I've posted my last tech article on January 24th, 2021.
I've made my last tweet on January 28th.
Since then I became silent for almost half a year.
This article is very important to me because I want to achieve a few things with it:
- Explain why I was gone for so long.
- Use it as an opportunity to talk about an extreme burnout and how to fight it.
- Test with this article if I even want to go back to writing tech-related content.
If you've ever experienced - or are currently experiencing - burnout, work-related depression, or anything similar, you might find this article relatable. You won't find easy answers in it, because I don't have them. But it may give you some ideas and suggestions to explore further on your own. At least I hope.
So let's begin!
Instead of turning this section into an overly long, verbose description of the events, let's focus on the timeline more. I find it quite revealing how things had progressed:
January 11th, 2021 - I am making a Twitter thread about burnout.
This is fascinating to me because at that moment I am still convinced that I am completely and absolutely fine. And yet you can see that my brain is already circulating around the topic of burnout.
It's as if it is trying to warn me: "man, you have to slow down, otherwise I am going into a shutdown mode soon!".
January 14th - I am making a Twitter thread about my recent failures related to trying to get into Machine Learning.
This one is less obvious, but you can still see that my brain continued to focus on negative topics at that time. Burnout, failure, and depression were clearly on my mind.
And yet, again, at that point I sincerely believed I am "A-okay", not seeing the storm looming just above my head.
January 24th - I am publishing a tech article - the last one in a 3-part series.
I explicitly state on Twitter that this one was a slog to finish. It's the first article that felt like a pain to get done. I felt no joy in the process and was no longer interested in the topics described in the series.
Note also that at that time I started making YouTube videos associated with the articles, covering the same concepts in a video form.
The sheer amount of work - creating an article and a video almost every week - was so big, that I was basically working all the time. I was spending 8 hours coding at my day job, and then, after the day job was done, I was creating programming-related content.
So the structure of my day was:
- wake up
- have a meeting about code
- eat crappy takeaway
- write about code
- record talking about code
Absolutely unsustainable. And yet even at that point - January 24th - I mostly believed that I am okay. Maybe less motivated and a bit more tired than usual, but nothing crazy.
February 2nd - my team leader writes to me: "Hey I've noticed you seem less energetic & cheerful than you usually are. Is everything going alright? I'm here if there's anything you would like to share."
I am essentially brushing off his question, saying that I indeed felt less motivated recently, but I will probably feel better after resting on the weekend.
Oh, how wrong was I...
February 8th - Monday. I wake up extremely late. Around 3 pm. And I still can't get out of bed. I am just laying there, unable to move at all. Complete shutdown.
I guess my brain incapacitated me to prevent me from continuing my insane work routine.
I sleep a bit more, wake up at 5 pm. Since it's winter, it's already getting dark. I am still unable to perform any meaningful tasks. I can't even get out of the bed and wash myself.
I don't really remember the rest of that day very well. It's likely that I just turned on YouTube or Netflix and that's how I finished the day.
I provided no info - or even sign of life for that matter - to my team or managers, even though it was a regular workday.
February 9th - Tuesday. The same situation. Waking up late. Not being able to move and do anything meaningful. No shower. No food. Just laying there.
I manage to motivate myself to contact my boss and ask him for an unpaid leave till the end of the week.
Everyone at work is super concerned with my situation - I am having conversations with a few people, some on Slack, some on Zoom. Thankfully actually getting a week off turns out to not be a problem at all.
So I hope that by now you realize just how serious my situation was.
Burnout is a popular word recently, used for a wide variety of conditions. But you can see that in my case it wasn't just simply feeling a bit less motivated or something similar.
I literally couldn't move or perform the most basic life functions, like cleaning myself, preparing a meal, or even going for a walk.
I was in some deep, deep s...
At that point, I was luckily very much aware of the severity of my situation (hard not to be, I guess).
During my week off I decided to deliberately stay away from anything tech or programming related. No coding, no writing about coding, no twitting about coding. No tech social media at all. Even such little thing as browsing Hacker News - absolutely forbidden.
I was hoping that this cold turkey tech detox would help. But I was also prepared to seek professional help if after a week I wouldn't feel any better.
Luckily I did.
A week later I communicated to my boss that I feel well enough to at least attempt coming back.
I still took things very, very slow, however. After I came back, I only did coding for work - no side projects or anything like that.
I was also taking only simpler tasks - the ones I knew I could implement fairly fast and with minimal effort. A complex, big new feature? - pass. A tricky bug to investigate? - pass.
I also kept staying away from tech social media - both producing content and consuming it. I stopped coding or even thinking about coding after work. Instead, I focused on my non-tech hobbies, which I previously neglected, such as photography.
And I believe this last thing the most important decision that contributed to my mental health and well-being in the long run.
Avoiding tech social media and coding beyond the day job worked for me so well, that I did it for nearly half a year. I haven't coded a single side project in that time. I didn't create or read a single tech article (unless it was at work and necessary to do my job). Hell, I haven't even made a single tweet since January!
And during those last few months, I felt absolutely... amazing. I am now more energetic and effective at my work than before my burnout. I am cranking out issue after issue, solving difficult bugs, contributing to architectural decisions. If you'd see me at my day job, you would never, ever guess that I was in such a bad place just a few months ago.
Writing this article is the first time I am breaking my "no coding-related activities in my spare time" unspoken rule since my sudden burnout attack.
If I am being honest, it feels both weird and scary to write this article.
I know that I have this overly ambitious, creative bug in me. And I am terrified I am awaking it again with this article. I am seriously scared that writing and publishing this single article will again send me on a path of unsustainable workloads and being consumed by programming.
It seems that some people are more resilient than others and can handle more stress and higher workloads. I see people who work 10 hours a day, create side projects, and write articles regularly on top of that. For someone, it might be funny that I burned out so badly only because I wrote a few articles after work.
Maybe that's the ultimate lesson though. You have to know yourself and be aware of how much you can handle. And stay honest with yourself to not start biting more than you can chew.
That's why recreating the timeline of my burnout was so important to me. You can see that as early as few weeks before an actual burnout there were already warning signs present, which I completely ignored. I should have paid more attention to what my brain was telling me.
So what's next? I don't know. I can say that writing this article felt very good. I guess it was something that I just needed to get off my chest.
Will I go back to creating actual tech content, however? It's possible. Especially if I manage to find a sustainable tempo and topics which I enjoy writing about.
But it's also entirely possible that this is the last article I'll ever write.
And that's fine too.