Taking a shame free mental health day
We all remember our first job, don't we? My first job was as a waitress at one of my dad's pubs. I was 13 years old. Since then, I've had quite a few different jobs. Some I've loved, some I have hated with an absolute passion.
It's been a whole 13 years since my first job and during that time, I have only ever pulled one sickie. That's right, just the one. Impressive, I know. Just to clarify, a sickie to me is a self inflicted sick day. It's the day of work after a heavy night out that you just can't bring yourself to do. No amount of carbs, coffee and sugar can drag your arse out of bed. You're buried under a double duvet unable to concentrate on anything other than surviving the next few minutes without being sick or dying of dehydration. That, to me, is a proper sickie and I've only needed to draw that card once.
It takes a lot for me to take a real sick day, my boss will tell you that. I caught conjunctivitis a couple of years ago and I still showed up to work. Couldn't drive myself a mile to the doctors because I couldn't see but hey, I still turned on my laptop and cracked on with the 9 to 5 grind whilst wiping away the never ending river of crap coming out of my eyes. WHAT A LOOK.
I've always thought the reason I struggle to take a day off is because I suffer from a classic case of work FOMO, a far less enjoyable version of FOMO than the one you will have experienced before. It's the fear of coming back to a mountain of emails and 45 different tasks that need to be done within one hour the next day. The fear is so intense, it makes a day off not worth it in the first place.
As a society, when we think of a sick day, we think of physical illnesses. Maybe a common cold, a migraine or even a lovely little bit of D and V. You know, the physical illnesses that make us wish we hadn't taken all those healthy days for granted. The physical illnesses that make you dream of the days where you could breathe through your nose quite comfortably; the days where your head didn't throb continuously with every movement; the days where you could swallow freely without feeling as though someone is scraping a razor down your throat. You’re praying to God, someone you don’t even usually believe in, telling him that you'll never take another day for granted if they just make you better again. We've all been there, on the hotline to God. When we think of a sick day, we think about how we are unable to physically do the job and feel this is the only way we can call in sick, but what if we don't have the psychological capacity to complete our tasks for the day? The 9 to 5 is a daily marathon, not a sprint, and takes a hell of a lot of brain power. What if you don't have a lot of power in the ol' brain to give though? What if you don't even have the mental strength to get out of bed? Then what?
Well, that's the position I found myself in last week. Without boring you to near death with all the details, I had a very intense week of anxiety. I'm talking waking up with tremors, dizziness and nausea every day. No, I'm not pregnant before someone jumps to that conclusion. The only baby I'll be having anytime soon is a food baby. That'll do me. Anyway, back to my week of anxiety. I was experiencing all of the symptoms I mentioned - the tremors, nausea and dizziness- from the moment I woke up, to the moment I closed my eyes. Unsurprisingly, this abruptly awoke my anxiety and it was not a happy bunny. No fun times were had by anyone. Sounds delightful, right?
Well, good news is I figured out the symptoms were a side effect of the antibiotics I was on and not a sign of a sudden unprovoked deterioration in my mental health. In the words of one of my favourite drag queens, Shangela, HALLELU! The bad news is that before I made this discovery, every day was a real struggle. I had a daily panic about how I was heading back to that unbearable place where anxiety and depression are the prison guards and I am the prisoner. Anyone who has suffered from mental health issues, and have taken steps to move forward, will understand how upsetting and terrifying it is to feel like you're being sent back to a place you've tried so hard to escape from.
As a society, I really do not believe we are in a position where sick days for mental health are the norm. I'm lucky to have a very understanding manager that gets it. She understands that sometimes my anxiety knocks me on my arse and can be so intense and overwhelming that it can prevent me from being able to cope. She is the one that usually tells me I need to slow down and take some time for myself, giving me a bollocking when I'm on emails out of hours. I'm a busy body, so doing nothing at all doesn't come naturally to me. However, last week, I learned that it's important to take a break when you're unwell, and I don't just mean physically, but mentally too. There is only so far I know I can push myself before my body goes into a 'I have nothing left to give, give me a god damn break' crisis mode. I wasn't prepared to put myself in that position again, having worked so hard to get out of that place. So, when a sick day was suggested, I took the offer.
I'd be lying if I didn't feel some guilt for taking a day off. This is perhaps because I've never taken a day off for my mental health before so it's a little new to me. But, as we know, I'm a big advocate for taking care of yourself and sometimes a day off is what you need to do on those really crappy days. Sometimes, you just need a day or two to recharge. The first thing a healthcare professional will tell you when you have a cold is that you need to rest, so why should it be any different when experiencing a mental health issue?
I know it can be hard to take a sick day without feeling as though people are judging you. Honestly, I get it. But know what I think? I think that those who have experienced mental health issues will understand. And as for those who do not understand mental health issues and just how debilitating they can be, well, stuff 'em. It's easy to judge people from a privileged position, right? And if they have nothing better to do than comment on your reasons for taking a day off, pity them.
You, and only you, know when you're heading towards a bad place and when you need to take a break. You know your limits, no one else. It's our responsibility to check in with ourselves, no one else. No one else knows what it feels like when your anxiety, or whatever you struggle with, is at it's worst. If we can't look out for ourselves, who will? I think we owe that to ourselves, don't you?