The Effects of Burnout – Personal Report About Navigating a Crisis

If you are one of the few followers of my blog, then, first of all, thank you. Secondly, maybe you are wondering why I have not been writing about any programming topics lately, given the name of this blog. Perhaps you only started following recently and like the gaming content. Whatever your reason, my main focus has always been on software development topics of any kind, and this element has been lacking for quite some time.

Out of the 11 posts this year (at the time of writing), only five fall into the programming category. And if I’m being honest, I have spread two more extensive topics across those five blog posts to potentially get more clicks – although the separation also makes sense. Before I digress too much, the short version is this: I am actively neglecting the original premise of my blog, yet I still want to produce content. There is a reason, and despite that somewhat lighthearted title, it is a serious topic.

Note: Before I changed the title to what it is now, it was “Yo, CODE-Slinger! You Now a GAME-Slinger? No, I’m Having a Dance With Burnout“

Although this report is based on my personal experience with the subject, it is not about me. Nobody on the Internet is interested in me, and I am not delusional enough to think otherwise. Treat it as a biased case study that I sincerely hope can be a motivation for other people going through a similar thing. The light at the end of the tunnel can be an exit.

The following two sections elaborate a little on The Codeslinger origin story. If you are only interested in the meat, skip to “Dance With the Burnout”.

Etymology

With the intro out of the way, I now allow myself to derail this content for a moment and explain where “Codeslinger” originates from. I do not think I have ever done that.

I am a fan of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. The main character of this eight-book epic is Roland, the last gunslinger. We all know what a gunslinger does: dealing in lead. Stephen King also wrote himself into the story, and Roland refers to Mr. King as the “Wordslinger”. A wordslinger is a writer who deals in stories. I am a software engineer by trade and deal in source code. Hence, “Codeslinger”.

Before The Codeslinger, I started as “Typical Nerd”, but the word nerd has developed a negative connotation for me. I prefer “enthusiast” instead. Nevertheless, “Codeslinger” is more original, accurate, mature, and an homage to one of the best novels ever conceived. Additionally, were I to design a logo at some point, the “C” would be comprised of two “+” characters stacked on top of each other. A reference to my origins as a software developer: the C++ language.

History Lesson

My primary goal has always been writing about software development and technology. But I never restricted myself to only that. This blog is about my interests because I am The Codeslinger. Since starting in 2012, when I released the first blog post (Controlling a Mac’s fans), the numbers are distributed as follows (if I counted correctly).

  • Code: 59
  • Technology: 42
  • Gaming: 38
  • Other: 15

Under Technology, I subsume operating systems (all Linux stuff, Windows Phone, etc.) and any form of consumer tech. Under Gaming, I record game reviews and gaming hardware, like CPU and GPU benchmarks. The Other category comprises random topics like this one, a poem praising my bed, or a couple of attempts at drawing. Throughout the ten years I have written publicly, the code and technology topics have clearly taken the lead.

To play a little inside baseball: my writing has convinced 61 people to follow my blog during the past decade. My site has consistently surpassed 2000 hits per month since August 2021, when it suddenly jumped significantly.

Given these numbers, you might wonder why I am still publishing blog posts. I do not think you can gauge success like you would count YouTube subscribers or Instagram followers. Sure, I am happy when the numbers go up. After all, I want people to read my stuff and take something away from it. From where I am sitting, it is still worth it. Even if it is just a few people, my programming and Linux topics regularly reach enough readers to make it meaningful. On the rare occasion somebody leaves a nice comment or a thumbs-up, I feel rewarded.

The game reviews usually do not perform nearly as well, and those are the longest posts I publish. They take the most time to craft, and I am rather proud of the results, despite a minuscule number of clicks. This highlights that writing serves another purpose besides providing knowledge or entertaining readers. It is a hobby, a craft, even though nothing fictional has come out of it.

It helps me advance my English skills, and as a result of all the practice, I can confidently say that my writing has improved over the years. I also notice a difference in conversations or consuming English-based media.

But what does that have to do with the lack of coding content lately?

Dance With the Burnout

Disclaimer: The following sections are my personal experience and handling of the situation. Writing about it is my way of working through it, a mid-way post-mortem. By no means is this medical advice. There is absolutely no shame in seeking professional help if all else fails.

Software development is my profession and also my hobby. The dilemma about this relationship is that when work stops being fun, the hobby might suffer too. In my case, the “might suffer” turned into “absolutely sucks balls”. For the longest time, I was working on topics that I would not exactly describe as my favorites. I enjoy software architecture and transcribing that to code or researching technologies and advanced techniques. Taking care of operational tasks, on the other hand, has become my nemesis.

I have barely worked on any (more extensive) implementation tasks for the past six to eight months (if that even covers it). At the pinnacle of it all, I reached a point where I purposefully declined more significant user stories because I lacked the confidence. I was highly frustrated, easily distracted, and doubted I could focus on such work for an extended period. I preferred JIRA tickets that sucked the life out of me but basically were pulled off by “muscle memory”. It was my twisted way of protecting myself. I needed work equivalent to a mobile game. Something that kept me busy, did not require as much brain power and attention, and made the hours go by.

Work has ultimately worn me down to a point where it affected my personal life. Now, I do not know the clinical definition of burnout. However, I am still pretty confident that I was awfully close. I even picked up some bad coping habits that are now hard to get rid of. I was stress-eating. I was always demotivated to do anything, and Corona restrictions made public life more cumbersome –  a perfect match. I am prone to mood swings and have an extremely short fuse before I blow up and turn into a raging green monster.

As a result, I only ever worked precisely eight hours a day, almost down to the minute (and I still do that). After that, the computer was off, and I never looked back until the following day. As such, I barely spent time researching and writing about computer science problems – I used to love that. I turned to passive consumption instead of active participation. I started questioning whether being a software engineer was still the way forward. That’s how bad of a mood I was in. I was like an everyday Grinch.

However, I still wanted to prevent myself from becoming assimilated by my couch. My blog deserved to be saved from the same fate before it became overgrown by digital rot. I was thinking about fitness and weight training but lacked the necessary discipline and motivation. I was thinking about writing but could not get myself in front of a computer. Both seemed like daunting endeavors. These hobbies never required any particular push or reason in the past. They were a natural thing for me to do.

(Signs of depression?)

At some point, I managed to push myself out the door to do the one healthy thing that did not consist of complex movement patterns and saved me from the ravenous clawing of my couch: running. Turn off the brain and start moving forward, like the work items I chose only with fun involved. I found something with a low barrier of entry that had me feel good at the end. Too bad my knees and ankles began to disagree after a month of going for a jog several times a week. As an alternative, I went for extended walks nearly every day with music or the voices of strangers in my ears.

The disdain for work was also one of the factors for switching to console gaming (next to hardware shortages and ridiculous prices). An Xbox or PlayStation is not a computer (figuratively speaking) and does not remind me of my work environment.

When I managed to plop down with my laptop – my MacBook is also the antithesis of my work environment – words started flowing. The only type of content I could bring myself to write was video game reviews. And I am okay with that. It proved to me that I could still overcome this emotional stress and sometimes anxiety of touching a computer in my free time and doing something I enjoyed. During the Halo Infinite weeks at the end of 2021 (vacation time), I made it a habit of starting my day listening to the Halo soundtrack

(da da da daaa, da da da daaaaa)

while I was crafting one of my better gaming blog posts. More games and more reviews followed. Although this particular hobby includes elements (computer) also present at my job, I tried to achieve a physical and mental distance.

As time passed, I dropped chocolate, cake, and muffins – all that luxurious food for the soul – for more healthy yet equally delicious substitutes. I still overeat more than I’d like, but I count myself lucky to have forgiving genes and still a healthy metabolism at my age. Additionally, I started working out again at home, turning the surplus of calories and proteins into growing body parts.

No, not that body part 💪.

This journey

(Deathmarch)

is a process, and it is still not complete. It required small steps – one at a time, as cheesy as it may sound. I am even back at the gym four to five times a week. Over time, I graduated from running/walking to lifting heavy 💩 again. Getting away from home is a big step in creating the necessary distance to heal. I know it sounds weird because home should be where this happens. And it is, even more so without shouting neighbors (different story). Yet, for me, it is also my workplace, and the past year has been rough. I know working from home full-time is my fault, and I also stand by it with all the pros and cons. It just means finding other ways of generating the necessary space sometimes.

My work situation has also eased up, although it is still a far cry from where it must be. Nevertheless, I am increasingly interested in picking up old personal projects and turning them into something shiny. Although I have used personal time to also further my education in areas that benefitted my professional career in the past, I am not quite there yet. Right now, I focus on topics and technologies that have no direct relation to my job. That separation continues to be crucial for me.

Moral to the Story

Is there something you can take away from this essay? First, let me answer the initial question.

Writing about gaming was and still is one of the things that prevents me from giving in to my mood swings, doing nothing at all, and becoming one with my couch.

(Couchslinger – deals in potato chips 🍟)

It made me actively play a game, and it made me gather and share my thoughts comprehensively. Gaming and writing were some of the small steps in fighting myself out of the trenches of Grinch-dom and reclusiveness.

The key was that I recognized my situation and the source of it and that I found the will to do what I could to make at least my personal life enjoyable again. It was the small and seemingly insignificant actions that got me started. Like writing about my gaming hobby. Like going for a run or extended walks. Like modifying my nutrition. It was about the little victories in situations like this. I did not necessarily need a big bang. Sometimes, tiny but sustainable steps are the way to escape the vicious Catch-22 cycle. Big bangs imply a ton of effort – a rare commodity when you’re always down.

It was tough to get going in the early stages, even when I knew that I would feel better afterward, for example, after a workout. Although it sounds counterintuitive, making oneself do something and enjoy a hobby is vital. It is the first step to changing, to healing.

And a never ending stream of cute cat pictures from my sister 😘

Thank you for reading.

This has been a very personal topic, and I was hesitant for a long time about whether I should publish it or not and how much to put in it. It sort of feels like telling an uninteresting sob story without any substance.

It’s not as bad as the Star Wars prequels explaining the rise of Darth Vader, though…

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