Interview live at 2017 Tamworth Country Music Festival by Veronica Farmer.
Photography byMichele Pocknee
Image by www.michelepocknee.com from Tamworth Country Music Festival 2017
I was born and raised in the far western outskirts of Melbourne. It was a fairly idyllic life. My parents are still together now and life was good.
When I was 17 I had an eating disorder, which is pretty unusual for a guy. I was a big kid, 130 kilos at 16 years old. There was a girl I really liked and I didn’t know how to get her to see me. I figured that I was the fat kid, so she wasn’t going to be interested or notice me. That’s how it began. I wanted to change the way I was and to be seen by her.
I went about it the completely wrong way and stopped eating for about a year and dropped my weight to 75 kilos. I would go up to 5 days without eating. I became good at hiding it from my parents by telling them I was eating at friend’s places and we had dogs so it was easy to get rid of food that I had been given.
Over that time I was “skinny fat” I lost a lot of weight and muscle. A year into the eating disorder, a friend got a weight set and I started getting interested in what he was doing. I learned that a lot of guys who were working on building strength were eating 5-6 times a day, while I was only eating every 3 days. This got me thinking and so I began to ask questions and began reading up on how to build strength and power in my body instead of simply just starving myself thin.
Image by www.michelepocknee.com
I changed my focus towards what was good to eat and building strength and away from not eating. It was hard because there is a real endorphin kick you get 2-3 days into fasting. You feel really good and then you eat again and you can feel your body getting sluggish as it digests food once more.
I was a vegan for 7 years around that time because of animal cruelty and also because I didn’t want to be putting antibiotics or other chemicals fed to animals into my body. From my research into healthy eating, I was learning about how important it was to choose good food that would work with my body. It was hard being a vegan while I was weight training as back then there were no protein powders available for vegans. One of my mates now is a professional sprinter and he’s a vegan so it can be done and everything you need is available.
These days I occasionally do intermittent fasting. I still get all the calories I need but I will choose a day when I won’t eat until 2pm that afternoon and then have a couple of decent sized meals after that. The benefits of fasting on the body are powerful. Scientific studies are now showing how fasting triggers stem cell regeneration in the immune system and slows aging. Being aware that you are what you eat is important and to give the body a break from constant food going in does give it the chance to mop up any old damaged cells.
Relationships are another area for me that have led to some life scars and also some great learning. That girl that got me started on the eating disorder I had never even spoken to. I bumped into her once I was on the way to getting strong again and finally spoke to her for the first time. There was nothing there. She had just been an imaginary story in my head – there was no connection at all!
For the past few months I have been single and it has taught me a great deal about myself and the way that I experienced relationships in the past. From the age of 20 until only recently, I moved from one relationship to the next, never letting myself have a break or get clear about what stuff was mine and what was not. When you need someone else to make life okay for you, this can create dependence or expectation. As a result I experienced some big bouts of depression when those relationships came to an end.
Image by Greg Sylvia, Brook performing at the 2017 Toyota Star Maker Finals in Tamworth
I’ve been married twice and even at the end of that first marriage it was only weeks before I quickly moved onto the next relationship. It was heart-wrenching to be on my own and so I was choosing connections that weren’t ideal just to have company and not feel alone.
As a musician you go from the adulation of being on stage for night after night and getting all that energy from people and then nothing as you find yourself stuck at home in the quiet by yourself while everyone else is at work. I would come home at 5am when other people were waking up and sleep until late afternoon. I wouldn’t go out or exercise, I would just sit there getting myself into a funk and that was not healthy.
I’ve got a friend who is a psychologist and he gave me some great tools to help myself. He taught me to look at what I was thinking and make some conscious decisions when I felt a thought coming on that wasn’t helpful and just not go there. It’s been very good for me to take time outside of a defined relationship and see who I am in myself.
The relationships I used to have just seemed to happen. A woman would turn up around me or I thought they were pretty and we would start dating. I never had any decision making around it. I never chose someone because it was going to be good for the both of us. For the first time ever, I now know that I want certain things in a person I am going to date, rather than just dating the next person who comes along.
Relationships are good grist for writing music though. I was thinking how chick flick movies are not a helpful way for women to understand how men actually are. None of us are perfect and amazing 24 hours a day – women or men. No one can live up to that fairytale image and these lyrics from a song I co-wrote with a great friend of mine, resonate with me.
“A day takes 24 hours not just 2 like on the silver screen”
I wrote the first half of that song in Nashville in 2012 while out on a tour bus with a big act. I do country edge with rock. Young people gravitate to my gigs and I like being a bit different from a lot of other country acts out there. I love playing music, always have after a friend lent me his spare guitar and I never put it down.
What has got me out of tough times is creating a new more powerful goal to reach for, a healthier, more positive goal than what I was reaching for before. For others out there with a hidden eating disorder, I think shifting that determination from not eating into something else that is more positive can help, using that big energy for something that is not destructive but creating a better life path.
Nobody is alone in anything that you are going through. If you think you are the only person with an eating disorder you are wrong. There are thousands of people out there of both sexes struggling with this. If you think you are the only person alone and suffering with a relationship break-up you are wrong. These things are the human condition of living a big life. We are all going through these challenges all the time. The hardest thing for me was when I thought I was alone and isolated, an island by myself. I couldn’t tell people what I was actually feeling because I thought they wouldn’t get it or they would judge me for it.
What I know now is that you can talk to pretty much anybody and see that at some point in time they have been through something similar to what you are going through right now. In my work in warehousing I work with a lot of young guys and even with those guys, when you talk about something you are going through, there is always one that will chime up and say “Yeah, I know, I went through a break-up not long ago.”
I am single now but I don’t feel alone. You are never alone in this experience called life. Just reach out, talk to someone. There’s no shame in going to counseling to get some good ideas, and if it’s really bad call Lifeline and there will be an ear on the end of the phone to help you out. So many guys think that if they get some help or see a therapist that makes them less than a man, they think that being a man means that you have to have all the answers to everything yourself. It’s just not true. Having someone you can talk to and share what you are feeling with who can listen and not judge is helpful when you are too inside yourself to see solutions.
To explore Brook’s music and band check out www.brookchivell.com