Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Giving up and giving out: how I recovered from burnout

Samantha Ratner

I decided that I wanted to come to UT in the eighth grade. Before me, my childhood best friend Brea had her eyes set on the Forty Acres, but she passed away from cancer when we were in middle school. That was when I first realized the significance of every opportunity that comes with growing up and moving forward with my education, so I adopted Brea’s dream. 

At a competitive high school, aiming for that top 6% requirement for automatic admission to UT was not easy. I worked nonstop, balancing AP classes, leadership positions and extracurriculars, hanging on for dear life in an unstable environment. 

By senior year, my work paid off when I was accepted to UT’s Moody College of Communication and was invited to the Plan II Honors and Liberal Arts Honors programs. I felt like my world was finally falling into place. Then, I was met with an uncomfortable truth: despite all the time, tears and tenacity I put into my education, there was no way I could afford to attend the University. So, I gave up on my dream. 

Most of us are familiar with the concept of burnout, which is the exhaustion caused by overwhelming and prolonged stress. Mental health resources advise people experiencing burnout to practice coping strategies, including exercise, rest and mindfulness, but what happens when that’s not enough? These suggestions can be great, especially when you’re on the brink of a mental collapse — but a few years ago, I had already collapsed. Crushed by my hard work being useless, I decided nothing mattered anymore. 

All of my worth had been placed in my dream of attending UT. Once that was no longer an option, I lost all motivation for things I previously cared about; I stopped going to school, I stopped handing in assignments, I quit my extracurriculars and I shut down. Burnout isn’t just a feeling of tiredness or stress. It can be debilitating

In an amazing turn of events, I received the best news of my life just before high school graduation. Through the generous Terry Foundation, I was offered a full ride, last dollar scholarship to UT. I was elated until I remembered the stark regression I had undergone in the past school year, and my shame overshadowed the excitement. 

During the wonderful opportunity that was my first year in college as a first-gen student, I struggled to recapture the willpower that had gotten me on campus in the first place. When you hit rock bottom, you don’t bounce back overnight. 

Yet, it does eventually get better. I had to give myself a lot of grace to get through freshman year. I missed classes, turned in assignments late, didn’t study when I should have and avoided engaging with my community. However, I also went to therapy, got medicated and dedicated time to rediscovering my spark. 

I learned to lean on those who cared to help me. My professors in Plan II and the School of Journalism got me through my worst weeks, as did the staff at the Counseling and Mental Health Center. Little by little, I regained ground, and along the way, I learned to forgive myself for my past mistakes and overcome the guilt that held me back from a better future.

When experiencing burnout, imposter syndrome can take over. As I worked to improve, I found myself questioning if I’d ever deserved to attend college in the first place, much less on a scholarship that I felt unqualified for. Since last fall, I have focused on reaffirming my values, reframing what success means to me and doing what brings me joy. 

Burnout can make us lose sight of what truly matters, dismantling our identity and causing us to lose hope in ourselves and the future. However, I believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and you’re never too far gone to get back up again and reach for it.

I’m still learning what it looks like to persevere without sacrificing my sanity. Nonetheless, I try to think back to the little girl who dreamed of what I have now: a college experience with a breadth of opportunities before me. I remember how happy she’d be to know we made it. As I move forward from burnout, my goal is to keep making her smile by forgiving myself, looking toward the light and just doing the best I can in the moment. 

Jackson is a Plan II and journalism sophomore from Boerne, Texas.

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