Sickness, Shame, and Self-care
I'm sick. Coughing, snot, fever, chills, the whole shebang. As a wellness wonk, I would argue that being sick and not being able to move my body or feel physically well is the worst of it. However, this bout of the college plague has caused me to realize an entirely new element of sickness - mental health. As I crafted emails for my clients, professors, bosses, and coworkers of how I wouldn't be able to come in for work/class/meetings, I recognized a feeling of both shame and deep-seated guilt.
As I began to unpack these emotions, I grew angry. Why was I feeling guilty for taking care of myself - and others - by staying home? The reality is that in most work environments, exhaustion is a status symbol and productivity is indicative of self-worth. This is definitely true of most college campuses including my own at American University. Luckily, my coworkers and clients are aware of the importance of self-care.
I feel like a lot of people have the same lingering thoughts when calling in sick - Am I actually sick? Am I lying? Could I actually go in to work/class today? We don't think about what would be best for our physical and mental health. Then, we medicate. Dayquil in a water bottle, poppin' advil every hour on the hour. Overmedication is a much bigger problem, but it contributes to a lack of appreciation and understanding of our own bodies.
The human body is amazing. Let me repeat: the human body is amazing. When you're coughing, sneezing, snotting, vomiting, running a fever, etc. your body is attempting to get rid of the bug in your system. Although sometimes symptoms can be extreme and do need medication and some situations do require medical attention, the best thing to do is rest and help your body heal. Sleep, drink water, eat nourishing foods, etc. We never treat our own bodies as we would treat a sick friend. Instead, we drive to push through.
This is a huge societal gap in self-care. Rest, rest, rest. Your body is amazing and will most likely beat a cold just as quickly as your Mucinex or Dayquil, so respect the process, rest, and recognize shame and guilt as misguided. Use the down time to reflect and appreciate how much your body does for you. Drink some tea if it works for you - I'm currently diggin' my honey lemon ginger concoction. Catch up on sleep. Do your best to relax in a culture that doesn't respect this sort of behavior and remind those around you of the importance of self-care.
If you are a leader of a group or organization, I implore you to promote self-care in the group dynamic. An easy example is not shaming sickness and acknowledging that one needs rest. Make respect for personal growth and well-being a priority, and develop a spirit of genuine care through engagement and meaningful conversation. I see the culture slowly shifting, but the pressure of society is there and often functions at the cost of our well-being. So if you're sick, please stay home. Take care of yourself like you would take care of a sick friend, and let your body do its job. Unfortunately, society doesn't always look out for our well-being so someone's got to.