Oh joy. Looks like I’m getting a little done, still feels like pushing shit uphill though.

As I resolved to last night, I started my day a couple of hours earlier than usual, finished checking email and feeds by 8am… then I drank a whole 6 cup plunger (aka french press) of coffee, in addition to my usual morning cup of earl grey.

That’s a lot of caffeine in one hit (I’m having some minor palpitations), and I know I shouldn’t do that (because I’m being medicated for high blood pressure at the moment), but it seems to have helped me to somewhat unstick my current code block.

So as long as I don’t have a heart attack later today, I might get a little bit of billable work done.

Here comes Monday

February 4, 2007

A fresh start to the week. Plenty of little things to be done. Let’s see what happens shall we…

Therapy?

February 3, 2007

Since I’ve been looking at my situation objectively, and following the parallels between burnout and depression, I’m wondering whether it’s time to see someone professional to help me work through my problems.

One thing I see coming up in relation to burnout and stress management is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). I’ve done a bit of reading about its use in treating such cases, but I’m loathe to put too much faith in stuff found on the intarweb, so perhaps it’s time to see a clinical psychologist and discuss whether it’s an appropriate treatment for me.

My understanding also is that here in Australia, it’s possible to have the majority of your fees covered by Medicare, provided you are referred to the Psychologist by your GP as part of a mental health treatment plan. I’m considering seeing my GP sometime in the next month if things don’t improve to see whether he’s willing to refer me. If not, I’ll probably see someone privately for an initial consult, and hope that my health fund will pick up part of the tab.

I’d love to hear from anyone who’s had formal treatment for burnout, whether it’s CBT or otherwise.

Particularly, I want to know what it was like, how effective it is over the short term, and whether over the long term you think you’re “cured”.

Either leave a comment, or drop me a line on burntouthacker@gmail.com if you want to remain anonymous.

Slow Leadership says…

February 3, 2007

… that macho management is a major culprit in burnout.

Ouch. Given I’m freelance, and essentially my own manager, that’s basically saying I’m my own worst enemy.

Slow Leadership has a 3 part series on burnout:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Themes:

It’s a sense of withdrawal and distancing from things you once found absorbing; to the extent that, after a while, you can scarcely bring yourself to do anything more than “go through the motions,” and sometimes not even that.

Check.

Many sufferers from burnout are perfectionists, for whom anything less than winning in some truly spectacular way is tantamount to failure.

I don’t think of myself as a perfectionist, but others seem to. Then again, I see mistakes that they don’t…

I suspect that many cases of burnout are closer to simple mental exhaustion. Burnout isn’t necessarily caused by long hours or overwork. They are more the symptoms of people’s efforts to counter the anxiety and bad feelings that burnout induces. If a week’s holiday, or easing up for a few days, is enough to restore your equilibrium, you weren’t suffering from burnout. You were just overtired.

See, this is something I’ve struggled with. If anything, I feel underworked, yet at the same time, I feel completely apathetic towards tasks that should take me a few hours to complete. This feeling compounds as time goes by, adding this massive mental inertia that stops me from just getting stuck in.

At first, I used to think it was mere procrastination, but I started to notice that unless I expended a superhuman effort, the slightest interruption could literally derail my whole day. Procrastination does not cause you to wake in the morning and dread getting out of bed and sitting at a computer.

… a feeling of inner emptiness: a sense that work no longer matters because success is impossible to achieve, not that getting there is too hard or laborious. When people start to feel that there is no correlation between effort put in and satisfaction gained as a result, they are well down the path towards suffering true burnout.

That’s me. I can’t think of anything that would really satisfy me enough to encourage me to expend the effort required to do what I need to. I recognise this as a very dangerous place to be, as a freelancer, that effort is directly related to my ability to pay my bills and keep a roof over our heads.

The biggest problem I have is this: step one of the solution (in Part 3) is to step away from it all and have a break. I’ve effectively had 3-4 weeks off, and that hasn’t been enough to conquer this malaise… not working, for reasons above, is totally not an option at the moment.

What I do think I need to do, what I think is reasonable in my situation, is to better ration my efforts, and to adjust my expectations of what I can achieve.

I hereby give myself permission to suck. To reschedule. To defer. To delegate. To stop doing whatever it takes, because every time I do that, it takes a little bit of my soul.

I want the joy back.

I want to feel that I’m writing good code.

I want to feel that satisfaction in a job well done (even if it isn’t perfect).

I want that satisfied feeling when you totally nail that tricky problem. When you refactor 50 lines into 15.

I want to be the best that I can be, for my own sake, not everyone else’s.

During my current bout of work avoidance, I’ve been doing some reading on burn out, and thinking about how I’m feeling, I can’t help but notice the similarities between the way I describe my feelings, and the way my wife described how she felt with clinical depression.

Helpless.

Listless.

Want to curl up in a ball and hide.

Detached, like it’s a dream.

The difference is that my wife felt these all the time. I only feel it when I think about having to do work. I can switch off the computer, and go outside, or play with my son, and life feels wonderful. Sit at my desk though, and try to start work, it’s like hitting a brick wall.

It’s almost like my brain is overcompensating on the work/life balance thing.

Stupid, stupid brain. Why can’t you snap out of this?

Maybe the same reason my wife couldn’t just “stop feeling sorry for herself” as many people seemed to think she should do.

The difference I can see however between clinical depression and what I’m feeling is that this is situational – it can’t be a biochemical imbalance, otherwise surely I’d feel this way all the time?

Wikipedia says

researchers disagree about the nature of burnout. While many researchers argue that burnout refers exclusively to a work-related syndrome of exhaustion and depersonalization/cynicism, others feel that burnout is a special case of the more general
clinical depression
or just a form of extreme fatigue/exhaustion

No way am I suffering from fatigue/exhaustion, I just had 2 weeks off for christmas/new year’s and 2 4-day weekends away. I’m rested and feeling far from fatigued. So scratch that one.

Cynicism? CHECK. Got that one in spades… but then I always have to some degree. Depersonalisation? Well yeah, if you mean work feels kinda surreal. Definitely “diminished interest” in any case.

And above all else, it’s work related. I’d probably feel it less if I didn’t work from home, but I think I do a good job of keeping the two separate (as much as you can with a 6 month old to look after).

But still, there’s more I can think of in relation to work that sounds like depression:

Guilt.

Anxiety.

Aggression.

It’s not that I hate myself and want to die, it’s just that I can’t keep going like this, I need to either fix the problem, or… change something. Jobs, careers, I don’t know what yet.

… stop being so fucking precious. I mean, you’ve already sketched it out, written the comments, you know how the code is supposed to work, all you have to do is write it. I bet in the end it’s like Ten. Fucking. Lines. You’ve done this a thousand times before, you used to eat these jobs up for breakfast…

What is wrong with you? Ten lines, and you can bill for that day you did yesterday. Cold hard cash baby. You need it, you’ve got that mortgage to pay now, plus you’ve got a freaking 6 month old to support. You want him to grow up with a daddy who’s a deadbeat, who can’t make a buck doing something that always came so easily?

2 days and counting…

February 2, 2007

… that’s how long it’s been since I last did some meaningful, billable work. Why? who knows. All I know is that I dread the sight of my IDE right now.

Why am I writing this blog? again…. who knows. Hopefully getting this off my chest may let me finish some of my outstanding commitments to clients who are perfectly willing to pay me good money for results… results that for some reason I can’t bring myself to deliver.

Long term, maybe it will help me cure myself… all I know is this:

I’m a freelance programmer, and I’m burnt out.