Friday, July 15, 2016

You’re Not Sick Enough: Sick Days and Mental Illness

I may look absolutely fine.

But inside I have a knot in my stomach. My mind is racing with a million different thoughts. Most of them are about how to get to a safe place. I can’t breathe, and the panic is slowly building. I have to get out. I have to get out now.

Calm down, the voice of reason inside my head tells me. You’re okay, you’re just trying to have a panic attack. Now, breathe.

Breathe? That’s something that’s not possible right now. Oh, and did I mention that I’m driving? Yeah, I can’t have a panic attack right now.

I start to try and slow my breathing, telling myself that I need to calm down long enough to pull over. I’m half way to work. The closer I get, the harder it is to breathe. I’m not going to make it there today.

I glance at the clock: 8:20am.

Ten minutes until my shift starts. I shouldn’t be this nervous, my job is simple. I’m a cashier at a resale shop, and half the time I’m just hanging up clothes. So why am I freaking out?

That’s the thing about anxiety. It doesn’t always make sense.

Maybe it was the comment my supervisor made the other day. He probably didn’t even mean for it to sound critical. But I took it to heart, and now I no longer feel comfortable at work.

There it is. The root of my anxiety. Logically, I know I need to go in and go to work. But mentally and physically I can’t. At least, not today.

I’ve pulled over into a parking lot. Trying to breathe. My face is wet with tears, my hands are shaking. I don’t have any tissues (I never seem to have tissues when I need them), but I’m beginning to calm down. I’m letting myself not be okay. I’m letting myself not have to pretend I’m okay and go into work with a smile on my face. I’m giving myself a break.

Now how do I explain that to someone who doesn’t have severe anxiety? How do I explain to my boss that I need to take a sick day because I physically couldn’t come into work today?

I’ve tried. I’ve tried to tell the truth when this happens. Then I get the “talk.” I need to be more reliable, consistent, dependable. They can’t depend on me because I can’t predict that my anxiety won’t show up.

So I lie. I text that I woke up with a cold. A stomach virus. Something physical that they can understand. And when I go into work tomorrow, I’ll explain that it must have been a 24 hour bug.

In reality? This anxiety is something I’m going to have to continue fighting for the rest of my life.

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