Recently, I finally bit the bullet and took a mental health sick day. I woke up that morning with a sick sense of dread at getting out of bed, and I just knew I would be no use at work. In fact, I’d be lucky if I managed to sip my tea without pouring it down my chin.
The weekend had been a difficult one. I’d lay in bed, staring at the ceiling because I didn’t have the energy to find the remote and switch on the TV. I’d stared blankly at my phone, scrolling through my instagram and twitter feeds not seeing anything, and wondering if I could check myself into a mental hospital without causing a scene. The thought of living my life was just tiring. It was like I just wanted to stop being a person or look down and magically find Bernard’s watch in my hand so I could stop time while I pulled myself together.
Despite knowing I couldn’t go into work the way I was, I was tempted to just drag myself in the same way I do when I have a cold or an ear infection. I mean, did I really need the day off or was I just making excuses because work has been busy recently? What if they don’t believe me? What if they decide I’m bad at my job and get rid of me? I told myself, it’s really not that bad and while I should probably be at home resting I can actually work if I have to.
I could just imagine how the conversation would go:
Me: “Hi, I’m not coming in today because my depression is kicking my butt.”
Boss: “Erm, yeah good one. See you at 9 then?”
After an unceasing battle in my head, making myself breathless and sick with panic, I sent an email (it was 6am after all) to say that I’d had a really difficult weekend with my mental health and I was going to get an emergency appointment at the doctors to see if they could help. I’d call (as per procedure) once the office was open.
I know why it’s hard to take a mental health sick day; it’s quite difficult to feel sympathy for something you can’t see. I don’t feel much sympathy when someone has toothache because their wisdom teeth are coming through, despite the fact I know when I experience it, it feels like all my teeth are trying to escape from my mouth by pulling in every single direction. As humans, we all struggle to sympathise with things we can’t see, and our bosses are the same which may be why mental illness still isn’t really an acceptable thing to call in sick with – even though it definitely should be.
We wouldn’t expect a colleague with a broken foot to nip to the shop for us, or ask a diabetic to eat the cake we brought in for everyone because it’s our birthday, but for some reason we expect those with mental illnesses to pretend they’re fine and act normal.
The thing with depression, and most mental health illnesses, is that when they’re really bad we should really take a month or two off to get some bed rest, regroup and allow ourselves to heal. But that’s not a realistic option for most people so we make do with the few days we can scrape together here and there or force ourselves to carry on. Instead, we should just go easy on ourselves. We all know our limits and when we feel we’ve reached ours, we should be able to take a step back and regroup without fear of ridicule or condemnation.