Taking Mental Health Sick Days

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I haven’t had one of those days where I physically think about admitting myself into a mental hospital in months. Months and months.

You know the sort of day I’m talking about. The sort of day where it feels like anything, anything in the world must be better than living your life. The sort of day where there is constant bad butterflies in your belly, where you’re either crying hysterically but can’t actually pinpoint why or you’re staring in silence at the wall, because you can’t quite bring yourself to do anything else.

You don’t have the energy to turn on the TV, you can’t even be bothered to refresh Instagram for the 27th time today, you just want to stop being a person. It’s not entirely like you want to kill yourself, you just don’t want to live your life. You’d like to switch off, take some time out and have somebody else live as you for a bit so that you can have time to recharge, recoup and hibernate and go back to your life when it’s a bit easier, a bit sunnier.

So yeah, I haven’t had one of those days in quite some time. But then again I’ve had a massive lifestyle overhaul in the past 6 months and maybe that goes to proving to some extent that depression and anxiety and everything in-between isn’t just down to chemicals in your brain. Or that if it is, the lack of happy chemicals in your brain is down to the 2015 lifestyle, the early mornings, the late nights, the 40-hour working weeks – that the horrible rise in mental illness is down to society and the way we’re expected to live.

Before I made myself my own boss and cut down my working week to about 25 hours a week (I won’t lie and tell you I do 9-5 every day because I don’t – some days I do two hours work and then go to the gym and play Theme Hospital and do stacks of ironing and take myself off to B&Q to buy cactuses and furniture paint), I hated taking sick days.

I’d come into work armed with Lemsips and tissues and people would tell me to go home and I’d battle on because guys, it’s just a cold, I’m fine. But other days I’d come in feeling like a 5 per cent version of myself. I’d be silent, I wouldn’t eat, just cradle tea as if it were a baby kitten. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate, I’d just stare at my screen and forget what I was doing approximately every 14 seconds. I’d feel nauseous, I’d feel on the brink of tears, I’d feel hollow and empty. Those were the days I shouldn’t have been at work, those are the days when I really should have been at home in bed feeling sorry for myself.

It’s hard to feel sympathy for something you can’t see. It’s probably the reason I rarely feel sorry for people with period pains even though I know when I get them I feel like my womb literally might just drop onto the floor at any given moment in a nice splatter of blood and mucus. But it’s hard to say ‘you should go home’ or ‘poor you – is there anything I can do?’ for an invisible illness, especially one which can’t be confirmed by tests or from a rash or blocked nose or loss of voice.

I also hate the word ‘depression’. Oh hey there you boss, I’m not coming in today because of my depression. Imagine saying that, like what? I once took five days off work because it all got too much and I went to the doctor and he said he’d happily sign me off for longer, but I didn’t want longer. Sure, I probably needed longer but I was too scared that I’d lose my career, my everything in London, if I was gone too long from my job. So I took off five days to eat Pop Tarts and crumpets (it’s all I could bring myself to cook) and paint a picture of dark swirls and nothingness.

The thing with depression, and I’m sure with a lot of mental health illnesses, is that yeah, you could probably do with a few months off work, but that isn’t realistic – so you could just get by with the odd day off every few weeks. The odd day when you wake up and the day is grey and bleak and you feel like you might actually fall into tiny pieces if you try and brave transport or strangers or every day life. Sometimes you just need a day to try and clear yourself of all the hazy mentalness in your head, but it feels as though if you ring into work and say that, then you’re a wimp. That you’re weak, that you’re a rubbish employee not committed to your job, that maybe you’re making it up because you’re lazy.

You become obsessed with the idea of people thinking bad of you. But more than anything you hate the idea that people won’t believe you because maybe you’re not mentally ill, maybe you are just making the whole thing up in your head. Maybe this is how everyone else feels but everyone else is stronger and you’re just weak and pathetic and need to man the fuck up.

Everyone’s version of depression is slightly different because everyone’s mind is slightly different, but it is real and it is painful. I remember once sobbing down the phone to my friend telling her that I wished I had cancer instead because then people would pity me, people would help me, people would understand and people would believe that I was really ill.

Depression is not just feeling sad. Depression is all-consuming – when you’re in the grips of it it can take over everything and stop you being a functioning person entirely. So we have to allow ourselves, as with any physical illness, time to recover. We have to admit when we’re not suffering from some tiny minor ailment and when we’re battling something that deserves attention, needs treatment and needs bed rest.

We have to change this idea that anyone suffering from depression is either about to jump off a multi-storey car park or is just throwing the word around because they’re having a bad day. Depression is real, and it is scary and it is extremely hard to heal from. So let’s do it, let’s try our hardest to cut ourselves some slack, to tell ouselves it’s OK – but more than anything, let’s stop second-guessing how other people feel inside their own heads and let’s be kind to each other, always.

 


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