Trying To Actively Fix My Burnout

I’ve been battling burnout for years now. I was driven away from my last job because of the demands placed on me and how all my work was punished because it didn’t fall neatly into the metrics my new manager used to rate my performance (despite how my old manager had approved of and supported my work). My new job was better for a while, but years of dealing with one of the most difficult people I’ve ever met and a great deal of institutional indifference to new ideas, modernization, and change in general have slowly ground me down. Since it is a slower process, I’ve been able to work to counter it, but there’s only so much to do when you’re also in the middle of a pandemic and the economic system you live in is doing it’s best to extract every single penny it can get from you and people like you. There’s no time to rest, little space to get a breather, and almost no ability to create either one of those since the only thing that will let me potentially escape in the future is working as much as my health will allow me to. It is not a great situation to be in, honestly.

I keep track of my health and well-being as much as I can. I don’t want to push myself to the point of collapse again, like I almost did last October, but I’m already running into situations where my choice to take vacations and rest in the past is leaving me with little to no ability to rest now. I had planned to carefully parcel out my stored up vacation time and my overtime so that I could give myself a break when I needed it, but I wound up needing it all right away thanks to how last year ended and then the stress of the rest the first two months of 2023 has more than negated all the recovery I’d gotten. I want to be somewhat dismissive of it all and say something like “I just bit off more than I could chew” about all of 2022, but I really didn’t. I was careful, determined, and exact in pretty much everything I did until I pushed myself to the edge of mental collapse.

This year, as I work to address everything I can, to systematically and carefully work through all the problems that pushed me to the brink, I’m worried I’m just going to wide up walking that edge again. You can’t really work your way out of burnout. You can work through a lot of the stuff contributing to burnout, but you can’t actively do anything about the burnout itself. That takes rest. That takes breathing. That takes healthy and refreshing consumption habits, of food and media. There is no quick solution to burnout, not in this day and age, for people like me with no generational wealth to lean on, no family homes to “housesit” for years while living off the generosity of relatives, almost no contacts to thumb the scales in my favor. and no safety net other than what I can carefully weave for myself through extra work and scrounging. It takes time. It takes patience. The only work you can do to help your burnout is to safeguard those two things for the purposes of resting. That’s pretty much it.

Every time I look at the list of things I need to do this year, to improve my physical and mental well-being, I feel my heart sink. It’s a long list of difficult tasks, many of which aren’t entirely in my control. I mean, I can only do so much about getting a new job for more money, after all. And it’s not like I’ve got much control over things at my current job, so I can’t really give myself the breathing room I need to figure out how to fix the various problems that’re a part of most work day. I’m doing just about everything I’ve got the time, energy, and ability to do about those things, but at some point I need someone else to reciprocate that effort or for things at my job to stop feeling like a barely controlled housefire (working in technology is rough given all the parts shortages, rising costs, and shipping issues that seem more and more like people abusing a crisis to line their pockets, aka capitalism). Until that happens, all I can do is make sure I’m not overexerting myself while hopefully not letting anything slip so that I stop making progress on my job hunt or that my boss thinks I’m shirking my duties at work (he and I have talked about my burnout and he’s interested in helping, but there’s only so much he can do since we’re all feeling the pressure these days).

That said, it’s not like I’ve made no progress. I’m filling my evenings with things I enjoy. I’m carefully pushing myself to experience new stories rather than continue to re-experience old ones (which has its place, but I need new stuff for my mind to chew on in my idle moments). I’ve started reading again after barely doing it all last year on account of being unable to drown out my neighbors being noisy with music or podcasts when I’m reading. I’m trying to change up my diet rather than continue to eat the same stuff all the time so that I have both a moderately healthy and varied diet. I’m working on surrounding myself with people whose company I enjoy and who share my values (even if the effort required to do this is frequently exhausting). I’m making slow, incremental progress. It isn’t fixing my burnout yet, but I’m definitely not as miserable as I felt even just two months ago. Slow progress is still progress. All things in their time.

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