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The Dilemmas You Face When Calling in Sick to Work

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I often find myself in the curious predicament of deciding whether or not I should go to work. I wake up and feel less than stellar, my body is exhausted, my pain is high, but I feel the ever-present push to always be at work, always be performing and always trying to do everything. It has taken many years for me to realize that I cannot survive in this typical corporate world. I need time off. I need days of rest. I will never be that employee with perfect attendance. My sick days will always be used. I will always have FMLA coverage. And I will always struggle with the decision to stay home.

Days like today I struggle. We had a very jam-packed weekend full of Mother’s Day celebrations. I was absolutely exhausted and had overdone it. I woke up today in a haze of pain, exhaustion and quite literally lacking the energy to even get out of my bed. Yet I still tried to fight my fiancé when he suggested that I stay home from work to rest. He reminded me that it is not selfishness but rather self-care, my own mantra that I have spouted to my friends and family who need time to rest, but that I can never use myself and take my own advice. I sat in my bed debating with him the pros and cons of going to work versus staying home. It usually goes something like this:

Staying home:

Pro – I get the rest I need.

Con – I fall behind on work, thus needing to work harder in the coming days.

Pro – I might prevent an even worse crash by staying home now instead of pushing myself.

Con – What do my bosses think when they see a weekly email from me that I can’t make it in?

Pro – I don’t have to drive. I hate driving when I am exhausted and in pain. I hate how it affects my judgment.

Con – Even when I stay home, I end up working on my laptop anyway, so it isn’t a true day off.

Pro – No effort needed to make myself presentable.

Con – The stress of sitting at home and listing off the things I should be doing and will have to do when I get back.

Going to work:

Pro – I’m physically present at work. *note I didn’t say productive*

Con – I won’t get a lot done because I just have no energy.

Pro – I won’t have to use a sick day, I can save it for a worse day when I really “need” it.

Con – I have to get ready and look professional, taking even more energy.

Pro – I’m physically present at work.

Con – I have to drive in this exhausted state.

Pro – I’m physically present at work.

Con – I will push myself further into exhaustion and then one sick day becomes two sick days to recover.

After this back and forth, you can imagine what I chose. The pros of staying home almost always outweigh the pros of going to work, at least for me. And I was right. I chose to stay home. I took some pain medication and went back to bed. I slept a few more hours and woke up around noon (horrible, I know, but teenage me would have been proud because that used to be a reasonable time to wake when I was on summer vacation in high school). I felt a little better. Slightly more energetic, and a little less painful. I took a hot bath, not actually washing anything, to relax my tired muscles. Eventually, I ventured out of bed and into my living room – this can be a feat just in itself on bad days. I watched some Netflix for a few hours and dozed casually. By the time my fiancé came home from work, I was doing OK. I decided that for every episode of the show I watched (“Call the Midwife,” I highly recommend!), I would do one small activity just so I could feel that the day wasn’t a waste. And by small, I mean small. After one episode I would load laundry in the washer. The next episode I would put it in the dryer. By the end of the night, I had done two loads of laundry (but left it unfolded; at least they were clean) and loaded the dishwasher (top rack first, then bottom rack after episode six). It wasn’t much, but, I felt better about myself, so it had to do.

Ultimately, I just want to be present. I want to show my bosses that I am worth my paycheck, reliable and able to always get things done in a timely manner and up to their standards. But being chronically ill stops me from feeling that I am worth all of that and can do all of the things they require of me. Although my frequent absences have not caused me to miss a deadline yet, I always take my days off and wonder when the other shoe is going to drop. When will I not make a deadline? When will my work be less than what is expected of me? When will I fall behind? How will I make up the ground if I do fall behind? But, at the same time, I know that if I do not take the time to rest and really allow my body to heal and feel better it will ultimately end with me missing more work and more functions down the line. It really is a catch-22. I either missed one or two days now in an attempt to recover my body or, I push myself to the physical point of exhaustion and end up missing four days or five days of work. The problem is, I never know what it’s going to be. Is one day of rest enough? If it isn’t, I wasn’t prepared for this, what did I leave unfinished at work? I usually prepare before I go out of town or take a long absence for a procedure, therefore, I try to work ahead and get as much accomplished and finished before my absence starts. However, when these unexpected absences happen, I stress about what I am leaving unfinished at the office. I try and work on my laptop at home even though I am supposed to be resting, but, I feel it is never enough.

In a world that constantly pushes you to do more with less time and glorifies over-extending yourself while living on caffeine, it is hard to be ill and keep up. My body simply can’t do it. One day of over-exertion means a week in bed resting or even an ER trip. So for now, until rest is actually acknowledged for all the good it can do for one’s health, both mentally and physically, I will stick to my list of pros and cons and the 30-minute-or-more debate with my loved ones rationalizing my choice to call in sick. And every single time I don’t go to work, I will wrestle with those questions and the worry that one day I won’t have a job to call in sick to.

Getty Image by OcusFocus

Originally published: May 30, 2018
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