Fake it till you make it

The teenage years are a rough time for most people. Finding your identity, adapting to changing relationships, navigating a rollercoaster of emotions while trying to figure out who you are and where you fit in the world.

Imagine juggling this, while dealing with all the responsibilities an adult carries.

Housing, finances, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, cleaning, and daily bus and train commutes to school all on your own.

In 2016, this was the reality for 15-year-old Natalia Hogan.

Unbeknownst to her peers and teachers at St Paul’s Catholic College Booragul, Natalia found herself at risk of homelessness.

“During the time, I pretended like I lived a normal, perfect life in front of most people. I really didn’t talk about the reality,” Natalia said.

“Looking back on it, I was just living in survival mode. There was never any question how I was going to manage everything that I had on my plate. I just knew that’s what I needed to do.”

After stints living with other families, Natalia started living independently via a student accommodation program, Youth Allowance and Rental Assistance enabled her to support herself financially.

When asked how her mental state was following this move, Natalia said she was "stoked".

“It was really exciting because I finally had a stable place to call home,” Natalia said.

“When I got the place, it felt like I could start opening up about my circumstances and I was amazed by the support I received.”

“St Paul's was such a supportive environment. And I think if I had gone to a different school, I don't know, it could have completely changed my outcome.”

Natalia said thinking about that 15-year-old girl who was forced to become self-reliant prematurely, made her emotional but proud.

“I would tell that young girl that you're doing so well and that you aren't alone, and that you are so loved.

“It's just crazy to see the difference from her to where I am now,” she said.

Natalia graduated from St Paul’s in 2018. She immediately moved to London for a gap year before returning to Australia to study physiotherapy at the University of Newcastle.

While studying she has worked to raise the public's awareness of youth homelessness and the crucial role charitable organisations play in supporting people to turn their lives around.

She has run marathons to raise money and often speaks at public events. As a result of her efforts to help others overcome adversity, as she did, Natalia was awarded the Ma and Morley scholarship by the University of Newcastle.

Now in the third year of her degree, Natalia has expanded her community and built a new family by leaning into her passions, ultra running and CrossFit.

At the time of interviewing, she had just come second in her age group at the Newcastle Marathon.

“I’m so, so lucky. I have so many friends and family who are just incredible,” Natalia said.

“I’ve found amazing community and a bonus to it all is I’ve found a way to push myself mentally. I’ve found this power in my mentality that I’ve got from my childhood.”

Reflecting on what has gotten her through her hardest days, Natalia said it came down to her energy.

“I love to be smiling and laughing and busy. I think if I wasn’t that way, things may have been different,” she said.

Really, it’s fake it till you make it. Leaning into being energetic and happy is a better way to cope than feeling lousy.”

Next on her agenda is completing her university placements next year where she hopes to be on a hospital rotation. Helping people will not stop there - Natalia has big plans to continue supporting people who are facing a similar story to hers.

“I’ll definitely always have a place in my heart to continue raising awareness and to let people know that they’re not alone, even if they’re feeling helpless and stuck,” she said.

“Even if you think there’s no way out of it, or you feel like there’s no hope or no different path; there always is. Even if you have to push for so long through those hard times, there’s always a tiny little gap you can squeeze through to get out of it. Things can completely change. I’ll carry that attitude through my life now. I know I can get through anything.”

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