Two weeks ago (give or take), my husband caught his annual spring cold. (He struggles with seasonal allergies, but this was a different animal altogether.) I plied him with tea and spicy soup, slept in the guest room for two nights to avoid the germs, and thought I was in the clear.
Last Sunday, I started coughing and sneezing. On Monday, I woke up feeling generally crummy. Yep: I caught the cold. And I still had to force myself to call in sick.
I always feel absurdly guilty taking a sick day if I’m not deathly ill – not battling a stomach bug or the flu or something more serious. This time, even though I felt awful, it really was just a cold. Did I need a sick day? Would my colleagues think I was a total wimp for staying home? Shouldn’t I just get dressed, trudge to the subway, and power through?
I looked at my work calendar. No meetings; no urgent deadlines. I had a dozen or more sick days stockpiled (since I take them so rarely). Plus, it was grey and cold outside. And I knew – and could hear my mother’s voice saying – that I’d get well faster if I stayed home to rest.
So I emailed my boss, turned off my computer, and crawled back into bed. (As J pointed out, my colleagues were probably grateful I didn’t share my germs with the entire office.)
The next day, I felt no better – if anything, a little worse. I debated with myself, called in sick again, and then proceeded to have a minor existential crisis. Could they get along without me at work for a couple of days? (Of course they could.) But if that’s true, is my work really that important? Am I doing anything truly worthwhile? Am I replaceable? Related: what kind of world is it where we have to apologize for taking care of ourselves? Why can’t we just admit it when we’re sick and need a little TLC?
(I do know that paid sick time is a privilege. My husband doesn’t have it, since he does fee-for-service therapy work. Believe me, I’m grateful to have sick days. I just tend to freak out a little bit about taking them.)
Once I decided to call in sick, though, I was able to slow down and take care of myself. I made a spicy chicken curry on Monday night, and chicken enchilada soup (in the Crock-Pot, lest you think I got too ambitious) on Tuesday. I’ve been mainlining tea and water and honey-lemon cough drops. I padded around the apartment wrapped in my robe and leggings, catnapping and reading (and coughing). I spent a couple of evenings curled up on the couch, knitting and watching Mary Tyler Moore.
I talk a lot about self-care and gentleness – but I’m not always good at practicing it on myself. (That’s part of the reason I chose gentle as my word for this year.) I get sick so rarely that I sometimes forget what it’s like to be forced to rest. And – though I could have done without the cough and congestion – I admit that it can be good to slow down, be totally unproductive, and take care of myself.
Last week, self-care looked like listening to my body: hot showers, fruit smoothies, lots of tea, propping myself up on an extra pillow at night (so I could breathe). It looked like stepping back from the to-do list and all the expectations I place on myself. And on Thursday, it looked like a glass of wine and a long chat with a friend after work (those re-entry days always feel extra-long).
This week, I’m easing back into my routine and taking it slow. And trying to remember – again – to be gentle with myself.
Do you struggle with self-care – even when you’re sick?