In 2016 I started doing body weight exercises, intermittent fasting, and picked up strength training.
I was fully immersed in it for a couple of years the way any Type A person would have. I did my research, set the direction, set up a process, and showed up consistently — perhaps a bit obsessively.
I felt I had reasonable goal and was progressing at a sustainable rate. I still listened to my body and incorporated rest days (from exercising, fasting, or calories restricting) when I feel I needed it.
I felt and looked great. I managed to show up, eat well, and exercise even on days when I didn’t “feel like it“.
I found that the trick is to start small, build the habit, and eliminate as many friction as possible to getting started. Then every day just show up and get into it.
It also became easier once I accepted that it could be slow and painful in the beginning. It’s normal.
On the good days I would dash into it, all wired. On the bad days it will only take 5 minutes or half a set for my body to get into the zone. And I always, always feel great after breaking a sweat.
It’s easier to maintain the momentum than breaking the inertia again. I “turned pro” on my Resistance.
I then grew attached to the resulting body composition. I developed unhealthy relationship with food and exercise trying to maintain it.
I tolerated, misinterpreted, even celebrated the occasional hunger (“that means you are in caloric deficit“), fatigue (“great session, always be in recovery!“), and sleeping disruptions (“gym highs“). I normalised my missing period for three years, and now trying to get my period back.
Exactly one year ago I shared that I found myself in my 3rd burnout in 8 years. It took me 8 months to realise I am back in the same cycle in this day job thanks to elaborate coping mechanisms masked as productivity tactics. These tactics prevented me from realising that I have normalised something that is inherently broken. That I need to stop and fix the root cause instead of numbing and adapting to the symptoms.
It’s the same pattern over and over again: treating work as the main (and later, only) source of joy and accomplishments in life. I felt fulfilled and accomplished after a productive day. I liked the feeling of being needed, recognised, and respected. I was addicted to the external validation.
It sounds like I need to “get a life* but I truly enjoyed building my life around the work. Work was my play. Work gives me energy. That’s why I didn’t really notice it when it started becoming unhealthy.
Like frogs in slowly boiling water.
I knew I could get over the occasional dread by “making the jump”: just log into Slack and start checking the pipeline. Once I get into reactive mode, the anxiety will melt away no matter how blue and down I felt before. I can ride the wave and move on with planning and execution from there.
I was running on fumes but managed to power through. I “turned pro” on my Resistance.
I am almost recovered now after 20 months charging my leaking battery — two steps forward one step backwards. Holding the fort while tending to the fatigue, fighting off bits of compounding guilt, resentments, and toxic irrational thoughts caused by unchallenged assumptions are quite a mental roller coaster
It’s still an ongoing marathon but my relationship with work has shifted internally into a pretty comfortable place now — a strange cocktail of a bit of apathy, a bit of optimism, and a bit of gratitude. I am beginning to see my day job as a feature and not a bug.
But this is not the first time I “gained perspective”, so I doubt this is going to be my last burnout.
Despite sometimes “not feeling it” I am able to show up and execute the fitness practices. It seems to pay off. I felt the fittest I have ever been. But it masked my amenorrhea. I managed the “ugh” and wound up with halted reproduction system.
Despite being burned out, I still managed to show up and get shit done in my day job. It seems to pay off. But it masked my burnout. I coped, I normalised it, I worked around the “ugh” and ran myself to the ground.
I didn’t know when the “ugh” became a “listen up”.
I expected some “ugh” and thought I need to “keep on going”. I thought I had an accurate view of the boundary.
I couldn’t see the signals from the noise. Or rather, I dismissed these signals as noise.
I didn’t notice when the pain of discomfort flips into pain of danger.
I didn’t notice I tipped over from turning pro into self sabotage.
Pros don’t ignore the pain. They see pain accurately.