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.
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?
Problems of depression and working perfectly summed up there. I work from home now so I could take time when I needed it, has it helped? Nope I actually probably am worse at taking time for myself when a bad spell of depression or anxiety hits. So hard isn’t it…
That’s so interesting. I’m hoping to be fully self-employed in the future I think that will be best for my mental health x
On the whole I think it is better for my mental health, need to get better at switching off from it though and making sure I have ‘me’ time. It is easy to get swallowed up in it.
This is exactly how I’m feeling right now sat at work wondering whether to take tomorrow off because, if I felt physically as bad as I do mentally, I would be curled up in bed off sick. Thanks for sharing x
I definitely feel the same way. I’ve had to do that this past week bc I was having a bad day.. I actually get paid time off (sick leave) but I do feel so guilty taking it. I’d really enjoy talking to someone that gets it like I do.
Paid sick leave is great, you’re entitled to it so I hope you can begin to feel a little less guilty about it. It’s so hard!
Hi. This post helped me somewhat in my formidable dilemma: make the heroic but formidably risky journey to work all depressed, flat, unable to concentrate, regulate relationships and emotions, all fatigued… or accept depression for what it is as my legitimate illness, period, and stay at home, first in bed, then slowly making it back into the world, by grace of the universe.
The latter option seems rational, yet, indeed, it remains plagued with guilt for so many of us.
The former option is terribly risky: unless your coworkers are au courrant and exceptionaly great people, you risk causing mess in output and relationships that you will keep paying for well beyond your episode..
It is my first major episode in my new job. I wish it came later, much later. But I am not going to repeat all the self-harm I had done to myself in the past by forcing myself to work at any cost. This time around I am staying at home, unashamed.
Brothers and sisters, stay brave.