I’m really bad at taking sick days.
Here is a portrait of me trying to take a sick day:
Ugh, I feel like shit.
You can probably power through it.
Yeah, you’re right. Feels like there’s a golf ball in my throat though. And I almost just blacked out doing yoga. Maybe I shouldn’t go in.
Mm… ugh, it would be so nice to just stay in bed all day and sleep…and make tea with ginger…
Then I called my boyfriend, who never advocates for staying home, and he said: Yeah, you should stay home.
I eventually decided to stay home on Friday, and by the afternoon I barely felt sick at all, which I guess we can count as a win. But it wasn’t without a fight.
When I was younger, I was a very anxious child. Because of that anxiety, a lot of random “sick” symptoms would manifest themselves in me. Most often this meant stomachaches and headaches. Before I knew what anxiety was or that I had it, I thought that I was just sick all the time. Since it happened so often, I kind of got labeled as a “faker.” To be honest, sometimes I was a faker. Sometimes, I didn’t want to go to school, and so I’d pretend. (Didn't we all?) Other times, I wasn’t conscious of my underlying anxiety, and would simply read my symptoms as they presented themselves-- symptoms of physical illness. I didn’t know at the time, none of us did, that sometimes mental illness manifests physically, so the symptoms I was feeling were real, they were just not indicative of something wrong with my physical body. Now I do recognize the signs and symptoms as those of anxiety, and so this problem has been reversed. Instead of thinking that I’m sick all the time, I think that it’s “just anxiety,” meaning that I can handle it and there’s no reason to stay home and take care of myself.
This is probably why I have such a problem taking days off when I’m sick. I always feel like I’m faking it, like it could be worse. Last week, though, I felt mentally bad all week. I got in a fight with some gravel, and I thought I won, but Eli says he actually broke up the fight and no one won. I went to work each and every day although I felt mentally shit. By the end of the week, the mental illness started to manifest physically, and I started to feel a cold coming on. After getting so sick in Portland on vacation, it’s safe to say I was a little paranoid about getting that sick again. So when I woke up on Friday morning feeling like there was a golf ball in my throat, I called it. I didn’t want to get worse, and I didn’t want to get anyone else sick. It doesn’t matter if I’m “sick enough.” (By the way, self, what even is "sick enough"? Cancer?) Sure, other people power through. Sure, I might have. But it doesn’t mean I should have.
As soon as I emailed in sick, though, the guilt set in.
I could probably go.
You feel like shit.
I could still probably do it. I should have.
No. Fuck you. Go back to bed.
Once I got the time off, I was too depressed to do anything with it. I know that I took the day off not to 'do anything' in particular, but to be sick. That’s just not me. I had to do laundry and clean the bathroom and yeah I watched like five episodes of Orange is the New Black but… I didn’t write. I didn’t read. Isn’t that bad?
I ended up spending all of Friday in bed, Saturday night at a concert thinking about all of the work I wasn't doing and would have to do the next day, and Sunday having a meltdown. How was I going to accomplish all of the things that I needed to get done? How was I going to write and read an entire book and hang out with Eli and still be home for Father's Day dinner? I decided that it wasn't going to happen. I've been very adamant that in the mornings I work on my book and then I go to work and then in the evenings I spend time with Eli. That on the weekends I spend all the time I can with him, because we get so little time together throughout the week and because we don't have a place of our own I've felt...distant from him. Like even when we're together I sometimes feel faraway, like I can't fully enjoy our time together. That's why I decided to stay home on Sunday. Deep down I knew that even if I made it to his house, even if I accomplished all I needed to get done and still be with him, I wouldn't enjoy it. I would take it out on someone somewhere along the line, and I would be staring into the distance, stressed. Instead I stayed home, and I read an entire book in four hours. I watched Orange is the New Black. I napped. I bought a bathing suit. I didn't feel good, exactly, because I was without Eli and I was already sad, but I guess technically it was the right choice.
I've idealized the notion of having weekends off, and now the truth is I don't know how to do it. But Fran, isn't every blog post you write about challenging yourself to relax? You might, understandably, be wondering. The answer is yes. Yes, it is. Because lately being nice to myself is a full-time job.
The other weekend, when I woke up on Sunday, all I wanted to do was eat and finish my book. After I had done that, all I wanted to do was take a bath and watch Orange is the New Black. Then, I just wanted to be with Eli. I listened to each and every one of these whims, and when I got with Eli, we continued that together. We went for a stroll in the woods, and ended up sitting by a stream, talking. We came back inside and binge-watched The Office for a while, then we did yoga and meditated. I fell down the rabbit hole of writing, and ended up writing a pretty tough scene in my novel while Eli showered. I cried. I write about these little moments, this seemingly unimportant day of things, because I so rarely allow myself to do this. By this, I mean, what I want. At the end of the day Eli said something like, “We got a lot done today.”
I blanched, “I don’t want to refer to things that we wanted to do as ‘got a lot done’. Let’s say, we did a lot of things we wanted to do today. And it was great.” We agreed. I don’t know why my brain is wired to think of every single thing I do as an accomplishment, and one more check mark on the road to being “productive.” I’ve written in the past about my hatred of the idea of productivity, although I subscribe to that ideology and am constantly fighting to free myself from it. That’s why that Sunday was such a win. The entire day, I was shoving the idea of what I should be doing out of my head, and just trying to listen to the small, persistent voice in the back of my head whispering what I actually wanted to do. It’s tough, because sometimes what I want to do and what I should be doing are the same thing. It’s good and bad, but sometimes that means that when I should be doing something that I don’t actually want to do, my brain tricks me into thinking that that is ALL I WANT TO DO, because the productive asshole inside me proclaims that it is the only option. I fought it off that Sunday. I could've very easily succumbed to the idea that I needed to do yoga BEFORE I went to Eli’s house. But then I realized: I didn't actually want to do yoga in the morning. My body didn't want it either. What I and it really wanted was to watch Orange is the New Black in the bath. So I did that instead, and opted to bring my yoga mats to Eli’s house so we could do it together.
I know that this is a process. I know it is going to take me some time to readjust to this new lifestyle when I never fully adjusted to the old one. I also know that I have the best goddamn partner in the world helping me through this. Sunday, when I had my little meltdown and called Eli crying saying I wouldn't be coming to his house after all, he just kept saying, "I understand. It's okay. Hey, listen. I know you're overwhelmed. But you never waste time. Literally every single one of your seconds is spent doing something. Reading or writing or laundry and even to some extent hanging out with me. It's all scheduled. And you need some time to be by yourself and just do absolutely nothing. As much as I never want to be apart from you, you need that sometimes." He's right. I never want to give myself that time, because I feel like it's a letdown in some way. I should be able to get done everything I need to get done, have zen time to myself, and spend quality time with my boyfriend. (There's that should again.)
I generally hate the idea that every painful thing we go through in life is a season or a journey. As a person who's been through a lot, I've come to realize that sometimes shit just happens. You do what you can to figure it out and when you're on the other side of it you realize that it was all quite plain and simple. This probably is a season of my life where things are just always going to be somewhat stressful. I do realize that when I come out the other side of it I'll probably say, "holy shit. I handled a lot." But right now I hardly feel like I can give myself credit for it. I'm still in it. Every day is a constant effort to tell myself that I'm good enough; that what I've done with my time is good enough; that I deserve to relax or be happy. I guess I hate the idea of seasons because I'm afraid it doesn't apply to me. Depression does that to you-- it makes you believe that the current situation is forever. So I hope that if this is a season, if it isn't just me being irreparably damaged by anxiety and depression, that I can one day look back at a whole week, month, year's worth of days and count them as good enough.