It's like my body doesn't want to go back.
January 24, 2013 7:52 AM   Subscribe

I have been on sick leave for the past 10 days due to first the flu, and then some flu-related complications. I am due to go back on Monday and I'm panicking, literally. The thought of going back to work made me burst out crying earlier this morning. I strongly suspect this is less about the flu right now, and more about general unhappiness with my work situation, and anxiety, but I'm a total mess. How do I pull myself together when I only have 72 hours left?

My job is very mentally draining, as well as physically demanding, and I am suddenly not feeling up to it any more. I feel a lot of resentment about having to work long hours, including nights, always under pressure, making life-and-death decisions while sleep-deprived. I'd been doing this for 10+ years, and recently increased my hours for financial reasons. I am very thorough in my work, usually, and I truly give it my best. People used to comment about how enthusiastic I always seem. But now I feel like I have nothing left to give any more. It's like severe burnout, overnight edition.

The flu really tired me out, I feel tired just going from one room to another, or washing the dishes. Now whenever I think about going back to work, I literally want to puke, and/or start crying. Next week, I am supposed to work 8 AM to 7 PM four days out of seven, plus one day mid-week when I'm working 24 hours nonstop. There is no way to reduce my hours next week, or the following week, unless I quit, which is not an option.

What can I do, over the weekend, to physically and mentally prepare myself for this transition? How do I combat the panic? I guess what I need are some mental hacks to calm down and take it one day at a time. But also, I'm torn between taking all the naps I can and forcing myself to exercise. Aren't all those naps only making me weaker?

Any tips/advice greatly appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You say you can't quit, but it sounds like you are pretty unhappy in your job. If you have no intention of ever leaving then your job can feel like a prision you can never escape. Maybe start LOOKING for a new job so that returning to your current one doesn't feel like you're re-entering your lifetime sentence in hell. Give yourself hope that it can be better.

Aside from that:
- make sure you get enough rest each night, eat healthy foods, and stay hydrated as much as possible. I would be hesitant in forcing yourself to exercise just yet as it sounds like you're still battling your flu. Give your body a chance to heal a little longer, would be my advice.
- have "rewards" set up for yourself for when you get home from work. Get a massage, plan a relaxing candle-lit bath for yourself, treat yourself to your favourite meal, ... whatever would work for you to feel like getting through the work day is "worth it".
- start getting up at your normal work time NOW. If your sleeping has been all over the place while you've been out sick your normal sleep pattern is probably way out of whack. If you can start getting that back under control it should help in terms of your energy and awakedness.

That is what I would do... but really, you sound miserable in your job. It sounds like it is time for you to start looking for one that doesn't drain you so much and that won't make you so burnt out.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:04 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you should look down the road a little bit, and start planning on creating a situation where you are able to quit, and transition to a job that is a better fit for you. Knowing that you've set a goal and are working on improving your situation might give you a sense of 'well this is only a chapter, I can get through this to greener grass' rather then letting it overcome you.
posted by Static Vagabond at 8:06 AM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

The thought of going back to work made me burst out crying...

I would have given you the standard motivational advice, had you not mentioned this.

This reaction is not typical of going back to work after a sickness. This is a deeply emotional reaction that may be tied to latent effects from your sickness, or a more consequential impact your job is having on your mental health, undetected.

In either case, you should speak to your MD, therapist, or both.
posted by Kruger5 at 8:18 AM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

You likely panicking (at least in part) because you are totally depleted from illness. This will make you fragile emotionally.

For the next 72 hours, start taking vitamins, 2x daily.

Take a multi + extra C, a B complex, and maybe Iron once per day. Also, extra D.

You've been ill, likely your body is totally depleted. This will make you feel like shit emotionally, it can DEFINITELY cause anxiety.

I wouldn't make any rash decisions about quitting my job until I was feeling better emotionally and physically.

Can you get a massage? Due that. You haven't been moving much for 10, and some body processes rely on muscle movement, so get a massage to help things along.

Look into acupuncture if you go that way.

Take gentle walks outside, especially if you opt against massage.

Make big decisions after you are fully recovered, physically, which will certainly improve your emotional health.

Be well!
posted by jbenben at 8:23 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

From the way you describe your feelings it sounds like you're under some pretty heavy stress right now. Nausea and crying at the thought of working is not normal, and I strongly recommend going to your doctor, explaining all this, and asking if s/he would consider signing you off sick with stress, for a couple of weeks at least.

This gives you time to think a lot on how you want to approach the situation for the future, as well as recover a little more physically - it sounds like you're definitely not up to going back to work at the moment, especially if you are in a caring profession (which I may have gauged wrongly).

An example of the above approach in action: in my first ever full-time job I was bullied by my supervisor so badly that my hair started to fall out and I developed a stutter! I told my doctor about this and he pressed me to take some time off with stress. I was terrified to do it then, but how glad I am now that he pushed me hard enough to make me do it. I took two weeks off - used a few days to catch my breath, and then called the recruitment agencies, told them I'd basically take anything that paid the same, went to a few interviews and got my next job within one week!
posted by greenish at 8:24 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Kruger5 reminds me...

Are or were you on medications for your flu? Are there side effects warnings for this/these drug(s) similar to what you are reporting??

Get someone to "buddy up" with you and advocate for you with your doctor, or at least hold your hand while you check in with your doctor.

You need someone who is on your side who is thinking straight. This is not you right now.

Long story short, I was a mess for two months after a "routine" medical procedure about 2 years ago. Your emotional state sounds familiar. I know now I wasn't thinking clearly because of my physical condition.

I kept calling on the phone and the doctors and nurses kept telling me I was fine. I wasn't. Eventually I got treatment and got better.

You need someone who knows you well to help you over the next few days. Someone who can evaluate your (hopefully improving!) condition and also results of interactions with health professionals - even if you just call a friend on the phone and say, "I was told XYZ by Dr. S. - what do you think?"

And take a few vitamin supplements along the way, as previously mentioned.
posted by jbenben at 8:38 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's not clear whether you have completely depleted your sick leave. If you haven't, then I agree you must see your doctor and get an extension. This might be an anxiety disorder, it might be burnout. But it might also be that you were just very sick for two weeks and that has knocked the stuffing out of you. You may just need another week to fully recover.

Sleep! For heaven's sake, if all you want to do is nap, your body is telling you it needs rest. If you weren't recovering from the complications from the flu I would suggest exercise to combat what could sound like depression, but your body is trying to repair itself so I'd take that as the first and most obvious reason for being tired.

After another week you should be in better shape to assess whether your problem is primarily illness (which hopefully you bounced back from), exhaustion (which may take more than another week) or something more serious that needs a longer term strategy and solution.

On preview: jbenben's advice about finding a friend to act as sounding board and advocate is great.
posted by looli at 8:44 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

You may also have post-flu depression, which may clear up in a few days.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 9:08 AM on January 24, 2013

The flu really tired me out, I feel tired just going from one room to another, or washing the dishes.

This is totally normal. I always take an extra week of slow after a flu just because I am so physically tired. Since you had complications, this might be 2 slow weeks. I say, nap away! This might also make you feel mentally better; when I am exhausted I am always more emotionally labile.

Now whenever I think about going back to work, I literally want to puke, and/or start crying.

I can get you one better: when I was 28 I had a total breakdown panic attack in the middle of family Christmas-- with vomiting and an hour of hysterical crying -- because I was thinking about going back to work after the vacation.

My solution was to examine my sick and vacation time, and allot it out in such a way that I could have small breaks from work-- an afternoon here, a morning there. I gave myself permission to take sick days as emotional health days when I needed them-- acknowledging to myself that I hated my job and so needed this time off, actually made it easier to examine my state and decide if it was really bad enough to take sick time each day. I asked friends to make appointments for coffee, lunch break at a museum, after-work drinks, etc. I told a few work friends about how much I hated it, and that made it easier too-- to commiserate without having to really explain it all. I could force myself to go back there for one day at a time if I knew there was something rewarding happening that day or that I would be understood (a coffee with a friend, or an afternoon off, or even knowing that Susan in accounting would *really* understand what I meant when I said "Today is rough for me."). I know you can't do the breaks or extra time off, but maybe finding something for yourself to look forward to as mini-breaks during work or after work like exercise, go to a special dinner, watch a movie you have wanted to see for a while, etc. would help you find strength for each day.

Then I started seeing a therapist, which helped me see and untangle the huge amount of emotional cues that I ignored during the three years I'd had the job. It didn't go from "awesome" to "OMG I hate this" instantly-- it went slowly and progressed, and I had some culpability in that. It wasn't the most pleasant realization but it helped me examine myself and learn. I also learned I had an anxiety disorder and WOW is medication helpful.

Then I started looking for a new job. When I found it, I now have better coping skills for managing myself and others, so I don't think it will ever become a place I hate/dread.

Good luck. Memail me if you want.
posted by holyrood at 10:50 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I'm in a similar spot I start trying to take control of little things and make small accomplishments. Things like taking a nice shower and doing all of the little hygiene things to make yourself feel good and clean, cleaning around the house, changing sheets, eating well, generally making it feel like I'm getting rid of the sick and being productive (if you are still in the no energy phase then rest, but as you move from that to the oh gods I just don't want tomorrow to come and be closer to having to work phase that's when I kick in my little hacks). It doesn't help so much with the work anxiety part of it, but its at least a good distraction and helps set you up for having everything you need in place. (getting the laundry done and the groceries purchased on the weekend means you can crash after work and not have to worry so much about the little things) If you take your lunch to work, plan out something you really like and make it in advance so you have something to look forward to about work.
posted by Feantari at 11:07 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is what FMLA is for. You say your job involves making life or death decisions, often in a sleep-deprived state. And that's on a good day, apparently. As the saying goes, you must put on your own oxygen mask before taking care of anyone else's... Talk to your doctor and tell him/her how you're feeling, and ask them to take you out on disability for 2-4 weeks more until you are feeling at least physically better. You must listen to what your body is telling you, your body is begging for a break. Give yourself permission in that time to just sleep, maybe go for some walks, don't try to make any major decisions at all. Just rest. You need it. I promise you, no amount of money is worth screwing up your health for. You can figure out money and career decisions later, when you're physically and mentally refreshed.
posted by vignettist at 2:04 PM on January 24, 2013

You likely panicking (at least in part) because you are totally depleted from illness. This will make you fragile emotionally.

posted by j_curiouser at 7:15 PM on January 24, 2013

You are not well; flu is a serious illness and you need recuperation time. I think the naps and rest are what you need. Maybe some mild exercise like walking, especially if you can get some sunshine. I agree with the recommendation to take vitamins and to call your doctor. Make sure you're re-hydrated, not just with water, but also with chicken soup, tea with honey, and juice, to provide electrolytes. If anybody can bring you healthy food and take care of you, that would help a lot.

Deal with the work panic by reminding yourself that you will deal with 1 day at a time. Can you possibly reduce your hours? You may be so ill & tired because of your difficult schedule and your stressful position. If you can catch a comedy or 2 it might help you hold the anxiety at bay.

If your job requires you to make critical decisions that could result in harm, then you may have to real;ly assess your capability, and take time off if you are too exhausted to do it well.
posted by theora55 at 8:18 PM on January 24, 2013

From the OP:
Thanks everyone.
I'm feeling better already, including emotionally. Gave myself permission to not exercise and take a lot of naps, but also made sure to go back to my pre-flu bedtime (thanks for that tip!) and saw a silly movie on DVD, which also helped A LOT. Had chicken soup. Changing sheets, check. Two loads of laundry, check. Will, erm, need to buy some vitamins next time I'm out of the house :)

So true about getting an advocate, my family doc is very supportive and all, but if it weren't for my friends, I would have gone back to work last Monday because of the guilt - they basically gave me their permission to just use that &^%*# leave my doc was almost forcing on me.

Also started thinking a lot about what I really want, career-wise. The problem is not so much with the job itself (although, yeah) but more with the whole working nights thing. I hate working nights, and as long as I stay in my profession, it'll be difficult NOT to work nights. Anyway, this illness made it clear to me that I need to make some decisions - I do not want my work to consume my life. I realized I'm willing to give up some things, lifestyle-wise, if it means never again working nights, ever.

Sorry if this is all disjointed, just wanted to say I've read every response several times and really took it to heart. Some of what y'all have written really hit home.

Stay healthy everyone.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:36 PM on January 26, 2013

I'm so glad to hear that you're feeling better!

I love everything you've talked about. I'm going through a burnout myself, so its really nice and very useful to read through your experience. Thank you for sharing:)
posted by round_four at 7:42 AM on February 26, 2013

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