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What It Was Like Losing My Job Because of My Illness

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A week after starting an exciting new job, I fell sick with the flu. Less than five months later, I would find myself being fired for excessive absence.

I couldn’t believe I’d be offered the job. I got hired the same day, only a few hours after my interview. I’d officially deferred from university in the beginning of September and had been jobless for the first month and a half of the new academic year. The depression was suffocating. I struggled to lose the weight I gained during my stressful year of study. I spent my time feeling sorry for myself, hating myself, thinking I’d made a big mistake. This job was about to change things. I was about to do something valuable with my time.

Less than a week into my new position, I fell ill with a bad case of the flu. I’m asthmatic – I blamed myself for not getting my vaccination that autumn. I turned to social media to make my distress known. I spoke of my severe body aches, migraines, and fever. I talked about my inability to leave my bed or eat the food my mother prepared for me. I talked about wanting to sleep but being unable to due to the coughs that consumed me every time I would lay down. I talked about how I couldn’t walk but instead crawled to the bathroom, thinking I was dying.

After a week or so I found myself improving, eating in small amounts and feeling myself again. This, however, was only the beginning.

I found symptoms coming and going; severe nausea and flu-like symptoms. I thought to myself, “There’s no way I’m getting the flu again am I? I just had it!” Then, three days before Christmas, on my way to a family member’s birthday dinner with my mother, I was hit with sudden pain. Pain that took me off my feet and caused me to collapse. Pain that started in my right knee and, by the end of the night, had spread to every joint in my body. Every. Single. One. It was reminiscent of previous bouts of pain I’d pushed to the back of my mind; occurrences I had assumed were isolated. I remembered staying home from sixth form because I couldn’t walk. I remembered the anxiety of missing classes and falling behind. I remembered the severity of that pain. This was when I realized things were worse than I’d previously thought.

Over the next few months, I bounced from referral to referral, playing the waiting game, as suspicions of conditions arose from my GP. I waited, patiently. I pushed the pain to the back of my mind as I left the house at 7:15 a.m. each morning. I pushed the pain to the back of my mind as I worked my 10-hour shift, returning home at 8:30 p.m. with just enough time to eat a late dinner and wind down before going to bed. I became more and more ill, having more flare days, calling in sick more and more often as time passed. But damn, did I try.

A few weeks into my harrowing work routine, I had my most severe flare up yet. I called in sick, imagining that I would improve within a few days. Two weeks of staying home from work and the depression was kicking in again. I was lucky I didn’t live alone, but this was easily the loneliest I’d ever felt. Most of my friends were at university, having daily adventures and making friends. I drearily tapped through Snapchat updates from my colleagues, socializing and joking in the break room. I wondered if they’d noticed I wasn’t there. I travelled back in time to the periods of loneliness I’d felt months prior and it felt all too familiar. Another two weeks later; four weeks since I stopped coming into work; I got my doctor’s note. At 11:30 a.m., I was prescribed fluoxetine. At 3:30 p.m., I was dismissed from my job.

My measured collection soon cracked and crumbled into a full blown anxiety attack in front of my manager, complete with depersonalization and total loss of sight. I felt my being fall out of my body and my vision turn black. I blindly fumbled for my inhaler and took a dose. And another. And another. I was a breathless pile of tears and saliva and mucus. I was ashamed of the sounds coming out of me but I had no control over them. “How did this happen?” I asked myself. “How did the girl who only had two days off throughout her whole time in primary school become the person fired for being unreliable?” This really put things into perspective, making me realize just how serious my health issues had become. This, to me, was total loss of control. I didn’t say anything after that. The girl who always had something to say suddenly became speechless.

I felt cheated, I felt wronged, and I felt as though life was unfair, but I didn’t appeal my dismissal. This is why.

Staying at my job was punishing myself with something I thought was my duty. I thought it was my duty to work through my sickness and pain. I thought it was my duty to say “Yep, I’m fine!” with a half smile when people asked how I was. I thought it was my duty to stay at my job and downplay just how ill I was. I stayed at my job for over a month longer than I should have, working through pain I should not have been working through, only taking days off when it was physically impossible to go in. I pushed myself to an unjustifiable limit until I couldn’t come in for a month straight. I pushed myself until the thought of working made me sick. I pushed myself until a five-minute walk from my house to the local shops was too much. I put off looking after myself for so long that I was unable to look after myself. The stress of my dismissal alone struck my body with severe fatigue and pain, leaving me unable to walk and, for the rest of the day, eat. That in itself tells you enough.

My management did me a favor. They didn’t mean to do that when they did, but they did. They did what I should have done for myself a month earlier. I should have put my health first but I didn’t, and I’m grateful they forced me to. Maybe I’ll get a handle on my condition and will be able to manage it – I hope, pray, and believe I will – but as it stands, I’m not in a place to keep up such level of work. If losing my job was the shock I needed to realize I was neglecting my health, then perhaps it was a good thing.

I always say I turn negative experiences into positive action. Though this isn’t the life I pictured for myself at 19, I spend every day preparing myself for what may happen next, and turning negative experiences into positive actions, as difficult as it can be. Positivity is productive but denial is not.

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Thinkstock photo by Rawpixel Ltd

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