I’ve been no stranger to depression and burnout. The former is more or less something I’ve grown to become friends with, as bizarre as it sounds. And as dark and troubling as those times have been, at their worst, they’re equally the reason where I find myself where I am now, having experienced all that I have. I wish Trump didn’t abuse the words ‘tremendous’ and ‘beautiful’ so much, because there can be great beauty in these harrowing experiences once you can look back on them and see how you’ve grown, changed, since.
I can tell when I start to grow burned out not because I feel more depressed, but because I start to try too hard or overcompensate for perceived failures. It’s the classic feeling of not being enough, and trying to pursue ever loftier goals as a way of becoming more enough. It inevitably ends in abject failure and if I was to ask anyone else around me while that was happening, they would quite rightly tell me that I am being too hard on myself and nobody is beating me up the way I am. The inner critic is strong in this one, and he doesn’t always want to admit or accept that he is totally enough as he is, and he should slow down and enjoy this eccentric life of his. I mean, we’re all eccentric in our own ways; it’s by no means an insult compared to an allegation of being normal.
It’s funny, really. Life for me really began in 2012 when I moved from my parents home in Bolton to my own rented room in London. It wasn’t glamourous in the slightest but the freedom and independence was well worth it. I’d joined an agency called New Bamboo that specialised in building software in Ruby on Rails, in an agile way, and their decision to hire me–a junior PHP engineer at the time with only a year of professional experience–basically changed my life. Even now, 8 years later, I don’t know anyone from there who looks back on that time unfavourably. In fact, we often lament how hard it is to find somewhere even remotely similar to them. The culture was one of a kind and I greatly matured through it, making some excellent friends who are still close-knit to this day.
Three years later, in 2015, and I found myself moving to Barcelona for a new job at what was then a tiny startup called Typeform, truly embracing this independence I’d established earlier in the decade. It was a fantastic place to work, with fantastic people from all walks of life, and that was before you got to the weekly beach volleyball, sailing, and the general way of life in that little corner of Spain. It was around this time that my mental health began to diminish further, so I sought out a psychotherapist who could continue the work the one I had in the UK started, and so I had an impartial output for the things I was going through.
You might notice I said ‘psychotherapist’ and not just ‘therapist’. In the UK I booked time with a private therapist who offered breathwork1 as a way to dive into past trauma and help heal it, along side the usual talking and listening, and some mild CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)2. After some retreats in both Trakai, Lithuania and Lesvos, Greece, I moved on to something known as somatic experiencing3. I’m aware that someone reading this might think “what on earth was this guy getting himself into?” or possibly be dismissive of these alternative aspects of therapy. I think that’s fine and I accept that it can seem unusual or strange to some, and they are certainly not all-healing panaceas like many alternative medicines are perceived to be: they can very easily cause more harm than good if you place your trust into the wrong hands. I think that is a major issue with many New Age therapies, when they offer simplistic solutions to difficult problems.
This kind of work continued for a couple of years until I decided I wanted a quieter life than what Barcelona had to offer. If you think that sounds utterly insane, because who would want to leave such a beautiful city? Well, I offer you the chance of working full-time for a week during Festa de Gracia, a week long festival in the village of Gracia that doesn’t start to wrap up until 4 or 5am each morning. Something that is immensely fun, and is an incredible display of Catalunya’s culture of celebration, wears a little thin when you desperately want to catch some proper shut-eye before work. So, I moved to Latvia, or Jurmala in Latvia more precisely, and enjoyed a solid year of working remotely besides the beautiful Baltic coast, which is genuinely a sight to behold.
In that time on the continent I travelled to more places, and experienced more new things, than I ever had before. Latvia itself was (and still is) utterly gorgeous. Meanwhile, I enjoyed visiting places as varied as Naxos, Istanbul, Croatia, Estonia, Lisbon, Verona, Vienna, and a few other places I struggle to remember. I was close to the epicentre of the Barcelona terror attack in 2017, and experienced the city in a much more sombre, mournful light. I was close to being in Ankara while Erdogan’s coup took place until I was encouraged to cancel the journey. I had a genuine thirst for adventure that was hugely facilitated by being able to work remotely.
Not long after that, I moved back to London. Partly due to redundancies in the (London based) startup I was working for out in Latvia, but also due to isolation and missing the people I loved back in London, feeling like I was ready to get closer to the action again. The focus on my health narrowed a little and this time I chose a therapist who specialised in complex PTSD4 and post-traumatic growth5, and later one who dealt with relationship issues specifically (as a single man, there are still things in that area to explore).
I’m going to skip a head a bit because I do actually have a point here, besides being autobiographical. Those eight years so far have been almost consistently tinged with the hue of mental illness. We often use the colour blue to represent a low mood, but I’d really see it as a burning greyness…smouldering embers glowing in charred remains like a burned out log fire. Occasionally a new breath of life will bring the fire back to its original ferocity but, almost inevitably, you’ll run out of logs to keep it aflame. Thus starts the slow but necessary process of tending to yourself so that you can refuel that fire after a period of recovery.
That’s one hell of a tortured metaphor, but I think we all have our own individual take on what mental health means to us. That’s how I see my depression and it’s no coincidence that it ties quite well into burning out.
To bring this back to the start, I would not change a thing as my place in this moment is entirely a function of all that shit, and all that wonder, I’ve been through over the years, going right back to my birth and my childhood as an adopted, abused kid. All of the pain, both given and received, and the pleasure, have served a purpose and I appreciate those experiences as I would not think or feel the way I currently do were it not for them. I would not value empathy and compassion and inclusivity so massively. And rather than focussing so heavily on just how shitty some of those moments have been, the amazing memories that have come from my struggle through it all are equally incalculable.
This isn’t to say all my problems are solved, or I’m finished with my process. That’s pure BS as this stuff lasts an entire lifetime as you learn, grow and adapt to new situations. But the track record I have must be pretty good if I’m here, right?