For the last 2-3 years, I hadn't felt anywhere close to being at my best. I felt like a walking zombie all the time - no energy, no drive, just comatose.
I like to think that usually I am a high-energy person but I hadn't felt so lately. In the past few years, I tried hard. Many times I decided that I will give it all and in day-to-day conduct, I will be this high-energy person. The motivation and hard push lasted a few days every time. Almost like I was trying to fix a broken bone with an ointment.
I lost plenty of opportunities and time because of this. I was actively building AltCampus during this period and I desperately wanted to spend quality time with students, wanted to lead the team better, wanted to build a strong vibe and culture. But each time I tried to show up for these things, I dreaded it. I didn't want to face anyone, didn't want to talk to anyone. But it wasn't like this was the beginning, a lot of demotivating stuff had happened before this part, it's just that repercussions were becoming visible now.
I sucked all of it though, I kept doing the bare minimum I needed to. The thing with doing bare minimums is that you are never satisfied but the dissatisfaction never gets strong enough that you quit altogether. You get stuck. You don't make real progress. It took me a lot of time to process and realize this. And that is where burnouts come from - from not being in a position to change things despite you knowing that you can. From being stuck for a long time, from wanting to move on but not being able to, and from running away from things that you don't want to deal with. Either way, it's a self-imposed prison.
Anyway, none of this sad story is important. The real reason why I am writing this is to give you some real tools to deal with it.
Psychological signs of burnout are that you just want to shut yourself down, don't want to work, don't want to do anything, want to move on. Physiological signs of burnout, at least for me, were sleeplessness, chronic fatigue, fogginess, low energy, and no drive.
First you need to deal with the things that you don't feel like dealing with. Those are hard things. This is where you make the most progress though. Identify what you have been trying to ignore, what is it that is making you feel stuck, and figure out the solution to that. Nothing moves the needle as much as this one. Usually, the culprits are something being fundamentally wrong with how you, your organization, or the people around you operate. If it feels like too much to start with, deal with physiological stuff first and come back to this later.
For the physiological stuff, I tried plenty of things - seeing a doctor, hitting the gym, trying supplements for sleep, and stuff. None of it helped. I was getting overwhelmed and I wanted to sort this out before I did any work because I was not being productive anyway.
After spending a lot of time and push from close friends I tried Ayurveda, a traditional Indian medical system. Even with Ayurveda, the first couple of attempts didn't yield any significant results but I did realize that it had the potential. Luckily I found this one old practitioner who didn't have a fancy clinic or anything and just ran things solo. He asked me to do Panchkarma - a series of 5 treatments for cleaning and detoxification of the body.
The procedure of Panchkarma is pretty intense. If done properly, it almost takes an entire month or even longer. It includes stuff like induced vomiting, purgation, and enema. Nothing like modern medical science. I was apprehensive to start with but I have always had this shallow belief in the traditional Indian sciences and I was at a point where I would have done anything to fix myself. So I signed up for it.
I spent the next month going through various procedures most of which were not pleasant. During the month you are supposed to be on a very simple Indian diet of fruits and Khichdi, a lightweight meal of cooked rice and lentils with Ghee.
I had plenty of conversations with the practitioner trying to understand how Ayurveda works and what else I could do. The conversations were pure gold. It gave me a lot of perspective on physical and mental health. It also exposed me to spirituality, which for the most part I had ignored because I didn't understand what it meant and thought it was just some wishy-washy thing for people wanting to escape real life. Anyway, he gave me a lot of practical tips including the one of Saadhna.
I didn't expect this treatment to have the kind of profound impact that it had on my health and even more so on my mental status. I started feeling much lighter both physically and mentally. I lost 14kgs in 30 days! Sleep was not an issue anymore. I started feeling happier and had more energy. Finally, I felt like showing up and doing stuff. Not just that, I felt more at the moment, more rooted.
Okay, I mentioned Saadhna earlier. Saadhna means practice. It includes a bunch of yogic breathing exercises and meditation techniques. I practice it almost daily now. I can't think of anything else that helps me be present and high energy more than Saadhna. I will probably write a detailed post about Saadhna if people want to learn more about it.
All of this gave me the energy to deal with the things I had avoided. I am grateful to have the kind of co-founders, friends, and family I have who have shown tremendous faith in me throughout.
I spent the majority of 2021 just doing all this and recovering from it. I lost a few prime years of my life to this but on the brighter side, I am glad I went through it this early in life. I learned that you can't move a needle, forget about changing the world if you don't take care of yourself. This experience gave me a pretty good tool to help navigate health and life. Shallow belief in Indian sciences has turned into deep admiration now. I am far more happier and energetic. I again feel like I can make things happen rather than just do the bare minimums. Feels like version 2.0. :)