5 minute read

Experiences with Burnout

Happily or unhappily, I have had several experiences with burnout. This topic is brought to you by my latest realization. There is such a thing as high-performing burnout. We’ll get to that at the end of this post.

I’ve experienced burnout three times that I can recall in my life. All three are related to some health issues that I developed during those moments. It is my hope that by talking about our experiences of burnout, we learn to help others recognize it for what it is.

Burnout is a tricky thing. It’s not always obvious and everyone has different thresholds for stress. What may be anxiety-inducing to some may be status quo for another.

Burnout #1: Keener

Back in my secondary school days, I used to work really hard. I would argue that it was the hardest I’ve worked in my entire life. I would stay up for nights on end, up until 4 or 5 in the morning during the week. I did this for the sake of working through my homework assignments and to deliver everything early. I felt motivated by the ability to churn out boatloads of effort and output; I didn’t realize I was slowly eating away at my personality.

After experiencing pain for sometime, I went to our family doctor who diagnosed me with Shingles. This disease is closely related to Chicken Pox and is generally seen in older patients (65+). Apparently, the lack of sleep, high focus, and continuous hard days left my body weak and susceptible to common illnesses. Our body naturally fights off a whole hoard of diseases when healthy. The moment our defenses weaken for extended periods of time, even an innocuous cold could have leave you in the hospital.


Another offshoot symptom of this burnout is narcolepsy. I had chalked up the signs of sleepiness to puberty and to working long nights. But my condition worsened and I was frequently falling asleep at the wheel, standing, and even in the shower! Narcolepsy has been a mixed bag for me, and has continued to persist in my life even up to this day.

(BONUS) Burnout #1.5: Athlete

During my college prime, I was a varsity athlete. At the same time, I was learning to powerlift and olympic lift on my off days. All of the volume, muscle-building, and duress led me to being the most fit I had been at any point in my life. But then I started slipping. I began missing practices because I slept through them. I became weaker and weaker and my technique was sloppy. Over time, I entered into a period of depression and lethargy. All the while, I was still in my engineering program. I was sleeping through most of the classes, but it was definitely a lower point in my life. I wouldn’t consider this total burnout but it demonstrated that the body will physically shut down when we push it beyond its limits for too long. All these diseases and symptoms are your body’s natural way of telling you to shove it and rest.

Burnout #2: Prolonged Death March

At my first job after graduation, I wanted to hustle. It was the start of my career and there was a lot of opportunity at my company. Fast-forward a year in and I was working with offshore resources and had my first shiny company phone. Later, it dawned on me that the phone was much more of a curse than it was a gift.

I was shipping code morning until evening. I was planning knowledge transfer sessions in the morning with offshore and sometimes late at night when they were beginning their work day. My neurosis escalated to the point of me waking up at 1 in the morning to reply to emails. It was an unhealthy place to be and I quickly learned to hide notifications on my company phone. I became like a zombie and got used to working 60 hour weeks to support the grind. It was a death march, alright, but one that spanned as long as I wanted it to.

As per usual, when a company is dysfunctional, it relies on a few key players to work ungodly hours to support oversight. And what do you know? I developed some more chronic illnesses. I started going home with a severe pain my spine. This was Sciatica and required several weeks of physiotherapy to iron out of my system. A little later, I developed a fungal infection across my torso, as well as in my fingernails. I have since eradicated both of these issues, but my nails have never fully recovered.

Burnout #3: Asymptomatic Burnout, i.e., High-performing Burnout

My latest episode of burnout happened pretty recently. It was the motivation for this post, actually. I didn’t think I had any problems because I was still functioning at a fast clip. I was shipping code, being active in reviews and grooming sessions. But the apathy and fatigue were kicking in strong. I would be drained after work and I would be drained when I began work. The whole COVID situation didn’t help - it felt difficult to disconnect after working a full day from home.

The burnout symptoms crept on me, to be honest. I was pushing hard to get an Azure certification, be a good husband, write good code, participate in feature reviews. I wanted to do everything (and still do, to be honest). My wife pointed out to me that I had begun to develop a mild rash on my arm. It had never happened before. I started getting stress cankersores. I often got cankers when I didn’t sleep or ate junk food, but I had been doing well otherwise. And then my stomach started having issues. Other than the aforementioned, I felt healthy and fine.

It’s burnout. Even if it doesn’t look like it and it doesn’t seem obvious. It is. It affects everyone differently, but it’s still worth calling out. It’s important to take care of ourselves because no one else has the responsibility to.


I hope these different case studies provide some insight into burnout and the different symptoms that can occur. If anyone you know is at risk for burnout, please reach out to them. There are some mistakes better avoided in life.