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Your Stories – Meet Phoebe

Phoebe holding her camera and sitting on the bench on the Don Morris walk

Name: Phoebe

Degree: Bachelor of Communication

What pushed you to study this degree?

I’m a non-school leaver, mature aged student here but I started my studies at Charles Sturt University in 2015. I went from doing English and Drama majors in the HSC to studying Teaching at CSU, majoring in English. I lasted 18 months in the degree but there were two reasons why I left. First, I realised the education system was terrible and I did not want to be a part of it. Going from preschool to primary school to high school then university then back to primary school or high school (because it was a K-12 degree), I was like, I have to get out of the system. I did a placement over in Vanuatu, for three weeks, and I felt more valued as an educator over there, in my two year-five classes for three weeks than I ever did in any of my placements here. 

Phoebe in Vanuatu on placement as a teacher 

Secondly was due to the passing of my dad during my first year of uni. My whole tertiary education experience has been very interlinked with mental health. I dropped out during my first year to go home and spend time with dad before he passed. He was very set on me going back to uni straightaway, so I went back and did another twelve months before I completely burnt out.  

After a couple of years of working, I thought why not combine my English skills from education and my creative skills from the Arts degree and combine them into Communications? Right, mind blown.  So, that’s how I got here. I was always interested in writing and doing news writing, but there was something about public relations and how creative you could be that I decided to do both. Unfortunately, that’s when COVID hit. I missed out on using the studio in my photography elective, I just had to do my own thing at home for two years.  

Phoebe with her camera. Photo credit: Joshua Hogan 

Program Advice have been amazing and confirmed my credits from CSU straight away, so I’ll be officially graduating at the end of this year! But yeah, it was a very organic journey in a very inorganic pathway. 

Do you have any ideas for where you see yourself after this degree?

I’ve always had this thing for social and environmental justice. I think part was from studying education and being frustrated with it, it just grew into this frustration of the world. It’s funny you ask that question because my degree direction is also very heavily linked to my mental health journey as well. I currently have a positive existentialist outlook on life, because it used to be a negative existentialist outlook. I’ve struggled with depression my whole life and a lot of it was catalysed by learning about existentialism and nihilism in high school. You know, like, “we’re very small and insignificant dots, nothing we do in the world matters”. That kind of stuff. And trying to battle that and find meaning in life has been very hard, especially after losing a parent. Dealing with loss when you’re 18 years old and just trying to find your individual pathway in the world, it’s so blocked by that. 

But somehow, thanks to many therapies, finding people that I resonate with, communities and support systems, it switched into a positive existentialism of “nothing really matters and we’re all little specks, so just have fun!”  

What Were You Wearing stand-still protest. Photo credit: Joshua Hogan 

Help people you can help, live to be happy. Give what you can. If you feel like you have the capacity to help then you should, it doesn’t matter what or how much you give. This led me to the path of social and environmental justice and not-for-profits. In my first year we were asked what our highest goal would be, attainable or not, and I said something in the UN. So very slowly, but surely, I’ve been working towards that through volunteer work in my degree. I’ve now got a position in ‘What Were You Wearing’ the sexual and domestic violence justice organisation. That has been incredible. I’ve only been involved since the beginning of this year but that has really solidified the direction I want to go. I’m giving it all the time I can and it doesn’t feel like a burden.  

Phoebe capturing photos at the Queer and Now Birthday Bash. Photo credit: Joshua Hogan  

Is the UN still a dream for you?

Not really, I think because realistically if I dip my toes into the UN I’ll want to work all the way up. You know? Right now, I want to stay local instead of global. If I can reach what I want to reach and do what I want to do locally that’ll be good. If you can affect a whole community that you’re embedded in, then that is reflected back on you.

Tell me more about your mental health experiences.

I get into perfectionist-procrastination loop where I become so paralysed by the thought of the end product of an assignment, for example, I have all these ideas when I start but it’s a work in progress, I can’t immediately finish so I don’t start because it’s not perfect straightaway. I’ll start formatting because I know I can make the document look perfect and pretty – even if the content is terrible, at least it looks nice. If I can’t get my ideas down in the right way immediately, then I just won’t touch it for two weeks until like the day it’s due, because then I have a deadline and I have to submit something. Because I know that it can no longer be perfect and I don’t have much time to work on it, then I’m content because I know what I submit is all I could have done in that limited amount of time. Whereas, if I worked on it for that two weeks, then I would just keep working on it and keep working it to the bone until it’s perfect.  So that’s the way that I combat it currently. I try working on little bits at a time, which is what we’re always told to do but I genuinely struggle with it. Part of that is perfectionism and the other is ADHD, not being able to sit down and work on things for a long period of time. It’s all just a huge mix of stuff, then throw in the anxiety and the depression and you’ve got a mess of an essay at the end.

Phoebe walking along the Don Morris walk at Callaghan campus

There are so many support services at the university, and I don’t think a lot of people understand how to contact them. Like, they’re all free, and they’re all incredibly useful. I was seeing one of the uni counsellors while I was on a waitlist for a different psychologist during COVID. I also utilised the ten free sessions with headspace you get when you’re under 25 years old.  

There’s also a whole Student Wellbeing team at the University that can help with financial struggles and mental health things, even with jobs, there’s just so much support. But I understand that a lot of students feel abandoned, especially during COVID. You just didn’t have that support around you. If you started studying in 2019 or 2020, that’s how your uni experience started, feeling alone at home, there was nothing to do and no one to help you. But that’s not always the case, I would say just reach out because there are people there for you. 

Phoebe enjoying her lunch break on campus 

If I was to give advice to anyone who feels like they’re struggling with their studies and balancing their mental health struggles, firstly, it’s totally okay to take a leave of absence. I took two or three in different terms; you’re not disappointing anyone. If you need to take time off, just do it. You might miss the cohort you’re studying with but if they’re good friends, they’ll support you and still be there when you come back. I definitely encourage people to if you feel like you need it, or if you’re struggling with studies and balancing life, especially in this economy, take a leave of absence. 

I’ll supply some links to services I’ve personally used and benefit from that I think could really help other students that are struggling, in what ever way that looks for you: 

Student Wellbeing, including counselling 

Leave of Absence 

Headspace resources – here and here

If you’d like to share your student story, comment below or send an email to 

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