I ran headfirst into a bit of a classic burnout two years ago. I’m still recovering from it. I’ve been trying to maintain a presence and not make this condition show too much, but I need to scale down the rest of my presence too for a while in order to reset and recharge.
I’ve been starting and re-starting writing this post way too many times now. I’ve decided to just post it as a stream of consciousness, readable or not as it may be, rather than my usual bar of having some sort of clear red thread with step-by-step logical coherence.
Two years ago, while moving from Stockholm to Berlin, I hit the infamous brick wall. I became incapable of most work that required any form of vehicular travel — I was literally limited to walking distance. Yes, it felt as ridiculous as it sounds, but it was just a matter of accepting the lay of the land and working with it. At the time, I was able to maintain some illusion of normality while starting to wind down and recover behind the scenes, thanks to being able to work remotely. I’ve since stopped working altogether — or so I thought, at least — and focusing on recharging.
When you drive a solar-powered rover too aggressively in Kerbal Space Program and the sun goes down, the batteries deplete quickly. You can’t start driving the rover again when the sun goes up from its state of depleted batteries, not even at its rated speed; you have to wait until the batteries have recharged, even if the circumstances (i.e. shining sun) should otherwise make you able to operate nominally. This is a little bit the state I’m in: I should nominally be fine, with most of the everyday load reduced significantly, but my batteries are still not recharging at the rate I had expected them to. (Yes, I’m impatient, which is admittedly part of the problem in the first place.)
So to all people who have written to me over this past time that I haven’t responded to: Please accept my apologies. It’s not out of malice or disinterest I haven’t responded, I’m simply getting done in a month what I used to get done in a day, and even that is a marked improvement. The “need to respond” queue is silly long by now, and includes conference invites and whatnot, that I would normally have responded to within minutes. It includes pings from near friends, that I had hoped to spend a lot more time with here in Berlin, as well as distant friends.
A close friend of mine pointed at a recent study about stress, a study looking at burnout symptoms in places with very good work-to-life balance, and the study concluded that the body doesn’t make a difference between obligations for work or obligations that are felt outside of work for any other reason than money. And she’s right: I’ve been feeling a pressure to shoot video, to code open-source projects, to participate in the community. I need to, bluntly speaking, drop all of these expectations for the foreseeable future. “Go off-grid” is a little too harsh, but I’ll need to turn off the expectation heartbeat on literally everything. I’ll do random things from time to time when I have the energy and desire for it, which unfortunately won’t be most of the time.
These recoveries basically take whatever damn time they please. I could have recharged batteries in six months, in a year, in ten years. I have honestly no idea and therefore I’m not setting any expectations, in either direction.
I’d like to say “I’ll be back”, but I don’t think the person on the other side of this recovery is going to be the same person I am today. I am sure I will still want to change the world for the better, somehow. I just can’t tell today how I’ll be wanting to change the world tomorrow. So even though I’ll very likely be back doing something, it’ll very likely not be the exact same things I’ve done up until this point.