Today, I’m calling in WELL, and I’m not coming in to work.
Twice in the last year while working in the hospital, I’ve called in sick when I’ve actually not been physically ill at all. These were times when I felt just unable to face the day ahead of me. I should have called in ‘fed up’, which is what I would venture many people really call in sick for, but it seems that no matter how much seniority you might have, this is not a category that becomes available to you.
It is completely acceptable to call in sick, even when you and everyone around you knows that you are not ‘really sick’, you’re just having ‘one of those days’. What does it mean to have ‘one of those days’? Obviously, everyone will have days when they really are throwing up, got the runs, fever of 40 degrees, hallucinating spotted elephants. And there are days when your toilet floods, your kids are sick, etc., where your absence from work is really due to external causes. But I am not speaking to those days. I am speaking to those ‘other days’. The ones that you know in your heart are about just not wanting to be there.
For me, it usually starts the night before. The feeling that there is just no way that I’d be able to huff down another day of doing something abrasive to myself. It continues into the morning of — a not insubstantial internal battle is waged over ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’ The fact that I have ONLY sick days to use makes me feel like I’d better damn well be really sick if I’m not to come in. I feel like if I am to be at all justified in not being there, then I’d better have some physical symptoms to back up my claims. And so, in a prolific effort of contrived psychosomatism, I create them.
Tickles in my throat which would otherwise be easily quelled by tossing back some ginger tea are not only amplified in my relating of them to our secretary, they become experienced as full blown sore throats. Small tension headaches are experienced as pounding head-screwers that keep me in bed. I jump on the smallest hint of a minute raise in temperature and magnify in into a fever, which is any health care worker’s cardinal rule to stay home, for the patients’ sake, of course.
And the raging guilt I feel before, during, and afterwards! Though I did experience physical discomfort to some degree, I know I built them up to seem worse that they actually were, so much that my body believed it was true. But in the end, I know that I lied about my real reasons for not wanting to go to work.
When was the last time you had a colleague tell you they were absent because they just thought the job wasn’t worth doing? It isn’t okay to say this even if it’s what you really believe — even if it is what everyone believes. Because then you would be faced with this most destabilizing question: ‘Well then, what am I doing here?’
But it seems that I am not the only one who is faced with having to machinate these detailed plans to get out of work. Recently I heard a radio show host describe her perfect strategy for faking a sore throat and a cough. Kids have played hooky with faked doctor’s notes since forever. Well, kids don’t have much choice to attend school when they’d rather do something else. We are not kids anymore. We do have a choice. If your work is so uninspiring that you need to force yourself to be in a worse condition in order to do simply take care of your inner wellness, then you are teaching yourself that being less than what you are is the way to survive.
Now for the aftermath. It is the day after you were ‘sick’. Calling in sick two days in a row would be suspicious and then you would then have to deal with people asking ‘Are you feeling better now? You must have been quite sick to have taken TWO full days off.’ Newsflash: when people really do get sick, it takes more than a day to recover. A one-day sickness, particularly followed by no subsequent symptoms is really a I’m-fed-up-with-my-job in disguise.
This is the way when there doesn’t seem to be a more authentic one. Or, this is the way when we cannot face that the authentic way means thoroughly examining if we are in the right place now, doing the right kind of work, being who we really are.
The system does not ask us to be introspective about our jobs in this way. The category of sick day is a very useful umbrella for covering people’s dissatisfaction with their daily lives. Everybody questions what they do. Everybody has days when the truth of their level of happiness in their jobs is painfully apparent. And when you permit yourself to take a step back for perspective, for your health, you are sick to the system. You have become a faulty piece that needs maintenance. A bit of grease, guilt, and fear about what might happen to you if you didn’t have this job is really all that’s needed for you to become a functional piece again in about 24 hours. And everybody knows it, but few will name it for what it is.
That’s why it’s called a ‘sick day’, and not a ‘personal growth’ day. But what the system calls it has very little to do with what it can mean to you. When you call in sick, knowing that you are not actually physically ill, do you really believe that you’re sick? Do you believe that this is the only way to take a break from your job? Or could it be that you’re catching a glimpse of what it could mean to be well?
Originally published on livingleftunlabeled.blogspot.com, April 8, 2011