Posted by: rebeccajrobare | February 28, 2012

Sick Days

Here I am, having another sick day. Can you spell “sick day,” kids? That’s right. F-U-C-K-E-D. As if it weren’t enough to lose most of a week this month over a kidney infection (I haven’t yet blogged about that little escapade), I now have a cold. A perfectly ordinary bad cold that is keeping me from work while it’s in the stage of immense sinus pressure. Once I get to the drainy, runny stage I’ll be back on top of things, but for the moment I am sitting at home, and thinking about what a loser I am.

I know, I know. I don’t ask to get sick. I don’t do anything stupid regarding my health. If I hadn’t just had a severe illness, I probably wouldn’t even be worried about taking time off for a cold. But I did just have a severe illness, one that resulted in a lot of lost time and productivity (and money. I don’t have enough sick days stocked up for this sort of thing yet, so I get docked.). But I had a week of health — one week! — and now I’m sick again.

My job probably is not at stake here. I’m good at my job. I want to do my job. The people at my job understand that I am not malingering. But I have visited the realm of “too-sick-to-hold-down-a-job,” and one of my greatest fears in life is going back there. Lying in bed, huddled around the pain, reminds me of what it was like to have so many migraines that I was unable to work, of what it was like to be so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed. I hate that feeling. I would like to banish it from my life.

The fact is, I equate sickness with inadequacy. I think a lot of people do; I think it’s embedded in our society. We place a lot of value on work. We pity people who can’t work, and we make it hard for them to get the supports they need to survive without working. Even in the current economic climate, people look down on the unemployed, as though it’s some fault of theirs that they can’t find work that doesn’t exist. So when I am sick, I look at the world and feel all the ways in which I am inadequate to it, and may become even more so. I am terrified at the thought of losing this job, of being too ill to make it work. FMLA protections don’t kick in until after 1 year on the job; it could happen. Absenteeism, they could call it, without saying anything else. I wouldn’t even get unemployment. And then I’d have to tell people I’d been fired from a job. “Why?” they would ask. And I would say, “Because I was sick a lot.” And then they’d hire someone else. I wouldn’t even have the dubious privilege of having some kind of chronic illness that might make me eligible for disability benefits.  You might get disability, after a lot of work and doctor visits and red tape, for fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue or lupus. You don’t get it for “I get sick a lot.” And then I’d be a leech on my loved ones, who would be stuck taking care of me. I’d be added pressure on my partner to take a job for the pay rather than because it’s what he wants to do. We might have children, and I might be able to convince myself I was happy staying home to raise them — but what about getting sick then? Being a mother doesn’t really give you the leisure for sick days. I remember vividly the few times my mother was ill enough to take to her bed, when I was a child.

This, then, is my fear: That I am inadequate; that because of factors beyond my control I am simply not good enough to participate in my society. That because of this inadequacy, I will need to rely on others for my support, and diminish their happiness. And because of the workings of the benefits of our State, I wouldn’t even be what is called “a burden to society.” I wouldn’t meet the requirements of being such a burden. I would fall through the gap between being a worker, with pride and purpose, and being caught in the safety net of the State.

(I want to add that in the cognitive dissonance we are all capable of, I don’t think people on permanent disability are a burden to society; I think most people have something to contribute to their community if they were permitted to do so, but the structure of benefits doesn’t really allow for that. I feel inadequate for things that I don’t judge others as inadequate for; my own feelings do not seem to be subject to my own good reason.)

Tomorrow, I’m sure, I’ll be back at work, and in a few days, throwing myself into it to make up for lost time. And in a couple of weeks when my probationary period ends, I’m sure my supervisor will tell me I’m sick too often but won’t threaten me with job loss because of it; frankly, I don’t think my employers are quite that cold-hearted, and frankly, I think I’m too valuable. But this safety hinges only on luck, and luck is a fragile thing on which to pin one’s future.



  1. I don’t know how to respond to this honey. Your fears are very real. I validate them. I got fired for being sick too much, from my dream job, after being there less than a year and being ineligible for medical leave. I am still too sick to work a day job. Yes, I feel worthless because of this.

  2. My fears and concerns eloquently stated! In our society, our very identities are tightly tied to our work. The Protestant work ethic has unintended consequences for how we relate to each other (and ourselves).
    Oh, and kidney infection? Sounds like a terrible month.

  3. I know about subjective self-criticisms all too well, but regardless, I hope you know how very *not* inadequate you are. I have the same fears sometimes, as I’m not “out sick” often, but have a lot of doctor’s appointments and worked at home for so long this past December. I have to remind myself that I’m still good at my job and deserve it. So are you and so do you.

  4. You are not inadequate– never that. You are doing your best (and then some!). We know that, and I sincerely hope your employers know that too. But I hear you on judging oneself more harshly than I judge others– I tend to do that as well.

    It is the system that is inadequate. Wouldn’t our country be better if everyone who wanted to work was able to do work they found meaningful, as they were able? A difficult system to set up, but not, I think, impossible. Guaranteed healthcare alone would make a big difference for many; flexible work options even more so. Reasonable sick day policies (including starting a job with some sick time) would greatly benefit public health– I have the luxury of staying home when I’m sick, resting or working from home as I’m able, and I’m glad my coworkers do too. I’d prefer it if this applied also to my fellow public transit users, staff at restaurants, etc. We’d be much better prepared for the next flu pandemic, if nothing else.

    I am fortunate, for now, to be pretty healthy, but I know that won’t last my entire life (and meanwhile my minor health concerns in the last few years might’ve been major ones, or untreated ones that reduced my quality of life, without insurance), and don’t really understand how the people who constantly vote against a real safety net and real health care for all can ignore this. The notion that people who are ill and/or have disabilities can somehow get better and work a “normal” job full time if they just “try hard enough” is ludicrous.

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