I have some sort of low-grade fever virus thing going right now, symptomized by fatigue, achey muscles, sore/swollen glands, and generalized irritation.  I didn’t feel so hot Monday or Tuesday, and when I belatedly hauled my carcass out of bed yesterday morning, I thought, you know what?  Screw it.  I need to go back to bed.  I managed a shower and got my undies on, but when I sat on the edge of the bed to pull on my left sock, I realized that the mere thought of walking 30-odd feet to the bus stop was overwhelming and made me want to kill myself.

With my boss on a plane to Singapore, I phoned the next two superiors in the office.  When I got one of the Consultants on his mobile, I was dismayed to find myself putting on a “sick” voice.  Why was I doing that?  I’m a professional.  If I say I’m sick, that should be the end of that.  I rest up for a day, and get back into work as soon as I can, probably more productive the rest of the week than I would have been if I’d stuck out the day in misery, too weak to lift the phone.  Anyway, I’m incapable of not checking my email and spent a solid two hours working from the house, after a five-hour nap (this is because I get bored and being out of the office sends me into anxiety fits).

And yet sick days make me feel guilty.  Even worse, I am suspicious of other people’s sick days.  I routinely go into work feeling like mold, due to stress, lack of sleep, depression, actual illness, hangovers, or just general malaise.  Sometimes I think I’m so used to feeling sick in some way that the days I feel good are much more striking.  This revelation is depressing and, in turn, makes me feel sick.

But because I feel bad (or possibly, just don’t feel like going into the office?) so much, it takes a lot for me to actually phone in sick.  And I extend this lack of sympathy to others – if they’re not in work, they better be dying, because the rest of us are there, presumably sick-feeling too, as the days of our lives dwindle without purpose and we pop handfuls of ibuprofen.  One girl at work broke her wrist and got a doctor’s note excusing her for two weeks.  Excuse me?  God, get a sling.  I actually envied her broken wrist because she had a demonstrable reason for being out of the office.  Never mind that she’s in a cast, in pain, and is cranky because she hasn’t washed her hair in five days.  She gets to stay at home guilt-free!  And she’s not even really ill!  Lucky bitch.

My reaction to this, and the reactions I see in other colleagues has me thinking that it’s our attitudes that are a little bit sick.  That One Person who phones in sick with regularity and uses up their full sick-day allotment when the rest of us use a more typical one to three days a year casts a pall over everyone else.  We all know That One Person is just hungover from a Sunday night coke binge and our seething resentment spills needlessly onto the person who genuinely got food poisoning (although, seriously, I don’t think I have ever had food poisoning, and yet four or five people in my very small office succumb to it a year, and yes, I am suspicious).  Because what we’re all thinking is, “That One Person got nine more vacation days this year than I did, and I’m a better worker!  Not fair!”

My difficulty with phoning in sick probably started with my mother’s insistence, throughout my childhood, that if I didn’t have a 102 degree fever, a bone sticking out of my arm, or was vomiting blood, I was going to school and there wasn’t going to be an argument about it.  She was actually very nurturing, but tough on herself, and didn’t let me get away with any namby-pamby excuses for missing class.  My commitment to this philosophy was entirely absent during my college years, but kicked in again when I started working full-time.  Possibly, she also understood that I had a tendency towards depression, which will manifest itself in all sorts of physical ailments, and her way of protecting me was to not let me get swallowed up in it by forcing me to participate in the real world.  Maybe it is for this reason that I go to work every day, regardless of how I feel, because staying at home will likely make me feel worse.

So I have a problem calling in sick, and I feel defensive about it when I do.  I feel like I have to defend how sick I really am, and will inevitably spend the rest of the day in an internal wrestling match, alternately arguing that I should be able to take a sick day without being suffused with guilt, and then asking myself if I really feel bad enough to rationalize phoning it in. 

Two colleagues today, unprompted, told me how pale I looked, and I forced two other people to feel my forehead so they could comment on my fever.  I’m sick, I wanted to prove, and I felt great satisfaction that I had shown it in some small way.  Just like a bruise is never as satisfying or sympathy-inducing as when it’s black and broken-blood-vessel red, I need outward physical evidence that I’m feeling shattered inside.  But I still feel guilty.

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