Sick Day

“I think I’m coming down with something.”

A phrase that we hear, and might say ourselves, from time to time. You know the feeling; tired, run down, maybe some sneezes and sniffles or a scratchy throat that are the unmistakable hints that you’ve caught something and you’re getting sick.

So what do you do?

If you’re like me, you start loading up on vitamin c and drinking more water. Add in a wonderful brew of garlic, ginger, lemon and honey to help battle the germs. Make sure to rest more and try to take it easy so that my body can fight off the bug that is running rampant inside my normally healthy body. I’m lucky enough to have access to a sauna and that’s always part of my arsenal of wiping out the illness. Take some time off work and get better.  In short, I turn my attention to doing whatever I can to help make myself get better as quickly as I can. It’s what we have been told we should do, need to do, for ourselves and for the most part we do. Even I do, and I’m not great at taking care of myself.

So let’s flip this from physical to mental health.

“I am burned out and done. Just done.”

A phrase – or some variation of that gets said fairly often too. Words that convey the simple fact that things are just too much right now, or that our ability to meet the mental or emotional demands on us are just not up to it. Whether it’s work stress or personal issues, whether it’s the tap out from depression, anxiety, grief, exhaustion or any myriad of mental health issues – chronic or not, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what we do once we have hit that point.

So what do we do? In a perfect world, you would look at what it is that’s the main issue and address it. What do you need, right that moment, to make things better? Then do that. What do you need, long term, to help yourself? Then do that. You would find support or take yourself away from what is causing you stress. You would get help in the form of counselling or medication or therapies that work for you. You would take a day off, maybe a few if you can and take time to get better.

What actually happens though?

We cough and sneeze and call in or email and say we’re sick and stay home. Everyone tells us how much they hope we get better soon and that we should rest and not push ourselves – just take it easy and get better.

 

or….

 

We don’t think we can get out of bed because of the heavy and dark depression or the anxiety that is crippling today or *insert your own version here* but we do it anyways; we get dressed in between panic attacks and sobs that ruin the makeup we’ve already had to re-do twice and we put on clothes that we feel like we can hide inside of. We pull ourselves together and we became masters at faking being “okay” or “fine, just tired” so that we don’t have to try to explain.

Or we don’t get out of bed. We call in or email and say we have a migraine or stomach flu – anything that can be gone in 24 hours so that there won’t be too many questions tomorrow when we do manage to pull ourselves together and make it to the outside world again. We become masters at lying and hiding what is really wrong.

Why? Because making a call and saying “I’m not okay today. I’m not well and it’s not my body that’s the problem.” is not something that we know how to do. It’s also not something that we know how to hear and respond to either. That’s okay though because the only way things will change is if we start changing them after we admit that there is something that needs changing.

So today I did something I never do. Today I called in “sick” and didn’t lie about why. I said I was taking a mental health day and that I was just simply burned out and needed a day to rest and recharge and get my head screwed on straight. You know what? The reply was “good for you, do what you need to.”. Yes, I was nervous about being that honest but I also know that I need to start walking the talk about getting rid of stigma if I really mean it – and I do. Yes, I do realize that I am incredibly lucky that I can do that and that not all of us can. Not everyone has time off available and not everyone works in an environment that you could say those words and not worry about how it will affect your job security. But if you do, and can, please do it when you need to. It’s the only way that taking care of our mental health will start being seen as just as normal and necessary as taking care of our physical health.

The out-going introvert

Introvert. Out-going.

Two words that seem to contradict each other yet I consider myself to be both.
An introvert is generally seen as someone who is shy and tends to keep to themselves; someone who prefers solitude or just their own company over being around others; someone who is usually overwhelmed easily in crowds and large gatherings of people, even people who they would consider friends or family. A pretty standard description and one that fits me perfectly.
Being described as out-going generally means that you are someone who reaches out and connects with others socially, whether it be one on one or in a group setting; someone who’s comfortable in a setting involving many people; someone who seeks out companionship and enjoys interactions with others and even craves it seemingly.

Both very different, but both me…and I think not that uncommon.

Growing up, I was almost debilitatingly shy. Switching schools almost every year did nothing to get me over the fear of being in unfamiliar places and having to meet new people. I remember being physically sick every year for many years on the first day of school. Stopping to throw up as I walked to school because I couldn’t stop my body from reacting to the stress. Racing heart, tunnel vision and frantically trying not to cry (because that would just draw more attention to me when I already felt I stuck out as the new kid). Being afraid to speak up when asked direct questions… never volunteering answers in class because then people would turn attention to me and people would look and listen. Terrified at the dreaded book report time of the school year. I would do anything to get out of it.
I was called a snob, told I was stuck up because I didn’t talk or try to make friends. It wasn’t that I thought I was “better than” like they said… I was scared and shy and had no idea how to join in or to connect.

I went on this way for years. Then something happened. The start of grade 7, I decided that I was going to try to fake it. I reached out one day and found that it was easier than I thought it would be. A comment and a laugh and I had a new friend. And I liked it. I had someone to spend time with and talk and share and laugh. I still coveted my alone time and wanted it – a lot – but I also wanted to be around people. My circle of friends grew slowly. I ended up staying in that school the longest I ever did – 3 years – and I found a comfortable thing develop. I made friends easily. All sorts of friends. This was when the schools were made of very defined “cliques” and found I didn’t really fit in any one in particular. I had friends who I hung out with in science and others in shop class, others that I went for lunch with and smoked in the alley with after school. My closest friends that I spent weekends with roller-skating or going to the mall… I loved it, but I was still shy.

I was always the quiet one in the bunch when new people came in or we met up with others. I would then revert back to “me”. Quiet and shy and timid. But it got easier as time went on to start to open up.
Carrying through as I left that school and life marched on. I found that in new places, jobs, schools, I would take a deep breath and fake it on day one. Try to hide the discomfort and the unease that was clawing at my insides… and it worked.

I even specifically chose a career based on how much it terrified me. When I was 20 years old I decided that public speaking would never be ok with me; so I decided to become a fitness instructor. Not only public speaking but doing it in spandex! Not bad for an introvert with severe body image issues and an eating disorder to match ;). But I did it. Sure I threw up three times before my first practicum class, but I did it… and that set the path for me to keep going.

I’m still usually the quietest one in a group. Although people are usually surprised if I describe myself as shy because that’s not how I tend to present as now. Yet underneath, the constant desire to just sit and be quiet and unobserved is always there. That’s my default. That’s who I am. Not what I am, but who.

Which means… While I have grown to love that closeness and connection with those I call “mine” in my life; my chosen family, my friends, my loves… I still am the happiest sitting and watching and being part of it all but alone and separate and just “me”. I may burst out with a joke or be the giggly centre of attention for a moment but then I retreat again… eventually making a full retreat to solitude and an aloneness that will give me what my introvert spirit needs to restore and recharge. Quiet, solitary time with just me, my Self and I.