Catch burnout before it stops you
No, you aren’t too young for it
The warning signs of burnout, in retrospect, are so obvious. But when you keep yourself busy, they seem like harmless side effects of hustle culture.
It’s December 2021 and winter break is starting. I get a part-time job opportunity, and as a broke university student, I need the money, so I take it. Two weeks of working turn into a month and breach into the next semester’s start. I keep working 25 hours a week, while balancing full time studies. I’m so busy I don’t notice my body’s cry for help: my back hurts, I barely stay awake, I’m unmotivated. It’s normal, I think.
However, when living begins to feel more like a chore than anything else, it’s no longer normal.
I was in that position for three months. It’s not a long time, yet each passing minute was painfully stretched to feel like an hour. I was skipping lunch because my breaks at work were too short to eat more than a piece of fruit. In those 10 minutes I had to myself, I was often thinking of how I’d wake up the next morning realizing the loop of class and work would repeat again—I dreaded it so badly. I thought it was the standard for a student to be busy, to work and go to school, to appear to have it all together. That’s what the ideal student looked like to me.
And then, one Monday in February, I spent the little free time I had that day on my bathroom floor, crying. I was thinking of other classmates I knew who were working while doing school, and wondering why I wasn’t able to do what they could. It was a hard, relentless cry, one where your cheeks go numb from being in the same position for so long. I didn’t even feel better afterwards. I felt and looked horrible, but once the clock struck 1 p.m., I lazily washed my face and put on my work uniform.
I had spent my entire day crying and was now about to enter my customer-service shift, smiling and conversing with people. On the bus ride to work, the shift from being an absolute mess to keeping it together played on loop in my head.
I kept thinking back to the countless other cries like this I had over February, all of which I ignored because it was normal. I thought 20 years old was too young for burnout. My twenties are supposed to be the liveliest period of my life.
Despite me not telling anyone, my burnout affected everything I did. I wrote horrible articles for class. I barely ate at the dinner table. I no longer wanted to play my favourite video games. I felt physically ill. I no longer felt like myself, but more like a zombified version of me where I was still functioning, but not thriving whatsoever. I’d say ‘good evening’ to a customer, and ‘good morning’ to my professor, while an important part of me was sealed away in my brain, crying on that same bathroom floor.
I pretended I had everything under control, not for others but for myself, because I needed the money and because I wanted to look like a responsible young adult. That bus ride helped me realize that I didn’t have to earn my worth and that money should never come at the cost of me.
I quit my job that same day.