Brent Draper – "My MasterChef And Mental Health Journey"
It's hard to explain just how “stuck in a rut” I felt after realising I’d spent over 12 years as a Boilermaker, and I didn't want to do it anymore. I mean, I was pretty good at it and I was grateful for the opportunity to get good at the craft, but along the way I’d lost all passion for it. I wanted to grind off the shackles and give something else a crack, but I had no idea how I was going to do it. All I knew was that I was always being drawn back to cooking, and food.
After years of waking up at the crack of dawn each day with zero energy and very little purpose, driving to work with my iced coffee and a dirty old sausage roll in hand, I started to feel a bit numb.
Not finishing grade 12 and going straight out of high school into a trade made me start to believe that my options were really limited, and I kept thinking that being a tradie was all I was ever going to be in this life because I wasn't “qualified” to do anything else.
I knew I wasn't getting any younger and the only way to get out of the rut was to take one step forward into the unknown. I had to do something and just see where it took me.
One day at work during smoko I decided "Righto f*ck this, enough is enough"... and I applied for MasterChef.
My journey on the show obviously ended differently to others, with me putting my hand up and self-eliminating due to ongoing mental and physical health concerns that I had been suffering for some time. It was a big journey, but one I’m proud of.
I'd been suffering from some pretty serious anxiety and mental health issues for quite some time during my time on the show, and it was just rapidly getting worse. When it started to manifest into physical symptoms I started to spiral mentally and I couldn't pull myself out of it, it got really dark in my last couple of weeks of filming and I knew that I had to get myself out of there.
I had to put my health first, even though I wanted to stay in the competition and I wanted to prove to everyone that I could go all the way. At the end of the day without my health I have nothing, so I had to put that first and leave the competition.
Leaving the way that I did was definitely not a part of my grand plan, but I had no choice. I had to put my hand up and be honest about what was going on so I could get out, get home and get help. There was no other way. And that's just who I am as a person, what you see is what you get, so looking back on it now it isn't surprising to me that I left the way I did.
Whilst it definitely wasn't planned to work out this way, I’m glad that it did because I have had so many people reach out to me since to tell me it's really helped them with their own mental health issues and that they have been able to put their hands up and ask for help. I get goosebumps every time I read one of those messages, that's huge for me.
After the show, I went and saw my doctor, I saw a psychologist and I was with one of those two professionals each week for a couple of months religiously. My wife and I talked about everything a lot, and that really helped too. Then I did all of the good stuff, lots of quality time with my family and friends, cooking, meditation, surfing, cold showers, slowing down... just everything I loved and needed to help me get back on track. And I relied heavily on my biggest supporter the whole way through, my wife Shonleigh.
I didn't really think much of “anxiety” growing up, but looking back there were times that I definitely felt anxious but just didn't know what it was at the time. I guess it didn't register that's what it was back then, and it wasn't something that we spoke about in the country town I grew up in.
I now know what anxiety is, it comes and goes for me, and I can recognise when it pops up now which is great. During the show the feelings of anxiety weren’t something I was able to recognise, but I now have the tools to be able to deal with it head on before it starts to spiral out of control, and that makes all the difference.
Looking back on my MasterChef experience, it is one of the best things I’ve ever done. It taught me about resilience, it gave me a handful of best mates, it pushed me beyond my limits and it made me really appreciate what I had back home and all the simple things that I probably took for granted before I went into the competition. Oh, and I also learnt how to cook a lot better (ha!)!
As for my message for other men, it's pretty simple, just tell someone what's going on in your head. It might seem daunting at first but trust me, open up and tell someone. You'll feel so much lighter. If you're not speaking it, you're storing it, and storing it gets heavy.
If you are thinking about suicide, experiencing emotional distress, or just need someone to speak to, help is available. Please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or http://lifeline.org.au.