Burnout chronicles: the early years

4 min reading time

I was always a busy kid. My mind was busy, creating, imagining, and learning. I wanted to be involved in everything and I had meltdowns when my Nanna picked me up too early from after school care, lest I “miss something”. I played sport (badly) and music (against my will) and attended dance classes.

From a young age, I felt a calling to help others, but I wasn’t sure how to fulfil it. I played secretaries, wrote company newsletters, and imagined helping people in some way. My interests in spirituality and storytelling led me to journaling, which helped me cope with bullying and loneliness in childhood and my early teens. I loved reading Fiona Horne, took numerology and flower essences classes at summer school, and played with candle magic in the backyard. My journal came with me every step of my difficult teenage years as my most consistent companion.

As I entered my teenage years, I struggled with isolation, disordered eating, depression, and a tumultuous family life. I felt unloved, criticised, misunderstood, and forgotten. I have a clear memory of walking down the street to my house from the bus after school, passing the Fish and Chip shop that marked the end of the strip, and bursting into tears with the clear message “you’ll never amount to shit” ringing in my mind.

I desired to be wanted, accepted, loved unconditionally. “How was your day?” wasn’t a thing in our house. “Why are you only the top girl in maths and not the top student?” was. I never felt good enough. Grades were an indicator of achievement, and achievement meant recognition. But wanting to end my life due to bullying, poor body image and low self-esteem didn’t seem to matter.

I moved to a technical college, where I could avoid the bullying and pursue creative subjects as well as music (groan – but it got me moving schools over the line), fashion design, textiles, psychology and sciences, literature, and every other subject that took my interest. I ended up with 9 year 12 subjects (most people did 5-6) and split over 2 years, as I was deemed “too young” to graduate at 17.

Amidst an already overloaded schedule, working a casual job, living out of home with a boyfriend, and battling my own body image issues and all the stuff that comes through being a teenager, I was sexually assaulted and had to deal with the aftermath of that. I ended up having a little mental breakdown and barely made it through my last year at all. A doctor tried to diagnose and medicate me for depression but I didn’t want to take anything. The pill already had made me feel suicidal.

My first episode of burnout.

Unsurprisingly, my final score was average. My parents made it clear that they expected so much more from me, and I cried at the coffee shop that I was now managing. I never felt good enough. I felt lucky to even be alive. I desperately needed a break but since I’d done 3 years of my leaving certificate, a gap year was off the cards. I wasn’t “competitive enough” or 100% committed to studying Fashion Design (my first preference) and my college hadn’t run year 12 Chemistry; by correspondence I hadn’t gained a score high enough for Genetics. TAFE wasn’t an “acceptable” option, so I accepted an offer for Health Science.

Despite studying Health, I found myself sidetracked by event planning and hospitality jobs. I found purpose and fulfilment in work, both at the cafe and running student support events on campus. Exam Breakfasts were my baby, and then being the student union head of campus, running events and advocating for others, felt more important than the actual studying side of things.

I ended up on academic probation, working full-time to fuel my weekend partying with my new boyfriend and his friends. I still tried to battle through my subjects – this time fuelled by speed and nicotine during kick-ons, as the party still took priority. I finally felt somewhat like I belonged.

continued in part 2: the big one…

Does any or all of my story resonate with you? For more tips, get my free eBook the Hospo’s Guide to Wellness here, or find out more about how I can help you go from surviving to thriving too.

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