I Had Burnout. Then Grew.
How burnout as a doctor led me to write children’s stories.
I think I was 27 when I started burning out, but I changed jobs regularly enough to keep going. Each new job gave me a boost of adrenaline, and I had just enough time off to maintain my faltering energy levels. Then, about six months into my GP Fellowship training, aged 28, I could no longer escape it. I’d used up all my reserves, and the weekends weren’t long enough to top-up my energy and enthusiasm for the coming week.
I’d wake up with dread for the day ahead, bracing myself for the onslaught of appointments and difficult decisions without much senior help. By lunchtime I was exhausted and would cry on the 4-minute drive home, where I would spend half an hour hunched over a sandwich, willing myself to get through the rest of the day. By Wednesday, I’d had enough.
But this story is not about the burn-out, but about the new growth that came from it.
There were bushfires in 2019 across Australia, turning the landscape from the dry hues of brown to scorched black. I hadn’t been in Australia long enough to see a big bushfire like this and had definitely not seen how amazingly the Australian flora recovers. I knew that they were adapted to it, but I had never seen it. And to be honest, I didn’t really believe it — how can that much destruction be beneficial? Yet, within months, shoots of green appeared. The fires had fuelled new growth.
Burnout was hard. But looking back, it too provided fuel for new growth. Without it, I would have never pushed for change in my working conditions, nor would I have started writing.
I used stories to distract myself. If my brain was over-thinking with anxiety, I decided that the least I could do was put that creativity to use and create short stories in my head instead. That’s how I wrote my first children’s book manuscript. It wasn’t very good, but I sent it to a small indie publisher for review. They didn’t take it, but offered support and encouragement. A couple of different manuscripts later, and I submitted a story they thought had enough potential and offered me a contract. It’s still in the editing stages, but it's really exciting to watch the story develop and improve.
Burnout won’t look like this for everyone, but it is important to realise that burnout has a reason. It’s telling you that the path that you’re on is unsustainable and you need to make changes. It takes courage, and sometimes a little bit of help, to make those changes.
I still sometimes get anxious on a busy day, and still get some decision fatigue at work — a stubborn remnant from the burnout. I sometimes wonder whether I would go back to change it? If I could erase that period, would I?
The answer is probably no, because I much prefer this path, and I don’t think I could have gotten here without it.
N.B. If you’re burning out, or feel you’re close to it — please don’t go through it alone. Reach out and get support, especially from counsellors/psychologists. Your doctor will also be able to guide you through your local services.