Thoughts on “Pushing Through” when Sick

Getting sick sucks. There’s this whole dance of how sick is “sick enough” to warrant calling out of work, or dragging yourself to the doctor’s office. And it can hit you from nowhere, or at least that’s how many of my illnesses hit me. One moment I’m moseying about happily, and then next thing I know I’m huddled under 10 blankets, trying to muster the strength to open my Nyquil bottle.

This is what happened to me in the wee hours of the morning yesterday. I woke up to a wave of nausea, that I promptly decided to ignore. I have acid reflux, so this kind of thing happens to me often enough. After some time of uncomfortable tossing and turning, I frustratedly got out of bed to take some tums. The tums did nothing, and my stomach got more and more upset, and stayed that way for hours. And for a long time, I was still planning on going to work through it all. I was beyond exhausted, but way too nauseated to slept.

As I was sitting there, unable to do anything other than lie down with my eyes closed and whimper pathetically occasionally, I thought about how to get to work, I’d have to drag myself out of bed, get dressed, go wait out in the cold, get on a bus for twenty minutes, then walk a mile to my place of employment. And there was a zero percent chance of me doing that much without vomiting.

All of the sudden, I realized something. I work a part time temp job. Why the hell was I going to put myself through that?

The obvious answer is of course, because that’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to drag our poor sickly bodies in so our bosses can see how sick we are and hopefully send us home because we’re in no shape for work. We still get the day off and we seem so hardworking. Well, that, and some of us don’t really have the luxury of sick days. Even as I realized that there was no way I’d make it to work, I was wincing, thinking about the money I’d lose. It has to be right around the holidays too, when my wallet’s already dangerously low on cash.

But even when we do have enough money to warrant taking a day off, there’s a weird pressure to not take sick days, regardless of how sick you are. I dread calling out of work. I naturally have a lot of phone anxiety and so calling my boss and telling them something they don’t want to hear is really not high on my priority list. What makes it worse is when you have a pushy boss, or it’s just a really inopportune time to get sick. Sometimes you can be guilted into coming in when you really, really shouldn’t.

When you think about it, how much can be accomplished like that? For me personally, I’m in a position where I need to be in one place for several hours by myself. If I need to go elsewhere, I have to try and find someone to cover my spot. Not really ideal for a person with overwhelming bouts of nausea. But people do that all the time. We go to work when we’re way too unwell because we can’t afford to call out, or we feel like we need to go to work. We proceed to do shoddy work because we’re sick and we go home to immediately collapse on our bed. In the end, everyone kinda loses.

I’m not sure how we stop this cycle. We glorify pushing through the pain and sickness to do the work no matter what. We’re taught that the right thing to do is to persevere and put yourself and your health second for your work. This is true all over the board, whether you love or hate your job, whether you’re part time or full time, whether you work at McDonald’s or Google. And I get it, I do. Hard work is important. It is important to have drive, to try your best. But to do your best, you need to take care of yourself. Being kind to yourself, and resting when you need to is how you do your best.

What I’ve remembered throughout this is that if I am dramatically ill (which is generally the only type of sick I get) and I can afford to call out, I need to let go of that little voice telling me to go anyways. She’s not helping me. From now on, I want to remember that to do my best, I need to feel my best, and my best is definitely not when I’m so weak and tired that the thought of watching Netflix is exhausting. It’s ok to say no, and it’s ok to put my health first. Getting sick sucks, but I am done worrying about going to work when I clearly can’t handle it.

How do you handle taking care of yourself when you’re sick? Let us know in the comments below!