When You Have to Call in Sick to Work but ‘Look Fine’


This morning I woke up, spent an hour lying there watching the shadows dance upon the wall while trying to motivate myself to get out of bed, eventually showered and clothed myself, then took a rest because I was tired from the standing in the shower. After some time, I took the dog for a short walk (like three blocks), then came back exhausted, and now am going to rest until I find a bit of energy again later tonight.

I had to call in sick to work and let them know I wasn’t sure I would be able to make it until the end of the work day (when I have a very important meeting I must facilitate) if I came in now. “Instead,” I said hesitantly, “I’ll rest here at home and come in right before the meeting.”

Welcome to my life. This has been my reality for the past few weeks — the time in which another fibromyalgia fit hit hard.

Usually, though, I’m a good actor. Most days, I look fine and sound fine, like any human being that walks around and operates all day without chronic pain and fatigue. Sometimes people will catch me yawning or slouching, and I’ll just say, “Oh, I’m tired,” which is a normal thing to hear in a university setting (where I work) anyway. Everyone is tired here — the students from too many late nights studying (or partying?) and the faculty from having so much to do and so little time to do it. But that’s not where my exhaustion comes from. It’s not from the work, but from somewhere inside, something that tells me I need more rest than others.

So when I allow the pain and fatigue to show itself in my movements (or lack thereof), and when I begin to share with people how much I actually hurt or despair, it seems too easy for them to think that that is my acting. “Are you just being dramatic,” my loving but confused partner asked one time in the midst of a fibro fit, “or is that how you really feel?”

My acting comes when I fake my way through the pain and fatigue in order to work a full day. My acting comes when someone asks me how I’m doing and I say, “Fine,” because I don’t want to burden them. My acting comes when I make up excuses for why I can’t do something because I don’t want to admit that I’m not sure I’ll have enough energy.

Don’t get me wrong — I do have good hours and even days. But how I really feel, most of the time, is exhausted. I’m tired of being sick. I’m tired of being in pain. I’m tired of being tired. I’m tired of acting like none of this bothers me. And I’m tired of feeling so embarrassed, like I’m “faking it.”

I’m embarrassed of being sick. I’m embarrassed of needing to rest more than others. I’m embarrassed that I’m not able to do the things I want or that sometimes, in the middle of a conversation with a student, I completely lose my train of thought. I’m embarrassed to call in sick when I feel horrible but I “look and sound fine” because I’m a damn good actor.

So when you see me like this, please know: So often I’m acting because I’m scared about what you’ll really think of me when you know what I struggle with. And I’m scared of what I think about myself and how I’ve changed. If I tell you how I really feel, please remind me this disease is not all of me, it will never be all of me and I’ll never let it completely take me over. Remind me that sometimes I just have to be, to feel the pain for a while. And then please be there with me while I cry, while I let out my frustration and anger when I’m too exhausted from acting and can no longer hide my feelings even from myself. And when I’m there, when I’m in that place, please remind me I’m not selfish or lazy. Remind me I’m doing the best I can. Remind me it’s OK to get frustrated.

And then, when all the tears come out and I start to see straight again, help me smile once more. Remind me how impressive it is that I continue to work through this. Remind me I don’t need to be embarrassed of my struggles. Remind me that I’m not alone. And remind me that somewhere, somehow, I really am fine.

woman and dog in the woods
Breanna in the woods.

Follow this journey on For The(e) Beauty.

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