I got my first babysitting job when I was 9 years old. I was paid with a chocolate bar. I got my first real job at 14 working in a small playdough factory. I was paid $7/hr and felt incredibly rich. Since then, I have never not had a job. In university, I had 3 jobs and still made time for my studies, maintained a 3.9 GPA, and was involved in a variety of committees and volunteer organizations.
In 2013, my legs began to ache. They ached to the point that it was hard to walk, I couldn’t sleep, and I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. That year I took my first ever sick leave. I had sunk into a deep depression from the pain, the stress at work, and the ongoing grief of infertility. I was off for about 6 weeks and returned to work a happier and healthier person. I ignored the fibro diagnosis and carried on with my life.
In August 2015, I woke up with a headache. Over the next few weeks, the headache became increasingly more painful and spread into my neck and shoulders. The pain became so unbearable that I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t function. I had never experienced anything like it. I have had a headache since then. It never entirely goes away.
This February, the stress of my career caused me so much physical pain which led to depression and anxiety and I had to take time off work. I planned to take a month to reset my sleep schedule and readjust to living with a headache and wide-spread body pain. It’s now June and I have not returned to work. I will not be returning until September which will be 6 months of not working.
Being at home is lovely. Not having to wake up at a certain time. Being able to lay down when I am fatigued or in severe pain is a life-saver.
But, the guilt.
The gnawing, non-stop guilt of leaving my colleagues to pick up the pieces of what I left behind is very difficult. Every day I think about what I should be doing. I shouldn’t be resting and recovering. I have been working at least 2 jobs, without breaks, for 28 years (not including the 5 years of babysitting I did before that). Being free to do what I need to do to take care of myself feels incredibly foreign and uncomfortable.
I was raised in a society that expects people to have paying jobs, to work hard, to work as much as possible. To be dedicated. To learn to manage stress in the workplace. To balance work and home life without complaint. The fact that I am unable to do that is painful for me. I feel like a failure. I feel like I am abusing the system by using short term disability days, even though I have been paying into it for the last 15 years. I feel like I am supposed to just “suck it up”. That I should be able to get up every day, ignore the pain, go to work, do a really challenging job, ignore the pain, go home and make dinner and tidy up, and ignore the pain. I feel like I am supposed to continue to work more than one job, to run my art business, to write, to draw, to organize fundraisers, and to do volunteer work.
Not being able to do the things I am supposed to do causes me immense guilt and frustration. I don’t know if the guilt will ever go away.