I started The Plastic Diaries in 2008, became a full-time blogger in 2010 and vanished from the blogging universe in 2015. Where did I go? Why? What happened to me? These are questions that have been asked of me during my 18+ month disappearance. The short answer was blogger burnout – a rarely spoken of condition that is fast becoming a serious concern amongst the influencer industry. Have you ever followed a blogger and notice that one day they have just disappeared? Their blog stopped posting new content, their social media went untouched – it happens often. In my almost 9 years of blogging I have lost count of the bloggers that have come and gone, most of which I have no idea why or where they went.
Upon my return to blogging at the end of last year I’ve put off explaining what exactly occurred in my life. I confided in a few select friends and trusted individuals about my story but I’ve brushed over it with the wider community by saying the cause was “personal stuff”. I don’t believe bloggers owe anyone an explanation when they disappear but I know that when my favourites have gone AWOL I’ve missed them and been concerned for their wellbeing. I didn’t want to be another blogger who vanished without a trace and leave you wondering. I also believe there’s an opportunity to help the wider blogging community and beyond by sharing my personal troubles. My story may help you to recognise some red flags in your own life, and hopefully prevent a tortuous experience similar to mine, no matter what job you are in.
If my story can help just one person who is pushing themselves too hard, whether you are a blogger, stockbroker, homemaker or something in between, I feel it will be worth it. My story isn’t unique but it’s mostly unheard. Most bloggers and influencers don’t like to talk about the realities of their world, but shying away from hard, confronting topics has never really been my style. S#!t’s going to get real so take a deep breath with me and hold my hand as I peel back the layers of my personal life.
What is Blogger Burnout?
Technically speaking, blogger burnout is no different to any other mental/nervous breakdown. Mental breakdowns, also commonly known as a nervous breakdown, are a spectrum event – there are mild ones through to massive ones. Mayo clinic describes a nervous breakdown as following:
The term “nervous breakdown” is sometimes used by people to describe a stressful situation in which they’re temporarily unable to function normally in day-to-day life. It’s commonly understood to occur when life’s demands become physically and emotionally overwhelming. The term was frequently used in the past to cover a variety of mental disorders, but it’s no longer used by mental health professionals today.
Nervous breakdown isn’t a medical term, nor does it indicate a specific mental illness. But that doesn’t mean it’s a normal or a healthy response to stress. What some people call a nervous breakdown may indicate an underlying mental health problem that needs attention, such as depression or anxiety.
Previously happy, healthy people can have a mental breakdown, at any time or any age. No one is immune from it. Blogger burnout is much the same but applies to the growing online influencer community. Bloggers, vloggers, instabloggers – it’s occurring in every part of the community. I will not out anyone else that has or is going through this, it’s not my place. I can only share my own story and hope that others will speak up in their own voice to further raise awareness.
I’ve talked openly about my mental health in the past but I never knew just how much it played a role in what would be my future demise. While I loved the freedom and openness that came with being a full-time blogger and working under my own rule, it turns out that it was one of the worst things I could do for where I was at mentally. I’ve always known my clinical diagnosis – diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety before 15 years of age – but I never truly knew much about who I was; what made me tick; why I did the things I did; which personality traits were running rampant in my life. It was a long process to unravel, identify and get clarity around these existential concerns but now I have gained invaluable insight into what went wrong in my life in order for blogger burnout to occur.
My need for control and perfectionism is something that has long plagued my personal and professional endeavours. These traits were born from an unstable environment in childhood where mediocrity equated to invisibility and, at times, emotional neglect. The result was that I’d always wanted to be the best at whatever I did, and if I couldn’t be the best I would choose one of two options – 1. not do it at all or 2. I would fight so hard for perfection that I’d fall into obsession and eventually burnout. When it came to blogging, I chose the latter. Being a blogger is a honey trap for people with these personality traits and for some of us it can really work in our favour. It worked in my favour for over 5 years, but like all things in life it’s important to know your limits. I didn’t have the skills to recognise that I’d been pushing past my limits; that I was hurting myself. Due to my innate self-loathing and sense of worthlessness it’s also easy for me to see anything I do as “not good enough”, and as a result I’ll be tireless in my pursuit of feeling something I’m literally unable to feel – success. It was an unwinnable battle, but I didn’t know that.
My inability to trust people presented many problems. When you combine my controlling-perfectionist trait with trust issues you get someone who has to do absolutely everything for them self. High expectations were placed on myself and everyone around me. On the odd occasion when I tried to outsource or trust someone to join me in my process, there was no way they could live up to my expectations. It didn’t matter how good they were or how much they helped me, my expectations for perfection would always be much higher than they could deliver.
Another key problem is my people-pleasing trait that was developed in early childhood. It helped cement a misguided understanding of what success and fulfillment meant, although the very early lesson with these two concepts came from environmental influence that were beyond my control as a young child. Despite my best efforts not to, in this job I linked my self-worth to who wanted to work with me, which brands were sending me products to try, which clients wanted to run sponsored content on my little old website – as you can probably guess, that was never going to end well. Taking any value from who did and didn’t want to work with me was one of the biggest contributors to my burnout. I doggedly pursued external validation, but that was never going to fill the hole I’d been carrying through life. It’s an interesting realisation because trolls and insults never really affected me, but a brand choosing to work with another blogger instead of me would crush me. Not winning a popularity contest would dishearten me (I put a self-imposed ban on popularity contests when I first had this realisation years ago).
Ultimately the time, energy and money I personally put into this pursuit of perfection and external validation actually robbed me of real opportunity and success. I essentially wrote my own death warrant with these actions.
How I worked
I’ve never truly spoken openly about how I conducted myself during my prime years as a full-time blogger. I’ve given bits of insight but to put it all in writing is making me realise just how crazy I was behaving.
When I went full-time in 2010, blogging as an independent profession was almost unheard of in Australia, and even more so for the beauty niche. Fashion bloggers were starting to get some serious steam, mommy bloggers were becoming a force of nature, and tech blogs were seen as probably the most legitimate but all other niches in Australia were either infants or non-existent. I was lucky that I came from the Australian publishing and media industry so I could call on my experience to make my presence known and start introducing myself (and the blogging concept in general) to beauty brands. It was a lot of hard work and really discouraging at times. People I had known for years and had worked with me previously in publishing suddenly saw me as an enemy and were incredibly cold towards me (almost all of those women are now bloggers or online writers themselves!). As a highly sensitive and empathic person this was a painful experience but I believed in the cause so much that I never let it put me off trying to grow the overall acceptance of bloggers. I enjoyed educating brands in how bloggers were different and why our offering was separate but complimentary to their existing media relationships. I took it upon myself to make Australian beauty blogging an unignorable force. Looking back now I can say I’m really proud of what I did achieve in that area and all that I accomplished, but I can also be honest in saying that it was a massive energy suck and if I could do things over I wouldn’t repeat most of my actions. All of this played a part in how I ended up working each day because I felt this grand mission was just as much a part of my job as it was to create content.
So how did I spend my days? During business hours I would be meeting with brands and PR’s, attending events and launches, and doing the usual schmoozing that I had come to believe was an essential part of the job. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the schmoozing and it was a very important part of the job, but it took up A LOT of time. Sometimes this had to occur after hours too, which would mean my working hours would get pushed out even more. In the evening, whenever I was finished with the schmoozing, I would sit down at my desk and begin my actual ‘work’. Writing content, managing the website, photography, answering emails, social media activity, etc. It doesn’t sound like that all takes very long but it does. Oh it really does! The actual ‘work’ part of my day would most often start with me eating a late dinner at my desk and end with me eating breakfast at my desk. Then, the entire process started over again for the next day. If I were really lucky or somehow managed to blaze through my to-do list I would be lucky to get maybe 3 or 4 hours sleep in before having to do it again. Working 18hr+ days was more common than not.
I did all of this while also caring full-time for a sick family member, who I did not have a good relationship with. There were additional family stressors and financial instability that contributed to my overall daily worries.
How I managed to work like this for years without using methamphetamines still boggles my mind. Of course I was never going to be able to keep running like this forever and burning out was the obvious end. I knew that, but I chose to ignore it by telling myself that a few short years of hard work will pay off. The sad fact is that it’s not working hard that pays off, it’s working smart. I was taught, and whole-heartedly believed, hard work was how people got ahead. My role models in this area were misguided and I didn’t have the open-mindedness required to try something different to what I had learnt.
In 2013 I started experiencing some very severe pain in my back, neck, arms and hands. I have been in some form of physical pain almost my entire life so I ignored the increasingly growing signs that were occurring years prior. The diagnosis by a number of medical professionals was a Repetitive Strain Injury but they weren’t entirely confident with the diagnosis. Lots of tests were done over the following 2 years but ultimately their treatment plan was physiotherapy, pain killers and not using a computer and mobile phone as much as I had been. I told them that was a ridiculous recommendation for any person who uses a computer for their job (let alone a full-time blogger!) but they made it clear that if I kept pushing on and making the injury worse I could be facing permanent damage.
Later that year I tried to take my very first non-working holiday in years. I chose a health retreat in Bali and it really was wonderful, I got some serious relaxation in and I figured this would be a brief opportunity to try out that “resting my body” thing. However, I was uninformed that once I do actually stop and rest my injury the pain would be worse. During that holiday the pain became absolutely unbearable. By the time I returned home from Bali I could barely last an hour or two on a computer before I was in tears from the pain. I know my pain threshold has always been rather low but this pain was nothing like I’d experienced before, and the more I tried to work through it the worse it got. I tried all the patch jobs I could. I wore splints, ice packs, heat packs, working in short bursts, taking double or triple the recommended pain-killer dosage – I tried all I could short of actually resting it.In 2014 I relocated from Sydney (what we’d call the heart of the beauty media industry in Australia) to Melbourne. This was mostly a financial decision and what was best for the continued care of my sick family member. This meant that I was physically removing myself from where the majority of work action was spent and honestly, I was excited to have that distance. I thought it would mean I could grow my site and my business even more because I’d have less time spent schmoozing. Well, I did get more time to do work but moving from such a big pond to a considerably smaller pond threw my entire routine out of whack. How I was functioning previously didn’t work in this new environment and I became unfocused and lost. I had more time to work, but I had been operating without clearly defined structure for so long that I didn’t know how to reimplement it.
In addition to the upheaval I felt from the move, I continued ignoring my physical problems until the beginning of 2015. At the same time my mental health had deteriorated to the point where the only way I could shut my brain off from physical pain and mental stress was to dose myself up on opiates – both prescribed and non-prescribed (plus marijuana). My appetite also decreased over those years, dropping me to a less-than-healthy 40kg. Addiction steamrolled from the opiate abuse and by mid-2015, there was no amount of drugs that worked. I was just making it through each day doing the bare minimum of my home and work duties. My brain function had slowed considerably and my physical health worsened. The doctors were constantly trying out different medications, as if I were part of a clinical trial. At one stage I was taking a medication that literally made me dumb and clumsy. I would fall over, drop things, had difficulty in constructing sentences and became confused by simple tasks, such as turning on the dishwasher. I felt useless, like I was a waste of good oxygen and that I had ruined any hope I had for a successful, fulfilling life. To go from being a high functioning, creative, somewhat intelligent person to a stumbling mess took a further toll on my already fragile self-worth.
With my 30th birthday fast approaching I made a last-ditch attempt to find an answer to my existential concerns. I needed to find the motivation to sort my s#!t out. The solution to me has always been travel, so I booked a ticket to Europe. It was during this trip I had an avalanche of epiphanies.
I returned to Melbourne with a very clear outlook on what I needed to do next. Want to find out what that was? Read Part 2: My Recovery.