had gastro and I had the shakes," she told News Corp Australia.
As her body and mind sent one cry for help after another, Goodwin took her medicine and toughed it out.
"(My body) went, 'well, if you're not going to listen to the brain, then let's just send it to every other friggin' organ in your body," she said.
"I lost the ability to read … like, I could read only a few sentences at a time and then I couldn't read anymore. And I'm a big reader. I've got thousands of books and I love to read and that ability, even now, is still coming back to me. I still struggle to read more than a couple of pages at a time before my focus disappears. So that frightened the living daylights out of me because I just thought, 'I'm shutting down. I'm shutting down, one function at a time. And my brain is shutting down.'"
That's when her devoted husband, Mick, driving the couple home one night in January this year, pulled the car over and stated simply: "I'm taking you to the hospital. I don't know what else to do."
Finding herself in emergency care, the duty doctor insisted Goodwin be admitted as an inpatient for at least two weeks.
"I was fed into a system that gave me very little option," she said.
"The doctor just said, 'you need to be an inpatient. You need to get some help'."
It was the end of summer and Goodwin was expected back on air as the breakfast co-host at Gosford's Star 104.5 in a fortnight; while primed to welcome a group from the USA for a master class at Julie's Place, the cooking school she opened five years after her TV win.
All that would have to wait, her doctors said, as she let go and let God.
"Look, it was very humbling, actually, because the people that were surrounding me (in hospital) were just really beautiful people and everyone had their own struggles in their own way," she said.
"You could see them five days in a row and be fine. And then on day six, they'd be a mess of their own struggles, in whatever way that manifested itself. There were people who I met in there who were so ashamed of themselves for being in there that nobody in the outside world knew that's where they were. They would tell their neighbours they were on holiday and would carry suitcases to convey that … it broke my heart."
Very quickly, Julie Goodwin, MasterChef, realised the most important recipe of her life would be how to make herself happy again.
She had sought therapy years before this episode, but fear and shame and grief and depression are not easy things to fix.
She can joke about it now, but when one therapist told her "we need to get in and unpack this stuff" she was ready to pack it in.
"You know what it's like when you start to clean out a cupboard. You get everything out and then you lose energy for the job and then there's shit all over your house. You don't know how to put it all back away again," she laughed.
Goodwin admits "coming back into the real world was surreal" after her TV victory, over Poh Ling Yeow - triggering a struggle with identity and grief after the passing of her beloved grandmother Edna White and Mick's mother, Kathleen.
"There was an enormous amount of grief and processing that we had to go through, but you know, things were such a whirlwind, it was almost a blessing."
Seizing almost every opportunity that came her way, Goodwin's life changed overnight - writing cookbooks, a magazine column, with weekly TV appearances, even a fashion contract.
That's when her vicious inner critic began a brutal conversation in her head, convinced she was a "mess," "stupid" and "using much harsher language than that," she said.
"It would be over the most stupid things like not having a piece of clothing washed and ready when I wanted to wear it, or turning down the wrong street, or just forgetting something at the shops and it would be like 'put me on the torture rack'."
Adding to her anxiety was her exhaustion, after accepting a job on breakfast radio just a few weeks after opening her cooking school.
There are no complaints from the grateful media star, who relished the job of providing for her family and sons Joe, 24, Tom, 23, and Paddy, 22.
But as those around her would warn "something had to give" - and it did.
On April 13, 2018, after a few too many wines at a party she had catered Goodwin made "the horrendous mistake" of getting behind the wheel to drive herself home.
It proved the latest stick with which she would beat herself.
Asked if she's continues beating herself up about the conviction, two years after paying a $600 fine and serving a six-month driving penalty, Goodwin whispers: "still am."
"I thought I was a good person. I thought I was a law-abiding citizen. I'm a criminal, who has done something so reprehensible," she affirmed.
She's still in therapy to make peace with that transgression, but says "I don't know when I'll be able to do that."
"Fundamentally in my life I've been a good girl. You know, I'm a rule keeper. I've never been in trouble with the law in my life," she said.
"So my whole view of myself just went out the window. But I'll tell you what it did do is I have developed a lot more compassion for other people who might find themselves having made stupid decisions too. Because, you know, you don't have to be an absolute deadbeat to make a mistake. But it makes you feel like one."
Seven months out of hospital, Goodwin remains a work in progress, but found a silver lining in the global pandemic.
After quitting her radio job and closing her cooking school during the lockdown period, Goodwin found herself with no commitments for the first time in more than a decade.
"I took myself away to a holiday house where I could look at the sea and the big sky and just focused on all the self care stuff I had been neglecting."
Meditation, yoga, podcasts, even swapping the wooden spoon for a paintbrush, Goodwin is making it her job to find her "jam" again.
She also took up swimming, with only the sound of her splashing in her head and every stroke reaching for a happier future.
"You've got to find the happy moments and create the moments, you know, and recognise the horrible ones when they're there. Try and let those thoughts go and create better thoughts," the kitchen queen says, adding optimistically, "and you'll have more and more of those good moments."
Originally published as Julie Goodwin: 'I couldn't find a single grain of joy'