Being Medically Homebound Is Not a Vacation

I have found that a lot of people misconstrue the concept of being medically homebound. This has become especially evident since my doctor has allowed me to go back to work one day per week in the office I work at. Last October, I was put on a medical leave of absence due to mental illness as well as physical illness that had become too overwhelming for me. It was a living hell for a long time, and a long path of recovery that I’m still walking.

There are tons of reasons anyone might have to go on a leave from their jobs. Unfortunately the one thing we all have in common is that people think it’s some sort of exciting vacation to stay home all day, or that working from home is somehow much easier than physically being at work.

Let me tell you: it’s not easier. It’s not a vacation. It’s not very exciting. I don’t do fun things all day. I’m not faking it. And I’m not looking for attention.

I took a medical leave from work because I had absolutely reached my breaking point and, honestly, it was a near life or death situation. The beginning of my medical leave was nothing short of hell. Since then, I’ve been taking baby steps (I mean super slow baby steps) to get back to my normal functioning life, and I admit that it has been difficult.

I’ve worked up from being completely out of work, to working from home a couple hours for one day, to more hours a few days per week, and now as I write this I am working back in the office one day per week while continuing to work at home the rest of the time. My doctors agree that they’d like to see me permanently work part of the week from home and part at work because of how positively I’ve responded to the homebound set-up. And this is something I like, too!

Upon my return the first day, I couldn’t help but notice how some of my coworkers treated me. Not the ones who are close to me and know this whole chaotic story, but the ones that I see in passing or who may have heard about my situation through the grapevine. These people had many comments for me, such as…

“Wow, she’s alive!”

“I thought you’d retired! I deserve to retire a lot more than you!”

“Hey slacker, long time no see!”

“Man, it must be nice to stay at home all day, I’d kill to be in your position.”

All these comments communicated to me that these people truly don’t get it when an employee takes a leave of absence, especially for invisible illness. Someone who breaks a leg? They’re out of work for a while. An expecting mother gives birth? Maternity leave, duh! An employee got in a car accident? Yep, everyone expects their absence.

Unfortunately it is really hard to communicate the details of an invisible illness to those who don’t want to understand it. To some people, if they can’t see your illness, then it must not be real; we must be faking it to get out of responsibility.

The thing is, I don’t want to get out of my responsibilities. I love to feel independent, needed and productive. I’ve thankfully been granted the permission to work from home, and I’m fortunate that my job can be done from home, but anyone who knows me well knows I find it hard to pace myself. I want to just dive in and go, go, go. Once I get started on a project, there’s no stopping me. It’s all or nothing.

With my recovery, though, pacing myself is everything. Relapse is very real and it can happen to anyone, even myself — the girl who feels full of energy and motivation now, who has a thirst for doing things, who wants to feel reliable again.

However, I’m not 100 percent recovered no matter how good I’ve been feeling some days. I’m still horribly fatigued. I still have sleep problems. I still dip into depression. I still rely on a lot more medication than I did this time last year. I still need more rest than the average person. I still have a lot of pain, including migraines and complications of my autoimmune illnesses. All these added up make even a restful day at home exhausting — definitely not a vacation.

If I’m sleeping during the day, it’s because my body needs it, not because I’m being lazy. If I take a break from working on my computer, it’s because my eyes can’t handle the strain anymore, not because I’m trying to get out of working. If I decide to watch Netflix, it’s because my mind can’t focus on work due to brain fog, not because I’m trying to skip out of responsibility. If I go for a walk around my neighborhood, it’s because I need fresh air, not because I don’t want to work.

I work hard to be the person that I am. And being homebound doesn’t define me. I’m still striving for success, both personally and professionally; that never changed. But being homebound is what helps me get there. It’s what has afforded me the ability to keep my job, to work toward bettering my mental health, and to create for myself a healing process for my physical pain and illnesses.

Next time you hear about someone being medically homebound, don’t think of all the ways they are disabled. Don’t think of them as lazy or unmotivated. Instead, think of their situation as a crutch for success. Think of it as something that is helping them move on with their life instead of being crushed by societal standards. Most of us just want understanding and support — not judgment and belittlement.

This story originally appeared on Migraine Mantras.

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