Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The value of "mental health days."

sick flu cartoon adventure time cartoon network

Check out A Call For Sick Days To End Mental Health Stigma over at The Establishment.

Author Katie Klabusich lives with Dysthymia, anxiety and ADHD. She and I seem to have a similar experience, in that we've only recently been able to seek proper medical treatment in our 30's: 
So that’s what I have: a low-grade, persistent depression that rears its head now and again. I don’t really think about it much. I maybe have five to 10 total days a year where I’m affected by this particular issue—it’s hard for me to be precise because I’ve only had treatment for any of this north-of-the-neck stuff for about a year (#ThanksObama) and it’s all affected by life circumstances as well as brain chemistry. That’s part of the fun—mental illness is mostly unpredictable, even if it’s the sort that can be mitigated.
Mental illness often lives in an unpredictable space yes, but the way it continues to inform your decisions in a "what if?" "better be safe than sorry" takes shape in the form of self-diagnosed limitations and worst case scenario planning.

In Klabusich's case, she talks about the struggle of taking a sick day when overwhelmingly exhausted. Like many in the creative field, she finds it very difficult to feel validated in taking time off, and her working freelance makes that even more difficult, since there is no real structure to support that right.

Often with mental illness, it's difficult to describe the physical toll - often akin to a flu or exhaustion - that we deal with.

After I posted about my sick day, supportive comments rolled in across social media. Some from family and friends who deal with illnesses of their own and appreciated my making a point of not just taking a sick day, but describing it as such. It felt warm and validating, like a fuzzy blanket, as I rightfully gave my body a break. 
Then I caught a comment congratulating me for exercising “self care” and was jarred awake. 
Self care—while an extremely important part of activism, working for yourself, and any profession that requires you do emotional work—had nothing to do with my sick day. It felt condescending and incorrect. I had an actual physical response to seeing the words.
Wine is self care. Reading a book is self care. Hiking in nature is self care. A massage is definitely self care.
Me spending the majority of a 48-hour stretch in bed unable to function? That’s not self care. That’s called being sick.
And when you call it self care, you’re downgrading what I’m going through to a level you are comfortable with. Because you aren’t comfortable picturing me with a mental illness. That’s your issue and I don’t appreciate having it projected onto me. I am not here to make you feel comfortable with my illness.

When you mischaracterize what I’m going through for your comfort, you are absolutely invalidating the work I do every day to get well AND asking me to do the additional emotional labor of hiding my illness so you don’t get any of it on you. People who deal with chronic illness, long-term poverty, or both already do a massive amount of that labor to keep things hidden—not necessarily for their own comfort, but for yours. Asking more of them is greedy. So stop it.
Now, lest I be misunderstood . . . yes, OF COURSE, people with chronic conditions need to exercise self care. We should do SO MUCH of it. Like every day. It should be on our calendars like required tasks. 
Here’s the difference: it’s something we should be doing to prevent sick days.
I seem to basically be quoting the entire article. Please see the original.

I struggle with sick days. I have no problem taking them when I'm physically ill. If I have a stomach flue or a throat infection, I feel I'm justified and that I can easily prove my illness.


With mental illness I often feel I need to lie. I say it's a stomach flu or food poisoning. First, my office doesn't have sound HR policies, or anyone at work I feel safe speaking honestly to. There are also very vague sick-day policies. There isn't more generalized language, like "personal day" - which is used in some professions. Second, I'm afraid these things could be used against me. If I take a "mental health" day 6 times a year, well that's 6 times more than someone who isn't mentally ill.

It's difficult. My sensitivity/self-esteem around my mental illness coupled with my shitty work experiences still leave me worried about being fired. Which then plays into my fears regarding my ability to take care of myself.

Klabusich's article proudly says how hard it is, but that she's taking care of herself, and that's to be commended. I agree. I just don't feel the HR policies are in place to assist that, and that work-culture still has a long way to go.

It's added work. It's taking care of yourself, plus navigating a system that doesn't take you and what you need into consideration.

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