Talking with Will Cook!
Tell me a little bit about yourself. My name is Will and I am 19-years-old. I am currently studying Media and International Studies at UNSW and live in Basser College. I am the President at Basser College, but only for a couple more weeks when I will move on from the frantic college lifestyle after two amazing years of finding my feet in Sydney. I grew up in Adelaide, but left at the end of Year 12 to pursue my interest in the media industry, politics and the big city life. I loved growing up in Adelaide, but I don’t know if I would still call it home. All of my family and some of my best mates still live in Adelaide, but I now have so much going on in Sydney that this place feels like my home now.
In terms of what I do in Sydney it is a real mixed bag. Being President at College takes up a lot of my time. I also work as a Contributor for Eat, Drink, Play a food and lifestyle website. It is a great job. I get to review some amazing eateries and bars; it has been a great way to acquaint myself with the city. To earn some extra dosh, I work part time for Athlete’s foot, so I am basically a pseudo-podiatrist.
I am interested in so many things, but if I had to pick only a few I would say that my passions are television, food, writing, wine and politics. If I could find a career that combines these things than I would be ecstatic. In my spare time I like to read, walk, trawl through social media and chill out with friends (usually with a drink of some description in hand).
What has your experience with Mental Health & Body Dysmorphia been like? A rollercoaster. Every day is different. Even as I write this today I have experienced a wave of emotions. I woke up, immediately looked in the mirror and hated the way I looked. I was particularly fixated on my stomach. Almost six hours later, after taking a walk to the beach, having breakfast and lunch and going to class the self-hate has drastically subsided. So, in short, every day is different but I have always struggled to accept the way I looked.
At the end of year 11 I travelled to Germany on exchange over the Christmas period. In hindsight, it was fantastic. At the time, I was a bundle of depression and sadness. I developed unhealthy behaviours around food and would worry that I wouldn’t be “the same” when I returned to Australia. One night my host exchange family took me out for a typical German feast. This is when I knew I had a problem. The experience with my host family got so stressful that I decided to spend the twelve days of Christmas with family friends in England.
Coming back from Europe I started year 12, the most stressful year of my life so far. By the end of the year I was not at a healthy weight, constantly tired and seriously stressed. I would obsess over what I ate, how I looked and whether what I ate would make me gain weight. Luckily, I could see that I had a problem and I started sessions with a psychologist. Engaging in cognitive therapy I finished the year slightly more content with how I looked. I was ready to take the next step.
Since moving to Sydney, my battle with Body Dysmorphic Disorder has been ever-present but more manageable. It is all linked to stress, when I feel I can’t control my life I worry about my weight. As I now work a lot with food, this has proven to be a persistent issue. Do I eat out and feel guilty about it later? Or do I forgo the opportunity to dine at some pretty incredible places? I take it on a day by day basis depending how I am feeling in the moment.
This year has been something of an euphoric epiphany. I know now that I want to change and I am determined to beat whatever this is. For whatever reason I no longer give a shit about what other people think of me or how I look, I know just need irrational me to accept me for who I am. By no means am I cured, it is a daily flux of highs and lows.
What are the strategies that you have found most effective to help manage your symptoms? Early on I gave my negative thoughts a name. I called it “The Fucker”. By belittling the thoughts to a tangible character, I found it easier to engage in conversations and self-strategies to overcome it.
I have a list of prevention and management strategies on a wall in my room. I use presentation strategies daily to help quell the existence of negative thoughts.
These prevention strategies include simply things like finding an hour of chill time every day. During this time, I don’t look at my phone, close my door and read a book or watch a TV show. I walk once or twice a day for exercise and for decluttering my mind. While walking I will call my mum, listen to a podcast or blast the latest bangers.
I have recently found that I spend way too much time on social media, so a couple weeks ago I turned off all social media notifications. It has been a great time saver and stress reducer. I find that I am way less anxious about social situations and having to respond to or please everyone every day.
Throughout my older life, I have developed a horrible habit of looking back at photos and comparing how I think I look now to what I look like in the photos. So, I am making a concerted effort to stop looking back.
Everything I do is all about being present and in the moment. After all, I am only going to be young in and living in Sydney once in my life.
When I go through the inevitable days of self-loathing and stress my management strategies kick into gear. My main port of call is letting people know. It’s as simple as saying to my best mates “I don’t feel great today but I will be soon”. My friends react differently. Whether they take me out for coffee, come sit in my room or join me for a walk. Not being alone is the best feeling when all you want is to hide.
Why do you think that conversations around mental health are important? Conversations around mental health are vital, if we don’t discuss than no action can be taken.
This year at college, myself and the other leaders have been focussed on the well-being and mental health of all residents. This cultivated in the House Secretary and myself sharing our own experiences with mental health in front of the entire college. I rarely get nervous but right before speaking I was shaking. I wasn’t sure how people would react. Would they just think that I was a privilege white male whining? The response was heart-warming. People came up to both of us and thanked us for opening up and starting the discussion. As much as it helped foster an environment of discussion within the college, it was deeply therapeutic for me. From that day on I have been so much more comfortable talking about my mental health and letting people know that I am sometimes not A-OK.
If someone else is in a position that you have been in, what do you think would be most helpful for them to know? With body dysmorphia it is so easy to think that people will dismiss your obsession as vanity. Sadly, some people do. I have had experience with people who I confided in who have then turned around and bitched about me and my mental health. It is a horrible feeling, but at the end of the day those people don’t matter. Surround yourself with people who understand and value you for you. If you do that you will feel so much more content with your place in the world.
It is also good to know that there is no easy fix. I am not going to wake up one day and be completely cured of all my negative and irrational thoughts. So, you need to let people know what you are thinking. It can be as simple as sending someone a text letting them know that you are having an off day. Although it may feel like you are lumping them with your negative vibes, I guarantee that there is no better feeling than having someone look out for you.
Any information on this blog is not a substitute for professional advice. It is written from personal experience and research only. If you are in crisis, go to your nearest emergency room, call lifeline on 13 11 14 or dial 000. If you live outside Australia, link to worldwide crisis numbers can be found in the sidebar. If you are struggling with eating or exercise information can be found at The Butterfly Foundation.