die Überarbeiteteers

I'm not waving, I'm drowning
Photo by Stormseeker / Unsplash

The overwork exhaustion

It turns out there’s a German word for when your burnout is from working too much. I find that I am not suffering from such a burnout, exactly. Mine is more a “too much across too many things for too long” sort of burn out. I love that if a word for such a condition does not exist in German, it could be crafted.

The German language allows for a variety of words to be crafted by simply smashing together other words. For example: überleben means "survive" and its words are über meaning over or above and leben meaning life.

Another great example: das Backpfeifengesicht meaning "the slap face", or rather, a face in need of a slap.

Is This Burnout?

The way I’m feeling lately is terrifying. I don’t feel like quite like myself, simple tasks seem daunting, decisions are as a slog through waist deep mud, things I’ve done dozens or even hundreds of times suddenly feel foreign to me.

In a meeting I’ll know I have the answer but will find myself trapped in a loop of second guessing myself, or simply respond incoherently. Sometimes I’ll just freeze up, some kind of executive dysfunction preventing my ability to rationally respond. I might even find myself lashing out or expressing frustration about my situation.

It’s maddening. Infuriating. Terrifying.

Later I’ll spin back up able to think, rationalize, and function a little more normally - but then I might be faced with a new situation like a simple decision point or a low impact meeting with colleagues and I’ll become stuck again.

I've always been able to dig deep and draw from a well, but lately that well feels dry.

Is This a Mental Health Crisis?

I’m not going to be able to simply meditate my way through this situation. I am looking at taking a couple weeks off, just to get away from work and try to feel normal again, but that always feels like not enough and I’ll need to go negative on PTO to do it. Further inviting stress and anxiety: how can I deal with everything, get well, and somehow do it unpaid?

I feel like I have this massive backlog of processing to do related to all of the enormous things that have impacted my life for quite a while now. I have come through a global pandemic with a significant and overwhelming promotion after moving 1,600 miles across the country to call the PNW home. I have no safety net and only a shadow of a support system around me at this point. We have almost no friends in our new city, and if it wasn't already extraordinarily challenging to make friends as an adult the Seattle Freeze certainly makes compounds the issue, and of course the nature of a global pandemic certainly make it challenging.

That's not including dealing with things like the a recently totaled car and the insurance process, healthcare for myself and my family, the various woes and lamentations of having adult children, and the challenges of raising children in general. I feel that there's a lot that's been happening for me professionally as well.

And all of this is on the heels of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy due to medical bills and previous health issues, custody issues, selling a house, several moves, and extreme saving just to make it to the PNW.

I’m good at my role, so good that I was given an award of recognition for “technology excellence” by my peers and organization. That event triggered new anxieties and challenges for me to be so publicly visible in front of more than one thousand employees while dealing with feeling burnt out, anxious, and generally struggling.

Being recognized comes on the heels of working with my leadership to split up the projects that my team was juggling moving them all closer to projects and teams where they belong, which is something I'd been requesting for some time. Prior to this most recent reorganization my team and I were responsible for a array of somewhat dissimilar systems that were all connected to different areas of the orgs in different ways and only shared some similarities at the stack / framework level. Moving things around made the most sense for a variety of reasons, but it meant that my team was being split apart.

A colleague kept reminding me, as they watched me descend into this burnout, that I’d made it. “Get to the chopper,” he told me, using one of many military references for which he’s fond of using to draw comparisons between business and military operations. He was right, of course, I’d made it - but at what cost?

I'm... okay?

Recently I wound up sobbing after a 1:1 with my boss. This is a perfectly normal thing to happen after trying to explain how badly I need this break we’ve talked about and being challenged on the question of if I really want to continue in my role at my level any longer. Last week the company gave me an award for my performance in this role. My performance review was excellent. Now my boss wants me to really decide if I can even handle my job at all.

I'm really not sure anymore because I do love the work, the people, that the meat of the job. I don't, however, love the pressure, the 6+ hour days on Zoom, and I definitely didn't enjoy the way the I felt after trying to juggling too much in this role for too long without defined goals and expectations beyond the simply surviving. Maybe it's not that I can't do the job, but rather that the job couldn't be done as it was.

What now?

At the end of the day I need to prioritize my health and well-being or there will be nothing left.

Unfortunately I also live under capitalism without any wealth and I have no idea how I can could possibly get enough space to work through all of this.

Something has to give, however. I cannot continue this way much longer, I hate feeling as I do.