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So it took me quite a while to decide what I wanted to do. Burnout is a weird thing; it takes a long time to get any perspective or to even know what changes to make. If 2020 and all its chaos has taught us anything, it’s to question whether we should even be wanting to go back to exactly how things were pre-COVID. When all the busyness and obligations fell away, I was one of those who took time to reflect on what was worth rebuilding and what should be consigned to the scrap heap.

In terms of work, I knew that even if I fully recovered physically, I didn’t want it to continue the way it had been going. Everyone has a different tolerance/threshold for stress and I think over the years mine has eroded. My job at the school was held open for me (I took leave without pay), and I was able to take almost five months off. Other people I’ve spoken to who have had major burnout and/or needed to stop work for mental health reasons said it took them at least that long and often much longer to recover. I spoke to someone recently who had experienced two periods of burnout in her working life and believed that the stress has done permanent physical damage to her heart. It’s not something to muck around with.

I’m pretty sure my employer would have kept the job open for me as long as I needed, but I couldn’t see that it would be wise for me to take on that level of work again. It also seemed a bit foolish to give up a job during a pandemic when others have had so much difficulty finding work. So I spent quite a while making pro/con lists and writing and talking to people about it.

I have been blessed with the skills to make a living freelancing so I decided to go back to that, meaning that I can still do design/video/social media work but I can also rest when I need to without feeling I’m letting people down.

Of course, freelancing brings a whole different kind of stress with it, namely that of financial insecurity. But I feel very positive about returning to it. I’ll still be doing work for the school as a contractor, as well as other long term clients and any other work I can find. The first thing I have to do is update/redesign my website Rebecca Jee Creative as it has lain dormant while I’ve been at the school, but I’ve still been doing client work, and some of it award-winning!

Award winning!

Most exciting is once again building up my massage business, The Garden Studio. That was the hardest thing to get going when we moved here; not knowing anyone and not being an extrovert and natural self-promoter, it was hard to get word of mouth happening! I retained a couple of loyal clients while I worked at the school but didn’t have the energy or time to put into building the business up.

Since being on leave, I figured it was something I could do that would supplement my meagre Centrelink income (meagre, but I’m grateful for it! It’s very humbling to be on benefits for the first time in my life, but I am so glad we live in a country that has some safety net). So I turned my focus to massage.

I love massage work because it means I’m not sitting down, I’m not in front of a screen, I have to be 100% present and focused on the person in front of me, and I channel all my energy into helping someone feel better than they did before they walked in. I feel physically good and mentally calm when I do it.

The only downside is all the towel washing!

The response I’m getting from clients has been overwhelmingly positive. I’m gradually getting more likes on Facebook; bookings from people I don’t know, as well as from friends; and the potential of opening up at a lovely location in town one day a week. It makes me feel that I am on the right track, at least for this period.

My massage studio

Another new thing I’ve been able to do is some creative writing mentoring with a young friend. I’ve really enjoyed doing this, partly because it’s getting me writing again, and partly because I love seeing the joy of writing and storytelling blooming in a young person. It’s giving me ideas for more mentoring and workshops and creative retreats, which was something I wanted to do when I first moved here. That’s a huge undertaking of course and may not happen in the near future but having a glimmer of inspiration is a good sign; it feels like my creative brain is starting to fire up again when I was scared because at times it felt like the flame had snuffed out forever.

So that’s what I’ll be doing in 2021. If you need a designer, writer or a massage, get in touch!