What Burnout Really Feels Like

August 14, 2021

Earlier this year I wrote about losing my job and the job search that followed. A lot of time has passed, and I’m happy to report that my new job is AWESOME. Everything is much better and I’m back to enjoying life. I have had a lot of time to reflect back on what was going on inside my head, during the weeks and months leading up to being let go, and I have determined that I was experiencing full-on burnout. Maybe not in the traditional sense that you commonly read about (like working 20 hours a day), but in my own particular way. I wanted to share some thoughts on those reflections.

My burnout was ultimately the culmination of many things, all piled up on top of each other. It took a really long time to understand everything that was going on inside my head, but here’s a list since I don’t really know how else to show them:

  1. COVID was in full effect, and everyone had their own issues with that. My partner and I were experiencing serious cabin fever, and our apartment became a cage full of anxiety. This was also during the winter, so any outside respite wasn’t available.
  2. I was trialing a number of different anxiety medications. For anyone who hasn’t gone through that, it’s a long and arduous process where you sometimes need to take something for months before you can start to realize the effects. The come-up process also includes many super fun side effects such as: terrible headaches, inability to sleep, normal food somehow makes you super nauseous, increased anxiety, and a debilitating brain fog that makes thinking/doing normal things extremely difficult.
  3. I was stuck in a long-term project at work that was very repetitive and non-brain stimulating. I was tasked with re-building an old system that had a million smaller parts that were all relatively the same. It gave me no chance to work on anything interesting, and it was very difficult for me to be interested or excited about work for months.
  4. My boss was a really tough guy when it came to code review and upholding standards. This made anxiety levels go through the roof whenever I was submitting any code for review. I would end up obsessing over my code in trying to make it perfect, and thus took much longer to complete tasks. Obviously this created a bad look on my end and trust waned.
  5. All of the above caused some extremely weird things to start happening in my body. I developed a painful spot in my forehead that was constantly throbbing every day. My stomach was constantly upset. My muscles would randomly twitch all day long. My back hurt. As someone whos anxiety revolves mostly around health, you can imagine that these things did not help at all.

So, to summarize: I was stuck inside a box of anxiety where I couldn’t eat or sleep, every day at work was the same grindy work and I was terrified of my boss, my body was freaking out, I knew things weren’t going well at work but the more I worried about it, the worse it got. This is burnout at its finest, and trying to fight it was an uphill battle that only caused deeper depression. It’s really hard to see it happening in the moment, but I always associated burnout with the default definitions, rather than what was happening to me.

Take care of yourself!

Coleman Rollins

I'm Coleman, a full-stack web engineer interested in internet things, eating food, and generating passive income. I develop and lead web projects for Grafana Labs, and have previously worked for DRW Trading as well as 50000feet.

Check out some of my posts. I'll be writing about navigating the tech job market, practicing mindfulness, some amateur algorithmic trading, and maybe some cooking.