I’m still in between feeling ashamed and being OK about having crashed and burned at work. I’m recovering from a burnout that was long in coming and even the recovery is long in coming!


The few signs which undoubtedly called my attention to the fact that I was burning out were:

  • Scattered thoughts and inability to keep one thought in focus
  • Difficulty to comprehend what I was reading
  • General sudden sluggishness in even the most mundane habitual tasks
  • Loss of words
  • Loss of hair

In truth, the sudden and continued loss of hair is what worried me and got me to make an appointment at my doctor’s. I was quick to discard all of the rest as just a collateral of sustained work done in a period of rush, such as we all regularly have. I didn’t lose all of my hair but I was losing enough every time I touched it that after a few weeks (months, really) it really bothered me. My body gave me cause to worry and act on it, since I was ignoring all other signs.


My doctor ordered blood sample analysis which returned that I was in perfect health, so having ruled out a physical disease focused on a disease of the mind. After a few questions I was offered to be off work on medical leave.


The doctor gave me a two-week medical leave at first and then extended it by the week, or every few weeks, for a total of 8 weeks. I met with the doctor after each extension.

During what I thought was the last extension I got really anxious about going back to work. I felt I was not ready and worried a lot. I described to the doctor that I had been worried sick the whole time, that I felt I had just one go at this and that if I returned prematurely I feared it would have been all for nothing. The last extension of the medical leave he gave me was for three weeks.

All in all, I did a whole lot of nothing, except for exercising, and did it very slowly too. I wasn’t too sad, or too distressed. I didn’t miss work. I dreaded it as I wrote. The doctor gave me pills to try to sleep better and more efficiently but the two types I tried did not work. When I wasn’t on the bike, or running, or walking, I watched a TV show that my parents gave me as a birthday present. I didn’t have a lot of bandwidth and headspace for much else.

I would have liked to do more, be that reading, or drawing, or even thinking but it just didn’t happen and I was OK with it because I knew I just didn’t have it in me.

The break was good and beneficial. Every one around me, including at work,was so supportive I am very lucky and appreciate how blessed I am.


After 8 weeks off, I returned to work. It was very overwhelming but everyone was very nice, and careful to NOT make me feel overwhelmed. There was a few thousands email in my various mail boxes. I still remembered how to work, my passwords, Zoom meeting room numbers and the likes.

For many weeks, I was still at loss for so many words. That was one of the most unexpected signs, to be frank. Especially in English where my vocabulary is rich and broad (not to brag!) Today even, to a lesser degree I continue to struggle, and words are at the tip of my tongue or fingers.

It took me 4 or 5 weeks to get back in most of the flow of work and another 1 or 2 to actually feel I was almost back.

“Almost”, because I feel that I’m not back to being myself (yet?) Things still take me much longer than before 🤷🏻‍♀️ It’s as though something in my brain restricts it from being fully functional. Maybe it’s a built-in security until such time that I can be back to my previous self, speed and abilities. 

Addendum: Origins

2022-12-21 update: I had meant to include a section last night as part of this entry to shed a bit of light on the origins of my burnout, but I realize just now that I forgot it.

I had lost faith. It’s as simple as that. I could sustain a certain level of stress, anxiety, workload and frustration as long as I was *driven*. But when that got removed, the entire balance (however unhealthy and wrong) broke.

I won’t go into details but I will say that I realised that my voice was not heard, my actions had no impact and the weight of that was too much for me.

Addendum: Hope

2022-12-22 update: I might have some faith still. And if not faith, at least hope.

Since I returned, I mostly focused on the parts of work that don’t require faith but execution.

The organisation is changing so there is hope I can try to make a difference. I really like our mission. I feel I still have what my former manager (our former CEO, who left almost a month ago) referred to as “unfinished business”

Work won’t love you back

2022-08-03 Update: reflected that the transition to a legal entity was postponed by a year; gave link to media advisory of that transition; rewrote two phrases.

Abstract of what is on my mind: work is transactional by nature, excellent connections with coworkers are precious (I am fortunate to have many). Now, the companies that consider their work force “family” puzzle me. This is not exactly the case where I work (or is it?), BUT we are in a setting that is pretty conducive to it, AND after 27 years, this is going to change –in less than a year two years. SO I really wonder what that change will do to the current equilibrium (I’m pretty sure it’s going to put it to the test).

Screenshot of a Tweet by Kevin pointing out that work won’t love you back

This stemmed from my browsing The Twitters yesterday. I read Kevin‘s tweet.

He wrote “work won’t love you back.” And as much as I’ve loved the people I’ve worked with, it’s always turned to be correct.

Screenshot of the The tweets that Kevin quoted, referring to work as family but also as being a transaction

Kevin was quoting another Twitter thread where I read “it’s so emotionally damaging when companies self-style their workers as ‘family’. you can have deep emotional connections with your coworkers, if you’re lucky, but don’t forget that work relationships are fundamentally transactional. i hope your family is not.

I don’t consider my workplace to be like family and we aren’t self-styled as such either. But, work is very central in my life: every other week I spend most of my waking time at work (the other week, I am solo parent of a teenager, spending just normal amounts of time at work).

Firstly, I am fortunate to have very deep emotional connections with many of my coworkers, a few of which I even regard as father parent figures, many of which are true models for me, most of which I respect tremendously.

Secondly, we have very little turnover. I’ve worked there for over 22 years and many current colleagues were already in the team when I joined. And we welcome newcomers, not as siblings, but with similar care and attention to their success. As though we have a stake in it –and we do, yes.

Thirdly, we get together (we used to, pre-COVID at least) every now and then and those occasions are always enjoyable and looked forward to by most. Yes, like any other workplaces, there are difficult people who get along with fewer people, or are not interested in making any connections at all. That’s my description of our unusual work environment. In fact, I remember how I described it to my mum a few years into it: it’s like summer camp where you make new great friends and do exciting stuff, but it’s all year-round.

Now, our administrative setup allows us to do our work without a whole lot of competition, without too many frustrations, because we are employed by four different institutions that legally “host” our consortium, and in most of our cases, the people who employ us are not those we take work orders from. I think that makes a world of a difference.

Change is coming. The Hosts arrangement, in place from the start in 1994, has enough drawbacks that for a few years now we have been exploring how to become our own legal entity. This is set to happen on January 1, 2022 2023. When it does, the consortium will have its own bank account, legal and fiduciary obligations, and traditional management powers that we currently do not fully have.

The dynamics are bound to change. While today I (and many others in the team) are moved by the sheer impact our work has on society (HTML –heard of it? CSS, Web accessibility, Internationalization, etc. We are the little known consortium that makes the Web work, for everyone) and the Hosts that employ us provide the best abstraction to shield us from the reality of the transactional nature of work, this is going has the potential to hit us in the face like the train crashing Dr. Woodward’s truck in the movie Super 8!

There is a lot on our plates and most of us overwork because it’s really worth it! I remind myself on occasion that work won’t love me back, but once we are truly as valuable as our ability to make the company money, I wonder how the care will fare.

The physical experience of anxiety

I mainly physically experience anxiety in two ways, best described by the following two-word hashtags: #wringlung and #mochibruise.

I believe I get #wringlung when I’m lying down and #mochibruise in any other position.


wring transitive verb To twist, squeeze, or compress, especially so as to extract liquid. Often used with out. + lung noun Either of two respiratory organs in air-breathing vertebrates, occupying the chest cavity to provide oxygen to the blood while removing carbon dioxide. = #wringlung

That’s the closest description I could muster for the sensation of the air being swiftly squeezed out of my lungs.


mochi noun A (delicious) Japanese rice cake made from glutinous rice. + bruise noun An injury to the flesh with a blunt or heavy instrument, or by collision with some other body; a contusion. = #mochibruise

The sensation, which happens in my stomach, is that of a soft and light mochi dropped on a bruise that suddenly aches.

How do you physically experience anxiety?

And to make things worse, my friend Guillaume recently reminded me of the photograph series he took of me thirteen years ago, where I was happier, fitter and worry-free.

woman in a white bathing suit sitting on the grass in the sun, face hidden by her hair blown by the wind
Coralie Mercier, June 2006, photo by Guillaume Laurent