The Reality of Taking a Sick Day When You're Chronically Ill


With reading week now over and deadlines piling up, my hours at both of my jobs picking up and the end of the fall semester looming, things are getting a bit chaotic. And sometimes my body just can’t handle it. When the stress becomes too much, my body is sure to remind me of the fact that I am chronically ill. Cue chronic migraines, wildly fluctuating blood sugars and seizure auras.

I try so very hard to push through it as best I can, but often, the inevitable happens – I physically cannot get out of bed.

Sick days are a funny thing when your body is permanently sick.

You would think that after years of being chronically ill, one would come to accept the idea that yeah, sometimes they have to be realistic about their limitations – they have to take a break more often than most, they have to sacrifice many things to achieve the balancing act required when living with chronic illnesses. You would think. But this is not an easy realization to come to terms with, never mind implement into your life.
And somehow, despite knowing this all at our core, we still feel guilty. I use the term “we” because I know this is a common phenomenon among people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, but I do not mean to speak for anyone but myself.

Calling in sick is an extremely hard thing for me to do. It feels a lot like defeat. I can’t help but feel guilty, and as though I’m to blame. The thought spiral then starts, like so: What did I do to trigger a migraine today? Maybe I’ve been pushing myself too hard. Can I even handle what I have on my plate right now? These quickly to turn to questions of my self-worth, questions about my future, my ability, my aspirations – ultimately, am I enough? What if my illness takes priority and I have to give up my goals for the sake of my health?

This inescapable thought process is the reality of a sick day, of my mind when I have to call in sick. I don’t just question whether I’m making a mistake about calling in, whether I can push through it, whether my employers and coworkers will think less of me (I know the answers to all of these, but I still doubt everything). I question whether this one sick day will eventually become my life. That is the fear, the uncertainty, that is chronic illness. You never know which day will be your best and which might be the start of your worst.

I know this post is not bright and happy, but it’s honest. Sick days are not just a day in bed for me. They are a day trapped in the anxieties, the uncertainties, the grief and the guilt of being chronically ill.

But I am so, so thankful, that more and more, I am having fewer sick days. My health over the past few years has improved as I’ve learned more about my conditions, more about how to manage my health, both mentally and physically, and as I’ve learned to accept and adapt to life with chronic illnesses. I am so fortunate to have the people around me that I do, the people who understand and care so deeply about me, and I am so fortunate that my “good” days outnumber my bad ones by a long shot. And after many of the flare-ups I’ve had, especially upon starting university, I know not to take this for granted.

This post originally appeared on Jennifer’s blog.

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