Help me not feel guilty about being sick.
February 7, 2013 3:50 PM   Subscribe

I am home sick. I have about a year of accumulated sick leave. I feel guilty about being home and missing work. Help.

Every time I stay home due to illness I feel so guilty! I have a tenured position and get 21 sick days a year. I usually take less than 10 days a year. No one at work has to cover for me and all my work is caught up; nothing is waiting. Right now, I am recovering and I am very tired, so I stayed home. But I feel an awful foreboding and guilt! It didn't help that my husband just said, doesn't taking time off hurt my job. Geeze, I have been there for 23 years. Help me feel less guilty. When I was a kid, I would hide the fact that I was ill because my parents would get hysterical. I always forced myself to go to school/work when sick, which is now considered a bad thing (it was called "being a trooper" when I did it). But I am an old lady now.
posted by fifilaru to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you go to work sick, you make other people sick and they will all be mad at you. Stay home. Making other people sicks is worse than not getting something done.
posted by bensherman at 3:52 PM on February 7, 2013 [24 favorites]

I felt this way a few days ago. Are you a people pleaser too? Might have something to do with it. But one thing that helped was to remember that everybody gets sick. Sick days are there for a reason. Nobody is going to hold it against you that you took a sick day here or there. It's the people who use MORE than their share of sick days that should be worried.
posted by thorny at 3:52 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid, I would hide the fact that I was ill because my parents would get hysterical.

Well, that would certainly take the fun out of being sick.

Remind yourself that you're a grown-up, that getting sick is normal and okay and even to a certain extent desirable if your body can't get you to slow down any other way and it sounds like your body might appreciate it.

Curl up with some tea and cookies and a warm blanket and enjoy yourself. You're doing everyone a favor by not spreading germs, especially people with compromised immune systems, and there's nothing wrong with taking a sick day.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:54 PM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I'm a lot like you. I seldom missed work, I went in sick, somewhere there is a script that told me that I couldn't take care of myself. I regret that I didn't correct that LONG ago...

Stay home, you are worth taking care of...and, perhaps let this be the impetus to consider working with someone to explore the reasons that you feel this way and eventually take this pressure off yourself.

And, your husband isn't helping, he's supporting that script.
posted by HuronBob at 3:56 PM on February 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

At my age (ahem) (okay, I'm 46), "being a trooper" means that I will prolong the cold/flu/whatever for a week or two longer because I am not getting adequate rest. You are not abusing the sick days; you are using them appropriately. Tell your husband not to stress you out (that won't help you get well). Tell him to bring you a nice cup of tea instead.
posted by tuesdayschild at 3:56 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll bet you'd feel guiltier if you made other people sick and caused them to have to miss work. If you continued to work while ill and sickened two people who subsequently had to take sick days, you would cause plenty of problems. Let's go further and decide what would happen if the two hypothetical people made an additional two people sick, and one of those people carried their illness to someone with a compromised immune system. We're up to 5 people now, and one who can scarcely afford to be ill. Staying home is the right thing to do. Don't feel guilty. Focus on getting yourself better. Stressing out won't help, and might impede your recovery.
posted by wolfgirl at 3:57 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am also tenured. In 17 years as a professor I can count the # of missed classes (for any reason) on 1 hand---I tell my students that---they are not impressed. So, when I had to cancel classes one day last year because of a kidney stone attack and a trip to the ER, I still felt "guilty". But after exploring my feelings more honestly, it wasn't about guilt at all. It was about control. It is something I am constantly working on but it is tough.So that is something to think about--particularly since you mention "an awful sense of foreboding" you are worried that your workplace will collapse without you.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 4:00 PM on February 7, 2013 [11 favorites]

If you go to work sick, you make other people sick and they will all be mad at you. Stay home. Making other people sicks is worse than not getting something done.

Also, some people might not be as healthy as you or might have a compromised immune system or live with someone who does. Babies and elderly people are especially vulnerable. It's likely that one of your coworkers or clients or whoever either has a new baby or takes care of an elderly relative. It's good to stay home.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:06 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Why would your husband say that? He might need to work on his bedside manner.

You need to use the sick days to get well and not spread your illness around. You were given sick days for this purpose, not to make more people sick with you ill-placed guilt.
posted by amanda at 4:12 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was like you when I was at my first job teaching Catholic school. The only difference was that if I called out sick, Sister Principal would try to coax me to come in - good old Catholic guilt! And if I didn't come in, they didn't get subs, so another teacher would have to teach their class and my class (and I had to do the same if they were sick). I barely used a sick day, and yes, I ran myself ragged. Then the school I worked for closed and I had 70 sick days that I had never used, that I had earned as part of my yearly contracts. I went to see the Pastor about getting some kind of reimbursement for not using those days and I was pretty much laughed at. It felt pretty bad.

So imagine my surprise when I came to teach public school and discovered that when I retire I can sell back my unused sick days (up to 125) and get $100 a day for them! Wow. Someone respected my time and was going to honor their contract to pay me for it. It felt really good.

What I learned was this:
Your 21 sick days a year are already accounted for as part of your yearly contract. Your employer might say, "Ok, we pay fifilaru $100 a day. So, if we give her 21 sick days, then we can subtract $2100 a year from her annual salary." Sick days are a great benefit, but don't think they come out of nowhere. You've been given them as part of a contractual agreement. They expect you to use them. And geez, 21 of them? - they really expect you to use them!

You've earned those sick days - take them- especially if you don't have a buyback incentive where you work.

Also, nthing everyone else about getting others sick. Some idiot pushed through his day yesterday instead of going home and now my throat is raw and I've got a harsh cough. Grrrr.
posted by NoraCharles at 4:28 PM on February 7, 2013 [12 favorites]

When you don't use your sick days, you help create a culture where people are expected not to use their sick days. (I work in a place where no one takes vacation; I haven't taken an actual vacation where I took a whole week off since 2007.) I am familiar with many places where the official, spoken rule is "don't work sick" but the unspoken rule is "conceal how sick you are and work anyway because we have a culture where missing work is viewed as incompetent and disloyal and makes you vulnerable". By using your sick days appropriately, you are reminding your employer that good, competent employees still get sick and need time to rest. If you are a senior person, you are setting an example for more junior people who are under more pressure to work-work-work but who none the less get sick too.
posted by Frowner at 4:39 PM on February 7, 2013 [15 favorites]

Perhaps your husband works somewhere that is more punitive about calling in sick? In most of my jobs you get 14 sick days, but if you call in sick on 3 separate occasions you get a verbal warning, the next time you call in sick you get a written warning and go on an "attendance program." So maybe that's where he's coming from.
My parents would always freak out when I got sick, I guess because it was more work for them, more worries, one of them would have to stay home etc... So what helps me now is to remember that my being sick is not inconveniencing anyone, that this is a different situation. Then decide to really pamper myself in my illness.
Hope you feel better and hope you don't rush back to work!
posted by SyraCarol at 4:54 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Would it help to frame it this way: What would you tell a coworker (or even just a friend) in the same situation? Would you think they should feel guilty or would you tell them they should take their time resting and recovering and not feel guilty about it?
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:58 PM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I get work related guilt and anxiety like this. My new strategy is to make intentions / guidelines / work boundaries for myself ("leave at 5:30" or "don't go to work when I'm sick enough to sleep during the day" would be examples) and then to welcome the inevitable guilt / foreboding / anxiety. I've decided to assume that experiencing this discomfort is the price I pay for it to go away, like I'm paying the dues I must pay to reach a promised land where anxiety doesn't make decisions for me. I have made up the idea that it's cumulative, so when I feel anxiety about things I know are reasonable, I feel happy, like "oh good, an opportunity to earn some credit hours towards a degree in Not Letting Anxiety Run My Life." Maybe this viewpoint will appeal to your work ethic? :)
posted by salvia at 6:17 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I imagine finding some really good tv to watch wil help you feel better :-)
posted by bq at 8:04 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you afraid that work can't go on without you...or that it will?

Someday it will have to.
posted by trinity8-director at 8:05 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's one to ease the guilt - take a sick day for all of us who, when we try to call in sick (even unpaid!) we are told to come in, or don't ever come in again.
posted by notsnot at 9:18 PM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

See this recent thread. There is a nontrivial percentage of the world that earnestly believes that going in to work sick makes you a bad person. There is nothing admirable about it. You are exposing other people to your germs, and lots of people are much less able to fight off those germs than you are.
posted by town of cats at 9:23 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Part of it is simple math. If you're home sick, yes, you are not working, but you are not infecting those around you. It's the latter part which adds up. I work in a small office and I've seen one hero take out the half the office. I've personally sent people home, even when it wasn't my direct responsibility, because it's better for everyone.

And if anyone in your work environment takes immunosuppressant drugs, you're doing them a favor.
posted by plinth at 3:47 AM on February 8, 2013

If it's any help, when I read what your husband said, my nose crinkled up and I said something that sounded like, "Uffp." My brow has yet to un-furrow itself but writing this down is helping.
posted by chrillsicka at 4:19 AM on February 8, 2013

I'm sitting at work with a mild sore throat and a slight headache thinking that I'd much rather be home. I have several weeks of sick time accumulated, rarely use it, this thread has convinced me to go home. Thank you. I hope you feel better soon.

Another thing: if you drive to work, driving while sick is not good. Your reflexes are not as fast and your attention is not as focused. I know from experience, got into an accident once when I was driving while sick.
posted by mareli at 6:27 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

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