A little more than three years ago, I started to suffer from burnout. Unfortunately, I didn’t fully recognize it and probably felt a bit too proud and invincible to try and prevent it. As a Gen Xer, my first instinct does not include getting help, but instead to suck it up (an approach I don’t recommend). The stress definitely came from the day job. My hours gradually increased from the 50s to stay between 60 and 80 a week. A lot of the creative things I liked to do fell to the side due to a lack of time and then the impact of the pandemic. Initially, I thought working from home full time would free me up to do so much more, but instead it trapped me further into my day job and contributed to me working way too many hours.
Depending on who you ask, job burnout might not be a real medical diagnosis, but it definitely has real symptoms (Mayo Clinic: Job burnout: How to spot it and take action). I ended up struggling to be creative and spent my downtime as a zombie watching TV and scrolling through my phone. It wasn’t pretty, but I continued to try to keep myself engaged until finally I couldn’t.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. I managed to lose a fair amount of weight that first year and dropped to almost 165 pounds (I’ve found my nemesis: eating out). The neighborhood had a nice tree covered path and I would try to get in 3-5 miles of walking/jogging on most days. Honestly, that time outdoors helped to fight a lot of the symptoms, but it really wasn’t enough. I tried forcing some creative activities, but my mental tank had run dry.
Not having consistent writing time hurt me the most. When I don’t get time to write, it impacts me at so many levels.
The start of recovery from burnout
So a little more than two years ago, I changed jobs, and at the end of 2020, I made a post about some of the struggles I had the prior year. I just had a three week break between jobs and I felt real excitement for the first time in a while and had a whole list of things I had planned to do in 2021.
However, recovery from burnout turned out harder than I had expected. The new day job remains a thousand times better than the old one, especially with work/life balance. The problem is I spent more than a year developing bad habits and allowing my mental health to spiral (the impactful stories go back more than half a decade—I should write a book).
The truth: my optimism exceeded the reality of what a short break and a new job would magically cure. Add in some natural anxiety about a new role, mental energy spent to learn and adapt to that new existence, and my already empty tank did not fill up very fast.
On top of that, we had new challenges with the health of a family member and circumstances that prompted us to start the process for having a house built (not expected to be finished until fall 2022). Before we knew it, 2021 evaporated into the ether.
With 2022 on the horizon, and the fact that I decided to just go to Planet Comicon in the fall of 2021 as an attendee, I had a strong desire to enter 2022 with gusto. I did throw myself into expanding on my creative activities and started building things like the model of Stephenie’s Tower. I had to race to make progress on that as I wanted to bring it to Planet in the spring of 2022, which I did manage to bring at least the first floor to the convention. Planet 2022 treated me great and I am thankful for everyone that attended and stopped by my table.
However, I was still not out of my funk. I still felt lingering traces of burnout (I still feel some today). We still had to deal with the medical issues in the family and the effort to have the house built. Even though we had months to go, we started to consolidate things, put things in boxes, move things into storage, and take care of a million things.
During that time, I didn’t get much of a mental recharge. I think I pretty much just existed. And worst, my writing continued to suffer.
The next phase of burnout recovery
In Aug of 2022, we finally moved into our new house. I have a third of the basement dedicated to a maker’s space and moved my 3d printer out of my office into a back room in the basement. The family health issues came to an end, not in the way we wanted, but in a manner that was not wholly unexpected. And as 2022 came to a close, we’ve finally settled into our new space, where it feels like home.
There are still a few things left to deal with, I again have about 15 pounds to lose (eating out is addictive), I don’t yet have the spray booth I need in order to use my airbrush, there are a handful of household projects, but what is most important to my recovery: I’ve been able to make more consistent time to write again.
I could talk more about the psychology of entering, living through, and recovering from burnout, but I’ll save that for another post, as this one is already too long and I want to get back to working on my novel.