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My 'Fake' Sick Day Is Just as Valid as Your 'Real' Sick Day

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“Yeah, sure, you’re ‘sick.’”

I’ve heard this so many times. I am not coughing. I am not sneezing. I am not complaining of chills. I don’t have the flu. I would not spread my illness if I came in to work. I would not pass germs that would in turn get you sick.

But I am sick. defines the word “sick” as one who is “afflicted with ill health or disease; ailing.” Although I am not hacking or vomiting on you, I am in fact sick. I like to call them “hidden diseases” — these mental illnesses, anxiety and depression (and at one point PTSD and OCD). There are further definitions on that include mental ailments, but it shocks me when a person calls out sick it has to be seen as a “real” ailment to be deemed a “real” sick day and not playing hookie. When I use a sick day at work, I am sick, but my anxiety and depression are center stage.

The last time I took a sick day where I was what is considered sick to a typical person was January of 2014 when I caught the flu. For days I was bedridden, sleeping, going through chills alternating with being too hot, running high fevers and completely depleted of all energy. But you know what? On my “fake” sick days, my body wants to be bedridden. I am usually dizzy and nauseas, and it is my brain that makes me feel this way, no bacteria or virus I can fault. My brain, an organ I will live with all my life, not a bacteria that will take up residence for a week. How can you not call that sick?

Through the years, I have learned to mask first my depression because I have lived with it for such a long time, more than half my life. I have just recently perfected the fake smile and faux happy personality when it comes to my generalized anxiety. This little devil has been present in my life for the last decade, and I never know when it will go on a nice vacation and I never know when it will return. Little bugger! Recently, it has decided to become the dictator of my being. It took over a week and a half ago, making my body rigid. I couldn’t speak. That day was the start to me feeling… well… off. The work week following that incident, I spent most of my days hiding in my cubicle not wanting to interact with anyone. Many times I wished I could just go home and hide in my room. I wanted to be alone. If I did have to interact with my coworkers, I was the smiling funny person I usually am. All I have to do is put on that fake grin and all of my inner turmoil is hidden. Viola! I look perfectly fine.

This past Sunday night I slept awfully. Even with sleeping aides, my body would not fall asleep. After watching the two-hour premiere of “Return To Amish,” I decided to try and fall asleep again. It was 1 a.m. Luckily, sleep came quick but my body awoke at 5. Insomnia was back. When I finally decided to wake up for the day and not continue a fit of tossing and turning in bed in hopes I would fall back asleep, it was 6:30. I gave in. Brain, you won. With a rush of dizziness and nausea, I felt it best to call out sick.

Upon returning to the office the next day, some comments were thrown at me about being sick. Sometimes it gets to the point where I feel like the boy who cried wolf. I have all these physical symptoms, but I do not look sick. I am on day nine of going to bed with pain in my neck and shoulders because they have been tense all day. I am highly unmotivated to move and feel out of it. I don’t feel hopeless or worthless, but I do not feel like myself. Some negative thoughts are returning to me… thoughts where my husband and child deserve better. I am frequently apologizing to both of them for being so irritable all the time. “I don’t want to be mean, I am so sorry.” As I am saying this, I imagine my daughter sitting in therapy in her adult years talking of her mother who snapped at her with anger all the time. It’s not what I want, but I can’t control it. Anxiety has taken the reigns.

And then, with the comments and the demons I live with, I begin to wonder if I am imagining these symptoms… maybe I am not really sick. Now I am debating with myself if what I feel, mental and physical, is actually real. Am I just saying this stuff for attention? I mean, I am the youngest child. Youngest children usually crave attention, but that was never me. I also am known to complain a lot but not about my health. I have a high pain tolerance and usually wait until the last minute to get help with any ailment. Still, is this all in my head? Do I just feel ignored and want to be heard?

And then I take a step back and breathe. Stigma. Damn that stigma. Just when I think I have broken through its barrier, I am sucked back into the vortex. This stigma is the reason people do not believe me when I am sick. I can’t fall victim to it again; it will only hurt me. This is the reason I share my story all the time. This is the reason I explain to people what it is like to have a condition in your brain that interferes with your logical thinking.

I am sick, and some days the pressure builds up mentally, causing physical symptoms, and I need to take a day off just like when having a fever. I need to rest. Any person deserves that without sarcastic comments. You deserve to be trusted.

Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: July 14, 2016
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