Juha-Matti Santala
Community Builder. Dreamer. Adventurer.

6 months of recovery, how is life?

Content warning: This post deals with mental health, struggling recovery of burnout and depressive feelings and thoughts. If you’re not interested in that or today is not the day you want to read of such things, there will be a new post coming soon so feel free to skip this and do something better for your own mental health instead.

It’s been 7 months since I let people know I’m leaving Mozilla and DevRel and 5 months since the last update. I really wanted to write an update after a month and then two months and many times since but life has just been bit too rough for me to put my thoughts into words.

How did we get here?

I’ve written about it a bit here and bit there but the pandemic and lockdowns were such a rough blow to me and my physical and mental health. Despite being lucky to avoid Covid itself, basically losing my ability to do my job and not being able to come up with a good alternative despite few years of trying did a bad number on my well-being.

Once the regulations lifted and we started to be able to organize events and stuff again in the spring of 2022, I one day found myself sitting on the floor of a corridor in our office in the middle of unpacking 300 t-shirts and hoodies. A colleague asked if everything was okay (as it clearly wasn’t) and I muttered something along the lines of “Yeah yeah, I’m just taking a breather.” Realistically, I was so mentally and physically exhausted but I just didn’t want to believe it myself.

During the spring, I went through a few recruitment funnels with an idea to find a new job to do a complete reset and reboot and start out fresh without the accumulated mental and social baggage of the pandemic times.

When I signed my contract with Mozilla after the interviews, I was all over the moon. I resigned from my then job, quit before the summer holidays and moved to Berlin. A new fresh start, I was feeling amazing.

As the job started, I think I had a good start. I quickly started meeting colleagues across the organization to learn their stories and I got to meet people from the community I was gonna be part of for years to come. I had finally made it. After years of worrying, I had finally landed my dream job in a dream company. We had a fantastic team and I think they enjoyed having me as part of it too.

In September I visited home to organize React Finland and in October, I traveled to Amsterdam and I remember standing on one of the small bridges, staring towards the sunset across one of those small canals and thinking: “Life is damn good.”

By mid-November, I barely could do anything. I had 50 things I knew I could and should do as part of my job but I just physically couldn’t do any of them. Despite knowing I was good at them and I enjoyed them. Towards the late November, I had a 3-week stretch when I slept no more than 2 hours a night and felt like a zombie. That’s when I knew it was serious.

In December I traveled to Prague for DevRelCon and the night before the conference, I had my first proper sleep in 3 weeks in the hotel. I got a bit of inspiration from the conference and decided to direct that towards the creation of Syntax Error.

On Christmas Eve lunch with my family, I told them I was coming home.

Recovery has been rough

Once again the start was quite good. I moved back home, cleared pretty much everything from my table and had a full month to take easy before the work started.

During the spring, I was so incredibly tired. I could sleep 14 hours a night/day (and most days, did). I was so tired I would go straight to bed from work and sleep until the next morning. If I sat down to watch a movie or listen to a conference talk like I did in Future Frontend in June, I found myself falling asleep in 5 minutes no matter how hard I tried to stay awake.

At one point, I had horrible back pain and couldn’t sleep well for 2 weeks despite being super tired.

I was honestly so scared. I kept wondering if I could ever recover.

My weight wasn’t dropping and my stamina wasn’t increasing despite walking way more and eating healthier. That led to me walking less and eating worse because everything felt so pointless.

I knew that there’s no such thing as long-term “sleep debt” that you could accrue and then pay off but I kept hoping and hoping that it would be it and one day I’d have paid off the debt of the past 10 years.

I’m an average developer at best and I’ve never been good at dealing with being average at anything. I either do things I’m good at or I don’t do them at all. So I’ve had a lot of anguish to go through coming into terms with that. Luckily my teammates have been super supportive and given me all the space and time I’ve needed. I know you read this so thanks ❤️.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

Around last week of July, first week of April I started to notice that my tiredness was stepping aside. There started to be days when after walking away from office after a day’s work I wasn’t exhausted and tired and I had energy to do stuff. The Wednesdays that I took off to take care of myself and focus on other things than work were no longer spent 20 hours in bed but I had energy to work on my hobby projects and I started coming up with ideas again and that reinvigorated me.

I’ve started to pick up stuff that I enjoy doing. I started a new mentorship the other week, I did some startup coaching in my alumni startup accelerator and in September I’m traveling to PyCon CZ and in October to DjangoDay Copenhagen to do what I love.

Last Thursday, I sat on a bus stop just as the sun set. It was a beautiful, calm evening with no clouds on the sky, no wind and it was quiet. And I felt that life was good again.

As I started to gain energy, I’ve been looking back at the past 10 years through photos and blog posts and stories and discussions with friends and I’ve realized how magical those moments with my communities have been. I’ve often been too busy to notice it during the moments but looking back, there’s been so many amazing people, communities, moments and memories there.

And all that nostalgic journeying has given me a lot of self-confidence as I’ve noticed similar patterns and success stories in all the communities I’ve had the pleasure to build and lead.

Just in the nick of time?

Given how rough and difficult the recovery has been, I keep thinking how close did it get. If it took 6 months just to stop being ultimately tired 24/7, I can’t imagine there was too much leeway. I know there’s still a long way ahead of me to get back to 100%. And I hope when I do, there’s still some career opportunities waiting for me in the community space.

Even though I know it was the right and the only move to leave Mozilla, I still keep thinking back to how I blew up the best opportunity I had to do my dream work. I guess that’s part of the process I need to go through until I’m back on my feet. To accept that sometimes I can’t do it all and I have my limits, no matter how much I try to lie myself.

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