To kick off writing at the end of 2022, I decided to write something about the mental health journey I've been on for the past 2+ years
I think we often think of a tech blog as being a place where we should post tutorials and how-to's, but what about mental health and mindfulness? Should I craft this article as something educational?
How about I just tell you a story instead, and we'll see what you take away from it?
Hi there! My name is Raven! I'm the writer of this blog here on Hashnode, and I'm a big advocate for mindfulness and well-being... until it applies to me.
I have a classic case of hero syndrome, I'm a workaholic who thinks the entire world needs to rest on my shoulders or I'm not pulling my weight.
I've spent the last 8+ years building my career, and building a reputation for being reliable, responsible, and forward-thinking. 5 second response times to messages, early to every meeting, and always starting the day off with a smile.
The only problem? I was stuffing my actual feelings, thoughts, and needs deeper and deeper as every day passed.
You might be thinking "That sounds like a recipe for disaster!!", well... it is. You've already figured out the whole story! Apparently, I was destined to eventually crumble under the weight of my own expectations. After all, how could a single person carry an entire team, department, or company?
And eventually, the shoe dropped: textbook burnout, the size of which dwarfed the sun and turned my world into a dark & cruel place. Depression, anxiety, and no hope.
"Well, that got dark." Yeah, a little. But anyone could end up in that place before you know it. I might be an extreme example, but all it takes is that one piece of extra straw to cause the camel to collapse beneath the weight. Hell, it might even happen before you know it has.
The path to the dark side
Let's go back to that dark place for a minute: I never chose to go there, instead a hundred mistakes in my life led me there.
I let myself be overworked, over-relied-on, and I was overeager to go over-the-top in everything I did. That's too many over's! and by the time I was burnt out, I was over it.
I had a problem with the boundaries between me, my personal life, and my job. I would overcommit and be too optimistic about what I could achieve, until suddenly it was 2am and I was 4 cups of coffee deep into focus work.
Now, I think the occasional work-until-late-because-im-inspired is okay - but this was multiple times a week, week after week. And the worst part was my bosses began to expect this from me, rather than pushing me to set better boundaries.
Now I don't just have a boundaries problem being enforced by me, but now encouraged by my managers and executives. The minute they see their job being to optimize productivity and results overall, often that comes at the cost of someone's sanity somewhere in the line.
I honestly think I'd still be doing the same thing today if I hadn't burnt out as hard as I did 2 years ago. All of these choices over multiple years led to me fighting to get back to a point of functioning normally again.
I was dealing with other mental health and personal challenges at the same time that complicated it, but it took me a long time to define these boundaries and get back to a place where I feel like I can contribute and deliver consistently.
And I remember every day that I need to make sure I'm more than one straw from collapsing, because life is unpredictable and you never know when more will be added to your plate. Even if overworking is sustainable now, that doesn't mean it's sustainable forever.
Sitting there in the darkness
I spent a lot of time in that dark place. I went through a lot of struggles in my personal and professional life, and burnt a lot of bridges with friends, family, and coworkers.
I will always regret not pulling myself out of the darkness much sooner, but that's just how life is - all I can do is move forward.
As someone with mental health problems, there's always the risk I'm going to start doing worse because of some random change in my life. Someone moving, someone passing away, not being able to afford my medication, etc.
You're always holding onto the world by the fraying edges, but isn't this the truth for everyone? Aren't we all just trying to do our best to make sense of the chaos around us?
I know I'm getting a bit philosophical, but burnout is a deeply philosophical topic.
That crushing feeling of "Am I really okay to do this?", "Am I working enough?", "Is my job stable enough?" - especially with the state of the economy right now as I'm writing this.
It's easy to have any number of factors pull us into a deep dark hole that we'll struggle to escape from, but we can escape from that dark place. At least, I did... so I have faith anyone else can too.
Don't let yourself sit there alone in the darkness, find the changes you need to make to get your life back on the path you want it to be on. After all, you are the pilot here.
This is your life, so make something amazing out of it.
Crawling out from the darkness
I already hit this in the title, but I'm doing much better now. I have my life back together and I enjoy the work I do. But, I needed to make some changes to get there.
This section will talk a lot about some of the personal changes I made, while these might not be the most helpful to you - this is where I'll remind you I'm telling my story, not creating a self-help guide.
1. The first set of changes came down to establishing a routine and rules for my life.
It might not seem like I have much of a routine because I'm typing this at 3am, but really it's more about having a few landmarks that are consistent in my life. Eating around certain times, sleeping around certain times, and finding time for creativity and self-expression around the same times.
I don't need a perfect line-by-line routine, but I need some structure to my existence. Maybe this isn't the same for you, but if your mind can expect certain things then it's easier to maintain your life outside of work.
2. The second set of changes came down to boundaries.
Now that I have rules, I needed to redefine my relationship with work. This came down to learning to better accept my limitations and understanding what I could feasibly accomplish in a day.
I still struggle with this every day, but as a good friend told me - "Take the time you think it'll take and double or triple it. You never know what might happen or if you'll run into a snag."
It's also important you set rules on when and where you work. In a remote world, the lines between "home" and "work" often get blurred until they all-but-vanish. Not working past 6pm or not working anywhere but your desk can help you disconnect from work.
And lastly, it's okay to know your limits and defend them. If you don't have the bandwidth for something, stand your ground and make your case. "I'm doing X, I don't have time to do Y on top of it."
3. The last set of changes came down to self-care.
While rules and boundaries do a lot for helping prevent burnout and make it easier to handle your working and personal life, you also need to take care of yourself.
Whether it's taking long baths, reading a book, or playing video games - you need to take time to relax and you need to be honest with yourself about how you're feeling. There are a lot of outlets you can use for digesting how you're feeling: journaling, therapy, talking to a partner, etc.
It's just important that you're taking time to check in with yourself and doing activities that allow you to unwind, especially if you have stress in your life outside of work. How can you be expected to do your best work if you can't be your best self?
And, no, I don't mean your best-ever-self - I mean the best you that you can be right now, in this moment. You always have the capacity for greatness, but are you setting yourself up to take that opportunity?
I guess, in the end, I just wanted to share my story with people and I picked this as an outlet for it. Reader, I hope you took away something valuable from this article.
Your health and well-being matter, and you deserve to be your best self at work and home. And you deserve to spend time doing things you want to be doing.
I think we get so wrapped up in the capitalist world we live in that sometimes we lose our grip on reality, seeing ourselves as just cogs in the machine. But in reality? we're all amazing individuals with the capacity to change the world.
Too idealistic? Maybe you're right, but I'm not afraid to dream a little.
Thanks for reading this article and follow me if you want to read more of my ramblings. Starting today I'll be writing fairly regularly about mental health, tech culture, as well as product design, marketing, product, data responsibility, etc.
Expect a lot of variety here on The Raven Show. 👋