In 2020, Julie Goodwin entered a mental health facility. This is what she wrote in her diary.

The following discusses mental health and suicidal ideation.

The following is an extract from Your Time Starts Now, a memoir by Julie Goodwin.

The year 2020 had always loomed large in our calendar – it was an important one for many reasons. Firstly, it would be our silver wedding anniversary. It was also the year both Mick and I turned fifty, that Joe turned twenty-five, and Mum turned seventy-five. Lots of significant celebrations. Being in a mental hospital wasn’t on my bingo card. Neither was a global pandemic. 2020 turned out to be about the sh*ttiest year in my whole life, and I don’t think I am alone in that assessment.

Entering the mental health unit was surreal. It was so far outside what I ever expected to happen in my life. My preconceptions of what it was like inside a mental hospital had mostly been formed by watching movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I hadn’t thought for a second about what it might be like to be in that position myself – it just didn’t apply to me. Until all at once, it did apply to me, and here I was.

At first, I was not expected to join the others in the dining room or to attend the group therapy sessions. I’m not sure if they gave everyone this leeway when they were becoming acclimatised to their new surroundings, or if it was because I had a recognisable face. After a few days, though, the flexibility was removed, and I had to face people at mealtimes. We were required to check in to a short session after breakfast, which involved telling everyone how we felt that morning. It was never an overly joyful session – none of us was in hospital because our lives were going exactly to plan.


While you're here, here's how Julie Goodwin cooks for her boys every single night. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

Morning and afternoon there were group counselling sessions. Some of these were okay. I learned a lot about cognitive behavioural therapy, an element of which is noticing bad thoughts and sending them on their way. I learned to pay attention to the signs of impending panic or sadness and to work out which feelings attached themselves to those sensations. Then to identify the thoughts that were creating the feelings. And to understand that most of those thoughts were either going over things that had already happened or worrying about things that had not yet happened. We learned to accept those thoughts without judgment, just let them come and let them go. I put unhelpful thoughts onto leaves in a creek and watch them float downstream; I put unhelpful thoughts into bubbles and watched them drift away into the air.

Being constantly vigilant about the thoughts that are causing the feelings that are causing the problems is exhausting, like that whack-a-mole game where no sooner than you smack one furry little bastard on the head, another one pops up somewhere else. 


We had sessions on mindfulness – the art of Now. If you’re in the moment, paying attention to exactly what’s happening at the present time, you can’t be chewing over the past or worrying about the future. A lot of the cognitive behavioural therapy actions we were taught involved bringing us back to the present moment; counting our breaths, naming things in the room, paying attention to each of our senses in turn. These things were quite effective in heading off a full-blown anxiety attack if you had your wits about you and noticed it coming in time.

Some sessions were brutal – home truths landed like undetonated bombs that went off later in the privacy of my room. Some sessions were fantastic, leaving me feeling like I would have every­thing under control if I could just master what I had been taught. Some of our teachers were empathetic, kind, inspirational. A couple of them were, in my considered opinion, on the wrong side of the room.

I kept a journal while I was in the hospital. It’s a little disjointed, not earth-shattering prose or anything. I was drugged pretty heavily at first, to keep the panic attacks at bay and to ease me into a new antidepressant medication. Writing things down helped me to keep track of the days, which blurred into one another. It helped to somewhat order my thoughts, which were wheeling around in my head like seagulls after a hot chip. It gave me something to do that required me to be at least a little bit compos mentis. 

Reading back over the journal entries is hard. They bring back the bewilderment, the sadness and guilt, the helplessness. The anger. All the sh*tty feelings I had that my life had come to this. That I had let it come to this. All the worry I was causing for the people I loved.


It was a dark time, punctuated with light moments. The light moments were not only created by my family and friends, who were able to visit me, but also, to my surprise, quite often by my fellow patients. 

January–March 2020

Thursday 16th January.

After the psychiatrist I go home to pack, then off to the mental health clinic as an inpatient to get me sorted. They take anything sharp from my bags, all my phone charging cords, my medications. A thorough bag search. It’s very confronting. The doorknobs and taps are a weird shape; there are no towel rails. I work out it’s so you can’t tie anything to them and hang yourself. The doors close but don’t lock. 

I’m given blood tests. Mick stays all day. He makes phone calls to the radio, the kitchen, Mum and Dad. Others will find out soon enough.

Friday 17th.

I see a psychologist, a medical doctor and a psychiatrist today. All the nurses are wonderful. Plans are formulated for new medication. Everyone’s very conscious of my privacy. I don’t have to eat in the dining room. I will have to see people eventually. I’m foggy, dopey. Anxiety attacked tonight with sweating, shaking, racing pulse. They gave me more diazepam and put a wet washer on me. The psychologist asked me to write some positive affir­mations about being here because currently mostly what I feel is desperately guilty for letting people down. 


I write: ‘I want to be strong again and I am here to achieve that. I am taking this time away from my work and life so that I can see a bright and happy future. I am looking for different strategies for coping and I want to be the best version of myself for those who love me.’

Mick is here again all day today. He is the bedrock my life is built on. He is my world.

Saturday 18th.

Mick here again for the day and he brings my art supplies. I eat in the dining room for the first time at breakfast and there is a bit too much drama. I want to go home. I’m given more valium. The nurse explains the wash effect, which is where they take you off one antidepressant and gradually introduce another, so for a few days you’re not really covered by either. Could be why I feel like sh*t today. They give me a different drug at night. In high doses it’s an antipsychotic, but at low doses it’s a sedative, so at least I can sleep.

Monday 20th.

Set an alarm for breakfast. During breakfast I sit alone. Not ready to talk yet. Scrambled eggs, cold toast and tea. Back to the room to sleep. Not doze, proper deep sleep. They keep waking me for obs and valium. Tash comes at 10.30 and brings lollies and love. When she leaves I go back to sleep. Lunch, sleep. Mick at 5.30 after work. I’m so sorry for everything. I’ve just f**ked up everything. Nobody misses me on the radio this morning. Not a single message asking where I am. Like I was never there. That’s okay. Maybe disappearing and starting a whole new life doing something else will be easier than I thought. They’re fine without me at the kitchen too.


Tuesday the 21st of January 2020.

Happy 25th anniversary to the love of my life. I can’t believe we’re waking up in different beds today. I don’t want to get up. The nurse wakes me again at 10 and suggests I come up with some plans for the day, sleeping not being one of them. They have given me colouring-in sheets to do, so that’s something, I guess. The medicine has stripped me of the things I am. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I sit alone at meals. I can’t comfort anyone in distress or offer kind words. The best bits of me have sailed away on a cloud of whatever the f**k it is they’re giving me. I’m left here, empty in my heart, of no use to the people here around me or the people on the outside who love me.

Wednesday 22nd.

I have challenged myself to take all meals in the dining room. Breakfast is at 7. I have to set an alarm. I haven’t had to set an alarm that late since I started radio. It must be the drugs. Today I go on the group walk and manage to say a few words. Nothing of consequence. Mainly my name, to a lady who forgets it every few minutes. Lunch in the dining room, rissoles and gravy. I forget to order vegetables so it just looks like three brown cricket balls on a plate, with gravy on them. The food is actually better than I expected. Paddy comes to visit, stays for one and three-quarter hours. 

Mick comes tonight too after work. We eat dinner at five, turkey with mash and gravy. I have to stock up on Jatz crackers and cheese so I can have another dinner at real dinner time. They’re trying to get me to join groups but today’s group was preparing for discharge and I’m not being discharged. Tomorrow’s is managing anger but I don’t have any f**king anger issues so they can shove that right up their arse.


Saturday 25th.

I dream I am trying to teach a duck to swim and it just can’t get the hang of it so I sticky-tape it to a pool noodle. I wonder what Freud would make of that.

As much as I would give to be in my own bed tonight, I’ve surrendered myself to this process. This weird, watershed time in my life. Eventually it will be done and I’ll be better for it. In the meantime I need to exercise. The meds make me want to eat for Australia.

Monday 27th.

We watch the Kyrgios–Nadal match for a spot in the quarters. Kyrgios goes down 3–1 but not without an incredible fight. I watch it with a couple of the others in here and Mick stays for a while. It feels good and normal to have a laugh. Everyone here has their own sh*t going on. I hope they all turn out okay. I hope we all turn out okay.

Tuesday 28th.

But the great news is I’ve been granted two hours per day to go unaccompanied to the local leisure centre to use the gym and the pool.

Group today is about dealing with unhelpful thoughts. It is actually amazing to hear other people’s thoughts echoing mine and realising that I’m not alone. There are some people here who are really suffering outwardly and those that appear fine and happy but whose wounds must be on the inside. It is a really profound session. I probably should go to more.


I do go to the leisure centre and sign up for a two-week membership. I buy some goggles and swim and go to the gym. It feels powerful and positive and I’ll try to do it every day.

Thursday 30th.

Today’s group is about self-compassion. The first handout had a graphic on it that knocks me absolutely sideways. It’s a quote by Jack Kornfield: ‘If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.’ I start crying, because being a compassionate person was something I took pride in. I thought I was good at it, something I believed was an important part of me. And now I learn that just because I hate myself, I’m not really that great at being a compassionate person. Thanks a lot, Jack. Way to kick a girl when she’s down. 

After lunch, I go to the leisure centre for a swim. The Uber driver recognises me from the radio. I swim thirty laps again, in less time. I love it so much. Then the Uber driver back to the hospital recognises me from Masterchef. My stay in hospital is probably not going to remain private for much longer. 

Rough evening; I know one of the women who comes in to visit a relative. I feel exposed, as though I don’t have any privacy. I wonder how long before the news is public that I am in a psych unit.

Wednesday 5th.

Our group today is about gratitude which is actually some­thing I do practise daily with Mick. Some days we forget but our general rule is that we text each other every day with something we are grateful for. Small, big, whatever, just a moment of the day that we set aside to think about positive things. It’s one of the many reasons I love him. 


I got to swim this afternoon. It is a pure and true exercise in mindfulness. There’s nothing but counting strokes, moving through the water, the tiles on the bottom of the pool, the only sound my own breath, bubbling to the surface. It is pure therapy and I love it. 

Tonight Mick gets here early and sits with us at the dining table. It is nice for him to join in on what really is a family experience. There is plenty of laughing, chatting about the food (roast turkey and mash), hearing from the new lady who just arrived. I’m learning so much from the facilitators and counsel­lors here but, really, I think my biggest lessons have come from my fellow patients. All of us dealing with one thing or another. They are so brave. They are fighting for their best lives. That’s what we’re doing. It’s all we want.

Thursday 6th.

Rabs comes in today and smuggles in cheese and crackers. He was going to glad-wrap them around his torso under his hoodie but he forgot his hoodie. It doesn’t matter, I’m actually allowed to have cheese and crackers, he doesn’t need to smuggle them. It is great to see him. We yap on for an hour and a half. A replacement for me on the breakfast show has been found. It looks like I will only return now to welcome her, and say goodbye. I have a lot of hugely conflicting emotions about this, but I’ll leave those to sort out later when they’ve completed the grease and oil change on my brain. 


There’s a beautiful lady in here, it’s not her first time at the rodeo, and I’ve found her honesty and insight and wisdom to be a really important part of my beginning to heal in here. Today she asks if I have a sec. She’s been debating whether to tell me some­thing. She doesn’t want to upset or trigger me, but she’s decided she wants to let me know. 

‘Thankful Thursday saved my life,’ she said. Thankful Thursday is a regular spot on our brekky show where we ask listeners to call up with something they are grateful for. She was going to pick up her car from a service, and had decided it was her last day. She had picked out a tree along Wilford Barrett Drive. When she got in her car, the mechanic had changed it from her station, the ABC to Star 104.5. Rabs and I were doing our Thankful Thursday segment. 

Apparently on this day I had said something like, ‘Even when things are hard there’s always something, even if it’s small, that we can be thankful for.’ 

She said, ‘Anyway, I drove past the tree.’ 

I tell her she’s obviously meant to be here. We both are. Thank God for the mechanic who changed the radio station. Thank God for a radio station that supports our show in doing positive things. Thank God the timing worked out. Thank God for the two strangers and their lovely dog who found themselves on a footpath between me and Brisbane Water. Not everything is accidental.


If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636. 


Your Time Starts Now by Julie Goodwin. Image: Penguin Books Australia.

Your Time Starts Now, a memoir by Julie Goodwin is now available for purchase

Feature image: Network Ten + Instagram @_juliegoodwin.

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