Brian Gilham

Engineering leader, husband, and father

health

Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop →

Powerful essay (allegedly) written by a former police officer with ten years of experience in “a major metropolitan area in California with a predominantly poor, non-white population”.

I really want to hammer this home: every cop in your neighborhood is damaged by their training, emboldened by their immunity, and they have a gun and the ability to take your life with near-impunity. This does not make you safer, even if you’re white.


Recognizing Burnout

My wife, dog, and I are headed to a remote cabin in Algonquin Provincial Park for a week of rest and relaxation. No to-do lists, no distractions, and – most importantly – no cell reception. I’m looking forward to a much-needed break. Five years ago, I would have told you I hated taking vacation. I love what I do, challenges and all. Why would I want to sit on a beach somewhere, sipping cocktails?

My wife, dog, and I are headed to a remote cabin in Algonquin Provincial Park for a week of rest and relaxation. No to-do lists, no distractions, and – most importantly – no cell reception. I’m looking forward to a much-needed break.

Five years ago, I would have told you I hated taking vacation. I love what I do, challenges and all. Why would I want to sit on a beach somewhere, sipping cocktails? There was work to be done. Taking a break felt like weakness.

So, what changed my mind? Burnout.

It crept up on me, from time to time. I’d snap at coworkers. Small things would frustrate me to no end. One or twice, I said things I’d come to regret.

After years of trial and error, I started to recognize the symptoms of burnout. I still get it wrong, sometimes. Thankfully, I work with a team of people I love and trust. They’ve had my back through some rough patches. I hope they’d say the same of me. 

Here are some signs of burnout you should be on the lookout for, both in yourself and your teammates.

Sudden bouts of negativity

When my burnout is at its worst, I find it hard to see the positive in anything. My code is garbage, the project is off the rails, and my commute sucks. I feel like nothing I do will ever be enough – a finish line that always seems to move further and further away. We all have bad days, but too many in a row might mean something’s wrong.  

Unable to concentrate

I can’t get in the zone, no matter what I do. Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites suddenly become much more interesting. My mind jumps from one daydream to the next. When you can’t even fake an interest in your work, it might be a sign of impending burnout.

Feeling stuck or stagnant

Do you feel like Every Day is Exactly the Same could be the theme song to your life? You might laugh, but that’s exactly what I thought during one of my worst periods of burnout. I felt like I needed to change careers, find a new hobby, and move to a new city – all at once. Some time off is usually all I need to put things back into perspective.

Short temper

If the smallest thing sets you off, particularly if you’re usually pretty pleasant, it’s one of the surest signs of burnout I’ve seen. Once, I got downright mean with a coworker who had simply forgotten to invite me to a meeting. It wasn’t even a particularly important meeting. Completely unacceptable.

The first thing I did was apologize. The second thing I did was book some time off.

Now that I better recognize the signs of burnout, I do my best to deal with it before it happens. I schedule regular breaks – whether it’s a week off with my wife, or just a long weekend. It’s done wonders for my mental health, and I’m certain I’m a more pleasant person to work with. If you’re starting to feel like you’re burning out, talk to your team. Let them know how you’re feeling. Chances are, they’ve already noticed. Then, figure out how to take the time you need.

Until next time,

-Brian


The Kevlar Tube

Your fiancé’s chest hurts. The doctors find clots. Big ones. You’re thankful they found them. She’s in the hospital for a week. Constant pain. Blood-thinning medication until who-knows-when. Trips cancelled. Time off work. The day she came home from the hospital, someone stole your bike. Asshole. The dog gets hurt. A stick went into his chest. Impaled, really. He needs surgery. Expensive surgery. What else is there to do? Stitches, a tube coming out of his chest.

Your fiancé’s chest hurts. The doctors find clots. Big ones. You’re thankful they found them. She’s in the hospital for a week. Constant pain. Blood-thinning medication until who-knows-when. Trips cancelled. Time off work.

The day she came home from the hospital, someone stole your bike. Asshole.

The dog gets hurt. A stick went into his chest. Impaled, really. He needs surgery. Expensive surgery. What else is there to do? Stitches, a tube coming out of his chest. He’ll be fine.

Hours spent in hospitals of every stripe. Keep moving.

Then your chest hurts. You’re at work. Sharp, at first, then dull. Then heavy. Then your left arm feels numb. Is this a heart attack? You look up “symptoms of a heart attack.” That was a bad idea.

Don’t take chances.

You vaguely explain why you aren’t at work. It’s too embarassing.

The doctors are great. Lots of machines. Two rounds of blood tests. A needle in your hand. Waiting. Oh, the waiting. And questions.

When’s the last time you ate? It’s hard to remember.

Then, nothing. You’re fine. No heart attack. Stress, most likely. You haven’t been sleeping much. You’re young.

You don’t feel young.

An ER doc comes by to take the needle out of your hand, five hours later.

“Getting that needle out will be the highlight of my month.”

He smiles. “Actually, it’s not a needle anymore. Now it’s a thin kevlar tube.”

And you laugh. A crazy laugh.

Who cares?