Being sick and feeling guilty

I had grand plans to head into December well-rested and ready to take on the balance of 2008 with energy and motivation. Instead, on Sunday evening, my head started to fill up with goo and I spent most of the week in a cold-induced fog. Thanksfully, my ability to breathe through my nose returned this morning, along with my sense of smell and an expanded capacity to recognize. My oatmeal tasted like oatmeal today, which was a huge improvement over the papier mâché I choked down yesterday. Sadly, the raisins continue to register as slightly metallic.

One of the things that came up for me (in a emotional sense) during this cold, was the amount of guilt I have around being sick and missing obligations. When I was growing up, I often pretended to be sick in order to have a break from the social demands and discomfort of elementary and middle school. My parents knew that most of my colds, sore throats and upset stomachs were the result of my insecurity and propensity to be the most picked-on kid in the class and so they allowed me the bulk of my “sick” days. However, despite a talent for convincing my body to be sick on cue, I knew that staying out of the classroom wasn’t entirely necessary and so I carried around a little bit of guit about it.

As the years went on, school started to get better and I found I didn’t need to stay away like I had before. However, that sense of guilt about staying home when sick (even when I really and truly was ill) stuck with me. I’ve found in recent years that I’ve felt a need to be given permission to be sick, dragging myself into jobs when I’m near-catatonic in the hopes that someone else will recognize my ailment and say, “Oh you poor girl. You should go home and take care of yourself.” I needed permission from an outside party to be sick and take care of myself.

I’m beyond the worst of that now. I recognize when I’m sick and I do everyone I work with a favor by staying home (no one wants Typhoid Marisa sitting next to them in a poorly ventilated office). However, traces of that guilt still remain and they cropped up like a mofo this time around, despite the fact that I could hardly breathe and my brain ceased functioning sometime Sunday night, only picking back up around 3 pm yesterday afternoon.

I don’t have a solution to this issue (although I do believe that it goes hand in hand with my feeling that I’m never working hard enough or doing a good enough job at my place of employment), but like most juicy internal hang-ups, recognition is always the first step, so I’m putting it out there. Does anyone else react like this when they’re sick? How have you dealt with it?

5 thoughts on “Being sick and feeling guilty

  1. Erin

    I had a serious case of “school-itis” as well when I was younger. It would always mysteriously clear up as soon as the school bus had pulled away from our house without me. Hmm…imagine that…

    I think you really need to cut yourself some slack. I can’t imagine anyone thinking that you aren’t pulling your own weight at work. When you’re sick you’re sick and guilt of any kind shouldn’t even come into the equation. Personally I sometimes hope to be sick so that I don’t actually have to go into the office. Pretty twisted, right? See. I’m a much worse employee than you could ever aspire to be 😉 So take it easy, get well, and be kind to yourself. After all, as many wise people have pointed out to me over the years: guilt is a wasted emotion.

  2. yoko

    I used to go to work sick unless I was barely conscious. I stopped doing that when a workaholic co-worker of mine would come into work sick and I would catch whatever she had every time. Everyone in the office would tell her to go home and get better, but she felt guilty for not doing her job, and would make herself worse by pushing herself so much.

    Nowadays, given that I’ve been seriously ill recently, I actually call out of work if I have even a hint of something wrong. I don’t abuse my sick days (I still have so many banked at this point), but I don’t beat myself up if I have to take a day off. Giving myself some rest is always a good thing.

    There is nothing we do in our jobs that can’t wait a day until we get over a cold. No one wants to be around someone who’s sick, either. Being kind to yourself by taking care of yourself is always a good thing– I wouldn’t feel guilty about that.

  3. Michelle

    There’s always the sense of passing on some important obligation that will cause others to have to do our work for us. I have realized, in the course of my life, that the following things hold true:

    1) Sometimes you get sick (don’t hear the alarm go off; get stuck in traffic; insert thing beyond your control of your choice).
    2) This happens to everyone. The people who say it’s never happened to them are lying and deserve a flat tire.
    3) Apologize twice and bring in a treat, and then move on. If you must develop prolonged hangups about causing inconvenience, allow yourself 10 minutes by the clock, after which you get back to work. The residual guilt thing causes mopiness, which is just a bugger. 🙂 (It’s one of those things – one puts more time into thinking about it than anyone else.)

  4. Fran

    With teaching it is a little different: being out of school usually means EXTRA work – planning lessons and sending them in to school and then grading extra papers because if you don’t tell the substitute to COLLECT the papers, many students won’t do the work assigned. And then catching up with the things that you just COULDN’T cover in the curriculum by telling a sub to teach them. Most subs can’t teach physics. So I rely on Day-Quil and sleeping a lot while I AM at home, and I only stay home if I’m feeling really horrible.
    Day-Quil (the kind with pseudoephedrine that you have to show your drivers license to the pharmacist to buy) is really powerful stuff!

  5. Jess

    I get a ton of sick days from work so I am pretty generous with allowing myself a mental health day here and there. Plus there is seldom a work emergency at the library so I don’t feel too badly about it.

    This is Jess from the potluck, just stopping by to say hello. Looking forward to your demo on Tuesday.


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