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  • Flynn Rodger

So You're Burnt Out: What Now?

Candidly Weighed-Up by Flynn Rodger (he/him)

For the sake of your student loan debt and general mental health, I hope you never do, but if you feel academic burnout looming on your horizon and file this article away for later, I won’t tell anyone. Promise. 

Contrary to how I felt as a big-brained child, there are a lot of people like me. I excelled in primary school, coasted through high school with minimal studying, and in my first year at uni I crashed in a fiery, burning heap. My ‘fees free’ went down the toilet, along with most of my relatives’ opinions of me. Woe is the ‘gifted’ student who never learned how to study. But somehow, I persevered and recovered (or at least continued) my journey.  

Now that I’m in my third (technically 2.5nd)  year and my mindset has shifted, I feel qualified to give out unsolicited advice on what to do if you find yourself in my disintegrating Doc Martens one day.

For the sake of your student loan debt and general mental health, I hope you never do, but if you feel academic burnout looming on your horizon and file this article away for later, I won’t tell anyone. Promise. 

You may be wondering, “What happened Flynn? What was it that smacked you out of the air like the meandering housefly you were?” and while I’d love to tell you that my slow yet steady decline was simple and reversible, the truth is never so pristine. 

Leading up to my first year at uni, I wasn’t looking after myself. I wasn’t eating enough, I was constantly anxious, and turned self destructive at the slightest inconvenience or perceived failure. I drifted through the rapids of my first trimester like a lost baby duckling sent careening down a river. I was incurably miserable. There was only one thing for it: psychiatric medication. 

The decision to go on antidepressants had been a long time coming, and it’s exceedingly ordinary for young people out of high school to seek biochemical assistance or counselling. I did both, and while I felt better, my study took a back seat. I had to devote time and energy towards me, not my work. I changed my living situation, my gut microbiome, and my brain chemistry, but by the time I looked around at my new reality, university had shrivelled like a forgotten indoor plant. 

The way I’m writing about this now is rather blithe, but when it happened it was crushing. My whole sense of self was dissolving before my eyes. It felt like the end of my little world. 

Looking back from where I am now, it doesn’t seem so bad, but I have the perspective of hindsight. 

Not even counselling or trips to my kind academic advisor could save me from the truth that seemed to loom above me, or else weigh on my shoulders like the corpse of an albatross: I would have to drop out, or start over. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and only one of them led to a degree. Time to break it down into a pros and cons list. 

Pros of dropping out:

  • Skip the student debt that may crush you for all eternity. 

  • Give yourself the time to pull your shit together without the compounding pressure of overdue assignments. 

  • Do something else, and scrub the mould of anxiety out of your brain, potentially giving yourself the ability to start over at some point with better odds. 

Cons of dropping out:

  • Accept the inevitable disappointment in yourself and from others. 

  • Give up on the hopes and dreams that led you here (assuming your degree was a direct path to a career that you could not bypass).

  • Move back in with your family (Assuming you were out of home anyway).

  • Potentially lose touch with your friends at uni who have not flunked out.

When you flunk a course in uni, you can get a refund for at least part of your fees for that course, so long as you have adequate documentation of your exceptional circumstances and jump through the right bureaucratic hoops before you run out of time. As easy as it sounds from an external point of view, the absolute last thing I could fathom doing when I was zonked out on meds and stuffed full of anxiety was paperwork. To compound this, I was still a fresher with a confused conception of how university even functioned. 

Based on that secondary failure to get more refunded for my failed courses, this is my advice for recouping your fees/fees free:

  • Contact a Health Navigator at Mauri Ora. If you’re not signed up for the practice, you will have to complete intake forms and such, but our current Health Navigators are absolute godsends and can alleviate a lot of stress. Trust. 

  • In the meantime, stop trying to get a million extensions. You probably won’t catch up on all of the work you’ve missed, especially if the cause of your procrastination has not been resolved. It takes more than a mid-tri break to heal your brain. Bite the bullet and consider withdrawing from courses. 

  • If only temporarily, try moving to part time study. With the help of a medical practitioner or counsellor and hopefully a health navigator, you can even apply for Limited Full Time Status to still get a student loan for accommodation. This can absolutely be temporary and will not ruin your entire career path. 

  • Take your time. Be patient with yourself, and kind. I know it’s hard to be good to yourself, though, so any act of generosity is a win. 

Please note that these lists are non-exhaustive and not universal. Results may vary. Batteries not included. 

I started over last year. A summer of manual labour and strained customer-service smiles filled me with a certain whimsical longing for academia. My reasoning may not have been entirely sound, but in my case these things worked:

  • Starting small; one or two courses per trimester. 

  • Staying in contact with my counsellor at Mauri Ora, and my academic advisor. 

  • Looking into (spicy brain) alternative ways of studying, eg. Pomodoro technique, setting up a designated study space, turning my phone off, ‘To Done’ lists, etc. 

  • Letting go of shame. 

That  last one has been much, much harder to achieve than anything else. I’m always working on it. I still feel like academia is the only field I can succeed in; my other skills-sets are in latte art, and tabletop roleplaying games. I’m not sure how to begin deconstructing this, as my mentality is still that if I cannot do something, I must be lazy. A lifetime of procrastination followed by embarrassment has not prepared me to accept myself as imperfect. 

But at least I don’t biodegrade like a wet paper bag every time I get a mediocre grade, and I’m not ashamed of my mistakes.


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