When I was a teenager, I missed a lot of school. Like, 30-plus days a year. And while the typical American school year is 180 days, I attended a private prep school that had 165-day school years, meaning I missed close to a fifth of a year, every year, up through graduation. All things being equal, that totals roughly 3/4 of a year of high school that I missed – though, granted, not in one fell swoop.
The reasons for the absences are a topic for another blog entry – some were verified medical issues (I was incredibly prone to terrible ear and sinus infections well into my 20s), and some were what I would only later recognize as panic attacks and chronic anxiety. Regardless of the reason, the point is that teenage me would jump on the opportunity to take a sick day, assuming no ill effects; I was on scholarships, enrolled in all Honors and AP classes, and despite my absences, graduated with High Honors. If I could maintain academic standing and not have to go to school, hell, I’d do it. I was all about calling in sick.
Flash forward to me as an adult – I get sick far less frequently, and my anxiety (while it will likely never go away) no longer controls so much of my life. I enjoy my job, and lucky for me that I do, because my job is paramount in the life I have created for myself. I have a husband, a son, student loans, car payments, a mortgage – all the financial accouterments that you would expect of middle adulthood – and a job that expects that I show up if I intend to keep it.
Calling out now is almost unfathomable to me unless I have what I feel is an ironclad excuse – a reason why I absolutely, unquestionably cannot be there. I take time off sparingly, which is good thing… but I invariably feel guilty when I do, which is a not-so-good thing, and yet is something I can’t seem to move past.
I know, logically, I have no reason to feel bad about taking time off, particularly when I’m legitimately sick, but there’s always a little nagging thought inside my head that every time I take a day off, my coworkers all kind of look at each other knowingly, like they’re all in on some vast conspiracy theory regarding my work ethic and my standing in the ranks of Adulthood. Like they all snicker and whisper to each other over lunch, “Yeah, she’s out again. Can you believe it? What a worthless, useless sack of–”
Whoa, whoa, whoa, what? Why does my mind go there? Why do I immediately jump to assuming that others assume the worst of me for taking the time to take care of myself? Why do I assume that they’re invested in keeping track of my comings and goings in the the first place, let alone judging me for it?
It’s not as if I take days off indiscriminately. When I was pregnant, I was granted 12 weeks of leave, but was also able to use sick time to get paid for part of it. I used eight weeks of earned sick time, and when I returned from maternity leave, still had 32 sick days left. I mean, shit. Clearly I’m not taking random days off just to play hookey.
This week – just Friday, actually – I got hit by the bug that has been going around since mid-November – I’m actually astonished that I held out this long. This time, I felt so awful (physically) that I wound up missing a job coaching day – which I never do. Like, never ever ever do – only certain people have job site clearance, so I make it a point to try to never miss those days.
And man, I felt awful about it. But my coworkers responses – since I had to email them so they could find coverage that had clerance – was, “Oh my God, don’t even worry about it, worry about feeling better!”
Which, honestly, sounds so much more like the people I know than those voices in my head do. So this time around, I tried to “enjoy” my sick day. I mean, I felt like crap, but I ignored the little voice in my head telling me to just suck it up and just took care of myself.
I slept most of the day. I made myself coffee and ate ice cream. I had dinosaur chicken nuggets for lunch and poptarts for breakfst. I listened to my favorite podcasts. I rewatched my favorite stand-up comedy specials. I took a hot shower. I never changed out of my pajamas.
And now, at eight pm Saturday night, I’m actually feeling a little better – physically and emotionally. But my mind still lingers on the question, why is taking time out – time that I earned through work – such an emotional hassle for me? Why am I able to legitimize all these negative thoughts in my head when my day to day experiences with these people and situations lend no support to them? Why the pendulum sweep from “any reason to stay home” to “any reason NOT to stay home?” Why can’t I find a happy place in the middle?
Does anyone else struggle with allowing themselves self-care/time off? Or has similar problems rationalizing their own needs away?