When we were deciding who to work with for our latest photo shoot, we wanted someone who truly embodied our values and Julia Hunt was was the perfect fit. We've been following her for a while and are continually inspired by her raw honesty, positivity and drive to help others. She has a disability called Clubfoot which has affected her whole life. Having suffered from anxiety and depression, she created her YouTube channel and social media pages to share her experience to help others. But there's so much more to her than that...
I’ve been living in Sydney and learning how to thrive as an anxious gal in the big city for 10 years now… but it’s no secret that I still feel my happiest and most calm when I’m standing by the ocean in my home state of QLD!
The majority of my childhood was spent playing with my pet chickens in our back yard, and traveling to or from our local hospital so that I could get surgeries, casts, and physiotherapy for a disability I was born with called Clubfoot.
When I first moved to Sydney, it was to start my career in the performing arts. I always had a passion for helping young people because of my own difficult experiences as a teenager, and I wanted to help other people in the same situation I was once in, by using storytelling. As time went on though, the universe told me this wasn’t the only way to impact people, and nudged me to move towards my current job as a Youth Worker. I’m now working at two different refuges with young people aged 14-24 who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
I’m a big believer that our flaws are our superpowers and that nothing is too raw, harsh, ugly or touchy to be honest about. As far as any of us know, we really might only have this one life – so let’s make sure we live it by being honest about who we are, and let’s reach out to others for the things we need help with.
I have always had a passion when it came to supporting teen girls, and knew from early on that I would somehow end up creating projects or working for organisations which made a difference in the lives of young people. My career and heart purpose were shaped because of a big and emotional experience I had when I was a teenager myself. Growing up with a disability was a really difficult journey, and it definitely brought some pain into my life. In my first year of high school I started getting bullied pretty badly and quickly developed a heap of anxiety related to my looks. Soon after it spiralled into depression, suicidal thoughts and regular self-harm. By the age of 16 I was super overwhelmed and felt stuck in the middle of a difficult path; trying to both navigate my mental health and keep up with the pressures that come with being a teen girl. My coping mechanisms were all harmful to my emotional and physical development, and overall, I was feeling lost and hurt.
There was one night during this time of my life that really sticks out for me. I was having a particularly crappy night and was feeling so upset and alone. The night was like so many others that I had been through previously, except this time I decided to search for stories online from other people who had been where I had been, felt what I had felt, so that I knew for sure I could survive through the struggle.
On that night though, I didn’t find a story of hope which lifted me up, I didn’t find a teen-friendly helpline which offered support. I found nothing, and instead of this fuelling my loneliness, at the time it just fuelled my frustration... I couldn’t understand why people were keeping such universal human experiences to themselves. I became obsessed with creating change in the world, and decided that if no one else was interested in being honest about their journey, then I would be brave enough to fill that void. From there on in, I had a purpose and I worked hard to get myself mentally healthy enough so that one day I would be able to help other 16 year olds who were feeling misunderstood.
That is why being a Youth Worker makes so much sense to me, because it feels as though I am living out my purpose. One of the two youth refuges that I’m employed at is a crisis refuge which is staffed 24hrs a day, 7 days a week and provides young people in need with accommodation for up to 3 months. During their stay with us, we work with them to build their future into one they’re excited about living. Both refuges do such incredible work and really do provide a platform for growth and change in the lives of young people. Every day I’m at work is a highlight because I get to witness lives slowly changing for the better. It’s pretty special stuff.
My favourite thing about the work that I do is the heart-bursting happiness I feel when a young person I’ve been working with and fighting for succeeds in taking the next step towards their goal/s. There are plenty of barriers in my job that can make a positive outcome difficult to reach, so there is no better feeling than the moments you get to see proof that the system works and know that your words and actions really do have the potential to make a difference and lift someone up. Many of the problems being overcome by them often aren’t small adversities… They are major traumas or difficult upbringings and multiple let downs from other people, so seeing even the smallest shift happen for them can be pretty magic, really.
I definitely think that for some personality types, doing this kind of work daily would be a big struggle. For me - I’m a people person, I don’t shy away from emotions and weirdly I feel at my most calm when I’m smack bang in the middle of a crisis situation. Most of the time, I can’t wait to go to work and I feel energised even after a difficult shift. I think that’s how you can be sure you’re in the right industry – when you have a feeling of accomplishment and genuine excitement about the work you’re doing. During times of overwhelm, the passion and purpose I feel doing this work keeps me going, as well as my incredible mentors and colleagues.
When I step foot into the service each day I’m putting myself and my own needs to the side so that I can truly be there for others. Like you say, that means difficult times are unavoidable, especially when there’s a lot going on in my own life, too. I have perfected my self-care routine now, and it’s just about ensuring I focus on that when I start feeling stressed out. For me, resetting is about talking my very patient husband’s ear off, hanging out with my pets, swimming in the ocean and spending time in sunshine. Positivity flows back into me naturally as soon as I have had some rest and remembered who I am as an individual – not just who I am as a youth worker when I’m empathetically impacted by others.
Clubfoot is a really common disability that affects 1 in 1000 births worldwide. Despite how common it is, it still carries so much stigma because it’s so rarely spoken about. I was the first YouTuber to ever upload a film about it on the internet!
To break it down for you, Clubfoot is when one or both feet are twisted inwards and up towards the calf at birth. I was born without a fully formed ankle, and despite all of the operations I underwent, my heel still doesn’t touch the ground when I walk. I underwent multiple surgeries in order to straighten my foot and release my Achilles tendon so my heel could get closer to the ground. I was also born missing a calf muscle in my left leg and I walk a little differently than other people.
One of the questions I get asked most is how I am so confident in my own skin despite being faced with this challenge each day. The answer is… it didn’t come naturally. It came with hard work. I literally just got sick of the mental energy it took to think about it all the time, so one day gave myself a timeline of when the self-judgement was going to end. I worked hard on accepting myself by using affirmations and surrounding myself with beautiful people. I stopped covering my leg up gradually, and realised it was true that not everyone saw me in the cruel way I saw myself. It really did take me years to feel confident in my own skin, but overall, I am grateful for the emotional experiences I have had because of my Clubfoot. In a lot of ways, I think adversities make us resilient, they make us who we are and they allow us to pass life lessons onto others.
I had a bit of a chuckle when I first read this question because I’ve been anxious since so early in my life, probably before I was even consciously aware of it. I think that being in the hospital regularly as a child is where my anxiety first developed… Everything is bright and stimulating in that environment, and I was learning there that I couldn’t control other people touching and operating on my body each time we visited.
It’s been a journey for me to learn how to relax, and at age 28, I still wouldn’t say that I find it a simple task. Despite the journey of self-love and acceptance that I have gone on over the years, I still do overthink things and also suffer from panic attacks at times. For me it’s about reminding myself to be resilient, and making sure I engage in using healthy coping mechanisms (these might be exercising, drawing, chatting with a best friend) instead of unhealthy coping mechanisms (examples of these would be self-harming or focusing on negative thoughts).
When you’re experiencing a panic attack, it can be easy to think negative things about yourself and allow yourself to fall into the trap of self-hate. For me, it’s been really important to learn about ways to stop a panic attack in its tracks, the science behind panic attacks and also to keep beautiful memories at the forefront of my brain that prove I am the opposite to what I tell myself I am during the low moments.
I am honestly so grateful for social media! I love that it can be used as a platform to be open about not only my anxiety, but about the science behind anxiety and how it can affect us all in different ways. I personally don’t see what the big hang up is when it comes to talking about traditionally taboo topics, like anxiety or mental health in general. I believe that the stigma surrounding anything is just something that each person decides to carry – in my mind it’s similar to racism and sexism. These things can and should be challenged, and the stigma surrounding mental health is no different. I believe the more we talk openly about our experiences, the more that other people will be able to connect to our stories and realise they are not alone in their struggles. That realisation alone can save lives. With that in mind, what’s to hide!?
It depends on the level of my anxiety… If it’s the worst day ever, I put my phone on aeroplane mode, read a book and eat vegan ice cream in bed with my cat. There is nothing wrong with shutting off sometimes. Otherwise, if I’m managing okay but just feeling overwhelmed, I head straight for the ocean. The ocean cures all!
I’d remind them that nothing is forever, although sometimes I know it can feel like it is. Right now, you are hurting, but please know that there is something positive which can come from this.
I would say… if everything feels overwhelming, start small. Know that one small action can alter your day – opening the blinds, brushing your hair, sitting outside in the sunshine for 5 minutes, patting your pets.
I would also add… If you feel like your life is worthless, just remember how many times in your life you’ve seen people smile around you, remember how many times you’ve been thanked. How many times have you listened to someone’s story? How many times has your pet whinged at you, asking for food? How many times have you celebrated someone’s birthday? How many times have you received a gift on your birthday or at Christmas? Have you ever gone to the beach with someone? How many times have people who love you called you? Here is the proof that you matter, and your life is not worthless. You are so loved.
Hot coffee in bed of a morning. Adventures out in nature. Seeing other people succeed. Making a measurable difference in someone else’s life. Listening to and understanding someone else’s struggles. Doing cartwheels on an empty beach. Sunshine. My pets.
I’d be crazy if I didn’t admit that the young people that I work with are a massive source of my inspiration every day. They are resilient, and I am lucky enough to witness every part of that during the time they are with us. I am also so inspired by my colleagues, who every day show me different ways to approach new situations and impact other people positively.
It’s going to get difficult really soon. Yes, more difficult. You’re about to really struggle, and you’ll feel like life isn’t worth living. Trust me: it is. You are about to meet the most incredible people, people who will impact you for the rest of your life. You don’t feel like you are understood right now, and I get that, it’s because you aren’t. You’re one of a kind, girl. But that doesn’t mean you’re alone. The people who will understand you are on their way into your life. Lean on your sisters more, they are trust worthy and they love you more than you know. Keep reading books – you are on the right track. Your brain is the source of your reality, it listens really closely to what you tell it, so tell it how awesome you are. Instead of all the bad stuff, try words like these: I am more than enough, just as I am. I am valuable. I am worth loving. I am resilient. I am going to get through this. I make a difference in other people’s lives.
“The intention is not to live forever, but to create something that will.”
These words remind me that working towards even ONE small goal in my life or another person’s life can create a ripple effect that might change the world. That in my time, I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to work hard to create something that will live forever in the hearts and minds of others. By looking at life in this way, maybe I can create an impact on someone else which will help the next generation, too. Every day is a new opportunity to create something which will live forever.
I always have so many high energy, fun ideas. I am definitely planning to create some more YouTube videos on a regular basis in the near future. The rest of my to-change list all circles around mental health, whether it’s attempting legislation changes or small shifts via my work on the ground each day – I’ll be sure to share my wins on social media as they happen!
To hear more from Julia, click here to follow her on Instagram.
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