Creating your own Burnout: How my passion ended up destroying me

How could this be true? How could something you love possibly break your heart apart? How could some of your biggest desires and dreams coming true be what crushed your mind? How is it possible that the same things I loved were the same things that gave me anxiety?

— THE START

In 2015 I was 21 years old and finishing college. For the reason I explained so many times already, I created the Xbox PT Dummies Facebook Group simply because I was tired of being in places where I wasn’t welcome. I wanted a place where all Xbox portuguese fans could feel welcome.

In the space of 2 years I discovered I loved helping out people, knowing more about the gaming industry overall and ended up creating easy ways to answer the most frequent questions.

So, around early 2017 I decided to build a simple website with Xbox news in portuguese. That way it would be better organized and I could simply post it on social networks. By this time, I had already dealt with a complex year. In 2016 I graduated in Fine Arts and managed to get Tiago to move in with me. We talked about buying a house and getting married, but the reality of employment began to hit, and I couldn’t celebrate anything anyway, because in 7 days I lost my 13y old cat and my grandfather. Just when life seemed to find its balance, everything fell apart.

— THE TWO SIDES OF THE COIN

I couldn’t find any job and realized doing something art-related was going to be really difficult. Only one company contacted me and those interested were incredibly unprofessional, so I had to turn down. I had no family contacts in the art world, I had no idea what to do, so I started to feel desperate.

On the other hand, I had Xbox PT Dummies, something I loved to be a part of and that soon had other members of the community joining to help me build something cool.

It didn’t take long to be a reference in the country. Many have built websites and communities, but somehow, in 4 months, we went from a new website to an average of 3.000 visitors, built strong relationships with publishers and developers straight to not only indies but also AAA game reviews, were contacted by Xbox Portugal and immediately approached Xbox to invest more in Portugal. We had a website, Twitter, Facebook, Mixer and much to give!

— THE TURN OF TIDES

I was so lost yet, feeling suffocated. Art or Dummies? The old or the new? What should I do? How can I make a living? I had tried plenty of things with Arts. Sent CVs to galleries and museums, tried to paint in the streets, thought of painting murals but at that point, I was out of ideas and motivation.

I remember perfectly around April 2018 when Tiago and I were waiting if we got tickets for Xbox FanFest E3 2018. I even searched on Google Maps where that was and felt myself walking those streets.

This was one of the craziest evenings in my life. In a moment, I was having an insight: “Ok so. I gotta decide where will my focus be. One or the other. I got no hopes for arts, and Dummies lightens up my heart. But I also don’t know how to make any of it. What should I do?”

I looked at Twitter, where dozens of fans were receiving their FanFest tickets. I thought we didn’t make it. So I said to myself “Well. If Dummies were to be my path, we would have won tickets. If not, then there’s no point and I gotta try something else.”

With a hopeless heart, I went to my room to paint for a bit. Then I was about to cook dinner. I had picked up ingredients, then picked up my laptop to check the mail first. First thing I read is “Xbox E3 2018: You won a ticket to Xbox FanFest: E3 2018!”

I immediately called Tiago, who was at work, and told him. My mom heard the fuss and asked what was happening and I said “I’m going to LA!” and she asked “What do you mean, you’re going to LA?!”. I replied “That gaming convention I watch every June, I’m gonna see it, NO MATTER WHAT, I have to go! OMG!”

I was literally shaking for 2 hours straight, even forgot to cook dinner as I was in a rush to secure Tiago’s ticket and invite myself.

— NEW BEGGININGS

After all the prep, the excitement, the new things, the responsibilities, we both enjoyed our first trip together, our first time in the USA, our first Xbox event, our first E3. How lucky were we?

All we wanted was to enjoy it. We met Chris Munson right away, and I remember him asking if we’d like a FanFest in Portugal. Aaron was cool as always. The fans were fantastic. It was one of the best times in my life. I was peaceful. I was calm. I was home.

The event made me see what Xbox could be. What I could be. What the fans in Portugal could have. I remember looking at the Sea of Thieves booth and thinking that a particular friend and fan of Xbox would go nuts with it. How much I wanted them to be there.

But we were not in business. We never mentioned the Dummies. We only said we were from Portugal and the Portuguese fans loved Xbox.

— IS THIS FATE?

On our last day, we were going to E3. There were thousands of people in the area. We entered a pizzeria, ordered and waited. Tiago’s order was late. Eventually, we found out they lost his order and had to make another. We waited over 30min, tired, excited and frustrated for the bad luck.

I was eating in a corner, and I see some guy with an Xbox badge was talking to Tiago. When Tiago’s pizza arrived, he comes to me and says “That guy over there? Yeah, he works close with Aaron and I got his contact, talked to him about Xbox PT Dummies, he liked it…”

I don’t think I was ever thankful before for a meal being that late. With the thousands of people around, how come Tiago’s order was the only one missing? How come Tiago was there just long enough for that guy to notice him? How come we had this crazy amount of luck out of nowhere on top of winning the tickets out of other thousands of people?

I stood up to my words. So I promised myself. “Ok. We did win the tickets. We even got that close to meeting people from Xbox that can help us. No matter how difficult things become, I’m committed to this mission.”

I was literally convinced that if we were so lucky so far, it was meant to be, and no matter the battles, success was guaranteed.

Was I wrong?

— PASSION BECOMING A RESPONSIBILITY

So many wonderful things kept happening, so many incredible achievements, yet things started to show signs of struggle. And the universe seemed eager to test my vows.

As our success grew, haters did too. And though most of them were outside our family, some of the worst roots were within. Seemed like from the over 25 people that were a part of the project, half left with no warning, with no explanation and avoided talk. Others seemed to purposely enter to do nothing or create discussion for no reason. Soon I had to not only deal with the hate outwards, as the horrible environment inwards. Besides that, other exterior influences showed strange behaviors as we tried to get somewhere. We were threatened to cease our efforts. Suddenly seemed like the foundations were shaking too much for us to handle.

Managing a team of at least 10 concurrent collaborators, working full time on news, reviews, streams, correcting texts, sharing articles on social networks, organizing meetups, scheduling livestreams, checking the quantity and quality of work from the writers, choosing games to play, continuing to create images and marketing, managing the hate comments.

Always working from morning through afternoon up until 2 or 3am, no days off, no vacations. I kept telling myself “I have to do this. If I don’t, nobody else will. This might be our only chance!”

My passion became a responsibility. I wasn’t doing it just for liking, I was doing because I took the responsibility to represent and fight for hundreds of Xbox fans. I did all this while receiving hate, while having doubts, while feeling all those foundations shake, while I had my own problems to deal with at home of not getting a job and of not being serious. While I was starting to feel effects of anxiety.

— THE NIGHT

Tiago gifted us a weekend out for my birthday present, so we went to Serra da Estrela. The entire first day I felt strange. I felt uncomfortable and unease. The discussion, drama and polemics continued in our inner circles. I was starting to see things a bit dark.

We went to the hotel. I was sort of ok. And out of nowhere, a stomach pain hit me. I had my meds, I already knew I had small panic attacks, I thought I needed to go to the toilet. But it was anxiety. In the first few seconds, I knew it was a panic attack.

For a long time I couldn’t revisit that night without fearing it would happen again. It was the most terrifying experience ever. Just thinking of it, I can remember how I felt. The hopelessness. The sadness. The wish to be dead.

The adrenaline charges were coming and coming. I tried to control the breathing, but every time I did it the things that worried me kept coming to my mind’s surface. I tried to tell myself I was going to be ok. I tried to be calm. But every time it seemed calmer the adrenaline came again. That fear of imminent death. That fear of losing yourself. Of not knowing what is going on.

After half an hour I started thinking of my cat, my grandfather and of a few others I knew that had passed away. I asked for help as I thought of them. I asked if the universe had abandoned me.

I felt so alone…

As the hours went by, I was worried on how the adrenaline could keep coming. That should run out after a while. But it didn’t. 3 or 4 hours in I was in bed trying to calm down, talking to my mom on the phone. My entire body was shaking uncontrollably. I wanted to call the emergency line but was also afraid of doing it. In a panic attack, everything is terrifying. Eventually an ambulance came, taking me to a hospital not so far away though it was middle of nowhere. In the ambulance I was calm, but as soon as I was in the waiting room, more adrenaline rushes insisted on coming.

When I got back to the hotel, I still tried to stay. I didn’t want to disappoint my partner. I wanted to be ok for the both of us. I tried to sleep, and kept waking up several times, holding on to him, shaking in fear.

But I couldn’t take it. I wanted to go home. And not even home could save me from the nights. From that moment on, I spent the next year and a half afraid of sleeping.

— MORE FALLS

Not only the night was scary. I would suffer from stomach pain every time I went to the mall. I could barely get out of home. I tried to go out, catch some air, and always felt the world slipping under my feet. I was just not safe anywhere.

Somehow, I still managed to talk to the main team of Dummies to try and approach Xbox more seriously. Yes, we did dream of working with Xbox. But things in life seemed quieter and with nothing exciting happening.

The main team got smaller. I was more and more alone, now also responsible for PR. I felt like we kept trying to advance in several areas and nothing was responding.

I started to feel abandoned by the universe. First it made me believe, now it was making me lose my faith.

— WHY EVEN TRY

We still managed to have good moments. Phil Spencer was confirmed to be at Web Summit in Lisbon, and we were invited to attend Microsoft’s Briefing at E3 2019. Two E3 in a row? Cool. But… I wasn’t even ok anymore.

I kept having anxiety. Which is normal for me before a big trip. The night before going on the plane I couldn’t sleep. Kept having panic attacks. I remember being front of the mirror. Tired, exhausted, fighting with all my strengths to keep up, while recalling some comments of haters: “You guys only do this for fame. You only care for Xbox because they give you stuff. You think you’re the best around, don’t you?” while also remembering my family “When will you stop and actually find a job? I don’t care if it is something you like, a job is not to be liked, it’s work, get one and do it!” or “That’s not work, what I do is work, you don’t.”

There were days when I would stop working after a fight. I’d go to my room and cry.

This time going to LA was bittersweet. Though we met some of the nicest and friendly fans of Xbox and they made me feel at home again, we were still waiting for a chance to talk to our friend from Xbox. Only one of us could enter the Microsoft Theater to try out the games. I told Tiago to go, as I was way too down. I sat outside, thinking of my 15y old cat that was close to go. Thinking of all I did and was not enough for anyone, nor fans nor Xbox. I felt guilty for being there in LA, E3 week, how many would enjoy it in my place? But I couldn’t.

I was anxious, like a kid in a line waiting for something incredible to happen on stage.

— SLIPPING THROUGH OUR FINGERS

We kept trying, every single month, almost every week. We found hope again when we were about to meet Phil during Web Summit. He replied to us on Xbox Live and all, but a few days before his visit was canceled.

We were almost there…

Our last event was X019 in November. I kept having troubles sleeping, dealing with anxiety and fear. And I still went far from home, still dealt with haters, still dealt with failure.

At X019 I was incredibly down. Tiago was excited to go to the Gear Shop and said “Wanna buy this Halo hoodie? Come on, buy it!” and I said I couldn’t, I didn’t have money because I didn’t earn any. He said he could offer, I said that if I don’t earn money then I can’t pay for things and that’s it, it’s life.

While the energy in that place was fantastic, for some reason in the first night I couldn’t take it. I had to hide in the toilet to cry. I thought “How the hell am I here, at Xbox FanFest, with all these incredible people, with guys like Major Nelson, Graeme, Aaron, Phil and so many more out there in the party? Why can’t I stop crying?”

I was exhausted. I wasn’t even frustrated anymore I just… started to give up. I was breaking my promise as the universe kept insisting that maybe I was wrong about all of it.

We tried to meet Phil though. He noticed our Dummies sweaters but the line to see him was too big already. For a moment we were close to him somewhere, as he looked to all of it. I thought I could call him. But what would I say? “Hey Phil, I’m dying here, can you listen to us?” And as powerless as I felt, I didn’t say a thing for those few seconds. That man has nothing to do with my life, my struggle nor my problems. Even though I thought maybe he could be the only one that might help change something. Maybe we could get to him.

But we didn’t.

— ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

Yet I keep trying. Kept sending e-mails, kept sending messages, kept asking. Eventually we decided that if Xbox didn’t do anything, we didn’t have to work for free and move the community here.

And Xbox didn’t listen. Xbox didn’t care enough. Xbox didn’t acknowledge our attempts to discuss or meet. We even reached the chief in office, and we couldn’t do a thing.

As we received the reply, in was February 2020, I started to decide. Was I going to keep my promise of going on no matter what? Or was I going to keep the promise that if Xbox didn’t care, we wouldn’t either, after 2 years of exchange of words?

I sat on my chair, hopeless. The tears going down my face, as I realized what was happening, I calmy said to Tiago: “No… It’s not worth it. Nothing is worth this. Nothing is worth this.”

I couldn’t understand why would I be lead to believe in dreams only to be thorn apart. Why would I go that far only to fall so low. What have I done to deserve this. What lesson am I supposed to learn from here?

— THE AFTERMATH

I took the next months to heal, oddly as the covid pandemic started to rise. A part of me couldn’t give up. A part never will, so from time to time I would send another e-mail, trying to convince people with my words. But I can’t do this alone. I can’t continue to fight for hundreds of people when nobody can ever fight for me. I knew, from the first moment, that if I fell the Dummies would fall too. Because I worked too much for one person, and nothing could survive without me.

But I couldn’t too. So I took the difficult choice to ask all the collaborators to stop working on the website and let it die. Some were sadden, others laughed, everyone unaware of my mental state and of how much I fought for all of them. Of how much I felt angry for all the evil from people that kept on trying to put us down. How much I got tired of people that said they loved us but yet couldn’t lift a finger.

I didn’t know what to do. I was still afraid to sleep so I would exhaust myself until I was sure there was no way I would wake up so soon and went to bed. Sometimes I had crisis when I just started to cry and the only thing I could see or feel was an abyss. There was nothing ahead that could make me happy.

4 years looking for my place. 4 years wasting my time. What was all that for? What was I thinking? How could I be so naive. So stupid? Why would my dreams at night consist of Xbox FanFest in Portugal, or us being able to take Portuguese fans in those events? Was I a fool?…

— UNCERTAINCY

As the world stopped, I felt even more frustrated. How could I move forward if nobody else was moving forward? I could at least convince myself at least I wasn’t the only one standing still, so it was not all my fault.

But I tried to find myself again. And still today, Xbox is my home. My tribe. My family. Finally I was able to heal and I can sleep with no fear for months now. Now I can smile. I’m not entirely ok. I’m damaged. I’m confused. I’m not sure what to do. I am more lost and scared than certain. I have no idea what path is supposed to be. And while I believed we can be whatever we want, and we’ll always have the support of our loved ones from another dimension, I feel more disconnected from their spirit. I feel betrayed.

Almost 5 years after graduating. I don’t even want to dream of getting a house so I won’t get hurt. I think more and more about having children, but I don’t want to because it’s not a possibility. I still try to talk to people at Xbox, sometimes, but right now I’m done. And I think they are more done than me, since I was brutally honest with most…

Am I sorry? Can’t say I am. I did the best I could and knew in the time I had. Nobody else knows what I felt or why I did what I did. Though I probably sounded like a crazy maniac obsessed over Xbox, uh?

It hurts me, because all I ever wanted was to have resources to keep helping people in better ways and embrace more fans, while I could have enough to build up my personal life. You know, just a job to pay bills and eat?

— WHAT NOW?

Today, I guess none of what I did was worth it. Didn’t get me anywhere. Didn’t make Xbox care more. Didn’t make things move. In the meantime, I lost my faith. I lost my faith in people. I lost my faith in miracles and dreams. I lost my faith in myself. I just try to think positive or else I panic again over being 27 (I know, still young), living with my mom and partner, having expenses paid by parents and still being a failure to most. I was not a bright student, I do not bring income. I’m a fool in love with the nature of this world, passionate about creation and art and a dreamer that only wanted a chance to show what could be done if Xbox let us. A fool that still believes the great things take time and effort. A fool that still wants to see the Dummies come back. A fool that still desires to work at Xbox.

But a fool that will never again reach burnout. A fool that learned nothing is worth your mental health.

Nothing. Not even yourself.

No matter what, I’m still so grateful for all the incredible opportunities provided by Xbox, devs and publishers and all fans. Nothing can shade that. This text is merely about burnout, mental health and venting out a few things I never told in public.

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Indigo

Indigo

It doesn’t matter my name, where I’m from, nor how I came here. Like you, I’m searching. Lost in this world, with so much to speak up, but no one to listen.