Quitting my job to recover from depression was a huge decision for me, but also one that I was confident making. I knew I needed complete rest and absolutely no stress to rebuild my life. However being unemployed brought its own problems and feelings of inadequacy, which in a funny way spurred me on to work on getting better and finding a job I could enjoy again.
Even now – years later – taking a sick day for my depression is something I really struggle with. I feel well most of the time, but when I relapse I feel like the world is coming to and end. I feel helpless and unmotivated.
It might seem clear to others looking in from the outside that a day off is the best medicine, but my train of thought is a little more difficult to navigate.
I actually had a bad week recently which I documented in a vlog. You can watch it below (I promise it’s not all doom and gloom) or read on for my account of why sick days are so hard to take when you have depression.
Being off sick causes feelings of guilt
When I feel a depressive episode hanging around ominously overhead, I have a bad habit of ignoring it for as long as possible. Most doctors or therapists would suggest taking a personal day – something that isn’t offered in my workplace – to nip the bad feeling in the bud by practising self-care.
Instead I normally power through the feeling of impending doom by casually throwing more stress at the situation by continuing to work, hitting the gym and working on my blog in the evening.
I inevitably burnout and need 48 hours of non-stop sleep and slothing around in dirty pyjamas, surviving purely on Hob Nobs and pizza.
Rest is essential during this period. But the problem for me is that as much as I despise going to work when I feel depressed, the feeling of being off sick is somehow marginally worse.
I feel useless. I feel like a ‘faker’. I feel like I’m being dramatic. I don’t feel like I deserve the time off. This isn’t necessarily a reflection of how others react to my mental illness, it’s really just a symptom of the illness itself.
Days off for my mental health make me feel like a failure, and don’t always make me feel better.
Depression makes me question every action I take and somehow twists it around to be a terrible decision, no matter what it is. It’s the nature of the beast.
Most employers don’t understand depression
If you think there’s no stigma around mental illness in the workplace then I’m afraid to say you’re a little naive. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a direct line manager who understands your situation and allows you time off no questions asked, you’re likely to know other people at work who are less accommodating.
People talk about me behind my back. I know they do. As much as I’d like to say that it doesn’t affect me, it does play a part in my decision to take a sick day when my depression is really bad.
I don’t want other people to think I’m lazy, even though I know I’m not. I don’t want them to think I’m faking, even though I know I’m not. I don’t want them to have to work extra hard to make up for my absence.
I don’t want to have the conversation of “how are you feeling?” once I return to work. I just don’t. I want to go to work and forget about my mental illness as much as possible.
So sometimes, going to work feeling awful is just an easier option.
It costs money
We all know that out health should be a priority. Does that stop us from drinking to excess every weekend? No. Does it stop us from stuffing our faces with sweets and popcorn at the cinema? No. Does is stop us from lying horizontal for six hours whilst we binge watch Netlfix? Absolutely not.
So when comes to taking sick days, sometimes money takes priority over more my mental health. That doesn’t mean I always value money over my health, but some days I just need the god damn money. I’ve got shit to do.
Maybe I’ve got a friend’s birthday coming up or a Father’s Day gift to buy. Maybe I ripped a hole in my work trousers and I need to buy a new pair.
As much as I’d love to take a personal day to get the rest I need and stop my symptoms getting worse, sometimes going to work and collecting a wage at the end of the week is the main priority.
Maybe things will change in the future and it’ll get easier for me to take rest when I need it, but for now it’s a tricky balancing act of many factors which are always changing.
Have you found it difficult to take sick days?