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Was tempted to make a throwaway account for this, but what the hell, burnout is really nothing to be ashamed of.

I'm in a somewhat similar situation to you, but replace the 3 years with 10 years. I had many periods of 'minor' burnout along the way that I ignored or ploughed through, which in hindsight was a pretty big mistake.

Around August last year I just couldn't continue. I wasn't sleeping, I was frequently run down, and I was self-medicating more and more with drugs and alcohol. It eventually got to the point where simply opening my laptop would elicit a fight or flight response.

I was lucky enough to be in a secure enough financial situation to largely take 6 months off. If you're in a position to do this, I highly recommend it.

I uninstalled gmail, slack, etc. from my phone. I considered getting a dumb phone, but settled for turning off push notifications for everything instead. I went away with my girlfriend for a week and left all my tech at home except for my kindle (literally the first time I've been disconnected for more than a couple of days in probably 20 years). I exercised as much as possible and spent time in nature going for walks, etc.

I've been back at it part time for the last few months. Gradually I felt the feelings of burnout being replaced with feelings of boredom, which is hopefully my brain's way of saying that it's starting to repair itself and ready to slowly return to work.

I'm still nowhere near back to peak productivity, but I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that I may never get back there. I'm 36 and probably would have dropped dead of overwork by 50 if I kept up the tempo of the last 10 years anyway.

I'm not 'cured' by any means, but I believe things are slowly getting better.

My advice to you is to be kind and patient with yourself. Try not to stress about not having a side-project, and instead just focus on self-care for a while. Someone posted this on HN a few weeks back and it really hit close to home for me: http://www.robinhobb.com/blog/posts/38429




This all rings very familiar - I left my business in 2016 as I was absolutely disintegrating, and my business “partner” wasn’t prepared for me to take six months off to recover, as it would mean him stepping up to the mark and dealing with the nightmare fuel I spent my days on.

Anyway. Five years on, haven’t worked since other than very lightweight consultancy. Live in the woods.

Still wake up at 0430 every morning in a panic. Still grind my teeth. Still flinch every time I hear my phone. Incapable of being kind to myself.

There’s a point of no return, beyond where the brain damage is irreparable. You can learn to live with it, but you can’t ever get rid of it.


It sounds silly but have you considered getting a dog? They’re extremely healing in many ways.


Have you had therapy?


Yes. They mostly wanted me to take a lot of drugs, and there was talk of experimental brain surgery, and I just don’t want any of that - whole damn process just made me more stressed and anxious - so now, I just smoke weed from when I wake to when I pass out.

I’m damaged, but functional - managed to build a house with my own hands this spring, while writing an ISO27k1 ISMS, while living off grid - I don’t just sit around on the couch - hell, don’t have a couch.

So yeah. Coping rather than being cured is the best many can hope for - and I’m just about coping.


I'm so sorry to hear that, really. It's a shame you didn't find a better therapist, sometimes it takes a couple of tries before you find one that gets you.

I hope you find a path forward where you have health and happiness.


Not everyone can be "fixed", especially via therapy. Sometimes, coping is all you can aspire to.


Don’t underestimate the value of lying on the couch. Also consider a hammock. Very peaceful.


Oh, I have the optimal hammock, between two trees, on the riverbank - I can dangle my fingers in the water, surrounded by birdsong in dappled shade. It’s where I spent the rest of yesterday.

It does get better - consciously, I’m a much happier and calmer person than I was - but whatever part of me it is that screams in their sleep and kicks me out of bed in the pre-dawn hasn’t improved one jot. I wish it would.


Felt like I was reading a description of what I feel. Kind of punched me in the face when I read at the end that he's 70...I've been in my animal for 35 years...perhaps it's time to reconsider my life. The problem is, I will probably never do until another major crash happens...I assume this is a problem many of us have.


She* :)

And yeah - very powerful piece of writing. She's a published fantasy author and I'm going to try one of her novels (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/77197.Assassin_s_Apprent...)


Best thing I've ever read. Based on the title, "Assassin's Apprentice", I would never have picked it up. It's on the "realism" side of fantasy. The protagonist is not having a good time, at all. Hobb excels at writing about communities.


I describe her books as Harry Potter meets game of thrones meets Thomas the tank engine. (In a good way)


Very nice coincidence: after years of putting off her novels, I started Ship of Magic just two days ago. Never thought I'd see someone quote her here.


Wow, I could relate so much with this link and I’m only 32...


With hindsight, do you think you could have avoided your burnout? Was it due to long hours? The type of work? Something else?


I think so, yeah. Aside from not listening to the obvious warning signs (insomnia, anxiety, depression, increased frequency of physical illness, etc.), there were definitely other red flags.

I think my biggest since issue was - and probably continues to be - very poor work/life balance (no hobbies, basically no social life outside of work, etc). Obviously it's hard to disentangle cause and effect, but I suspect a prerequisite for getting burnout is having a mania or hyper-fixation on work.


Interesting, thanks! It seems that, in your case at least, making sure that you don't work more than, say, 45h a week could have helped. Not saying it's easy to do or that it solves everything, but it feels easier to improve things you can measure.

Of course I'd expect someone already burning out to deceive themselves and game their own metrics (like reading and answering emails at night and not counting the time spent).


Don’t have stress. It’s that simple. No idea how you’d fix it though. (And IMO long periods of tedious work counts as stress too)




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