A raw and honest graphic novel about a workaholic’s process of recovery
One of Holland’s new wave of autobiographical cartoonists explores what it means to have work-related burnout. She sets out to understand how things got to that point and how it might be possible to lead a more balanced life in the future. Burnout Diary is an appealing and instructive personal study of a difficult period, similar to the works of Roz Chast and David Small. In this graphic novel, Hartjes seems to have found the ideal form to explore a heavy subject with a light touch.
For more than ten years, Maaike Hartjes has been writing diary cartoons about her own life, produced in a spontaneous yet intricate style she modestly describes as ‘fiddly’. Her trademark style involves deceptively naïve-looking stick figures and tiny drawings with speech bubbles, packaged as recognizable, personal reflections. These often depict familiar everyday situations like waiting at the bus stop, growing older, taking the wrong train or getting a passport photo taken.
The protagonist’s personal life is central to Burnout Diary, but the author goes further in this book than in her previous works, exploring her deeper psychology. After a long, complicated and frustrating assignment for a large company, illustrator Maaike Hartjes finds herself totally listless, unable to do anything anymore.
Even the thought of work is too much for her. When a month of rest and a holiday abroad bring little improvement, she tries to motivate herself by keeping her own unique diary: attractive collages on a brown paper background with different character styles and lots of cute tape.
We read about her panic attacks, fatigue and depressive feelings, but also about her search for solutions. What led to her burnout? Why is she such a perfectionist? Why does she work so hard? And crucially, why can’t she ever turn work down? Why is nothing ever enough for her? Her personality is at the root of the problem, it seems. She also examines the bigger picture. Why do some people suffer from burnout, while others don’t? After talking to friends and colleagues about how they deal with stress and honestly analyzing her own thoughts and feelings, Hartjes comes up with some positive steps towards a better, healthier work-life balance.
In our culture of overwork, this book will strike a chord with many readers.