When we were young our mothers would check our temperatures and listen for a cough before letting us miss school. Today a sick day is a little more complicated. It’s a little bit more than a high temperature and a frog in our throats. You don’t get to sit back and really milk a sick day the same way you could when you were five.
Universities and workplaces put regulations on how many sick days you’re allowed, documentation is required, and you’re still responsible for the work that you missed. As if you controlled how often you got sick or how often you felt unwell. If only it were that simple.
Don’t get me wrong. I completely understand the need for these regulations. It doesn’t feel fair to give the same grade to those who show up half the semester and to those who show up for every class.
These rules are in place so that people don’t take advantage. But with the creation of all these rules we’ve created a restrictive environment in which people aren’t able to freely share details of their well-being.
A few weeks ago I realized I was extremely overwhelmed. With work, school, commuting, and the anxiety produced by thoughts of graduation, I was zapped.
I woke up every morning and had to fight my demons to get out of bed. Although there were no visible signs of sickness I was not emotionally and mentally well.
I was worn out, irrationally emotional, and simply in need of some TLC. With a long work shift looming and a paper due at the end of the night, I didn’t know how to convey to anyone that I needed a break.
There’s a lot of talk about self-love and nurturing one’s soul yet we’ve forgotten to create the language to communicate with others about our needs.
What do I tell my boss? What do I tell my professor? How do I let them know that I can’t bring in a doctor’s note because just the thought of sitting in the waiting room for hours makes me shudder? What would the doctor’s note even say? I realized then that I really didn’t know.
I sat there calculating how many days I’d missed so far. Could I afford to miss another day? What if I feel even worse a few weeks down the road? Should I save a few sick days for then?
In the end, I decided I really couldn’t make it through the day. The email I sent was along the lines of “I’m under the weather, please excuse me from class today.”
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that it just wasn’t enough. I shouldn’t have to downplay my well being simply because society isn’t ready to accept that there are many forms of being unwell.
The stigma around mental well-being is counterintuitive. If we feel like we are being constantly policed then we won’t take time off. In the long run, this leads to overworked, unmotivated, students and employees. What we need are open dialogues and fewer restrictions. We should feel empowered to realize when we need a break and we should feel capable of communicating that accordingly.
Image via Anna Schultz