Busting “Sick Day” Myths


Art from Nathanna Érica.

January was the first time in a long time that I was sick sick. Like take-off-work, hole-up-in-the-corner, eat-only-soup kind of sick — which should come as no surprise since almost everyone I know has been hit by sort bug or another since the new year began.

If a friend were to come up to me and say they were feeling ill and considering taking a sick day, I would nearly insist that they did.

That’s what they’re there for!”

“Your health is a priority above your work ALWAYS!” 

“No one wants you to bring your sickness into the office, so go home and take care of yourself!”

I’d say these off without even thinking, believing in them wholeheartedly because, well, they’re true. But despite knowing there is nothing more off-putting than someone showing up to work visibly ill and on the brink of contaminating the entire office, on a Tuesday night in January I found myself Googling at 3am, “how sick should you be to take a sick day?”

It has been a hot minute since I was so sick I even considered taking a day off work. Working as a vendor extends the luxury of getting to work from home, so when need be, I’d curl up onto the sofa and chug away slowly at work while nursing a small cold or stomach bug. But last month, a big one hit. One of those colds that make you want to rip your sinuses out of your skull and that selfishly zaps all your energy so that getting up to brush your teeth feels equivalent to completing a two hour hot yoga class. The Monday before, I could tell something was on the horizon but with the innocent hopefulness of someone who got a flu shot this year, I believed that “little tickle” in the back of my throat would be discouraged by a rush of Emergency and positive thinking.

As you can tell, that innocent naivety was quickly annihilated by DayQuil and Vick’s Vapor Rub tissues (highly recommend!).

Now, I am lucky enough to work for a company that encourages employees to take their sick days. Whether for mental or physical health, maintaining employee wellbeing is a huge priority from the top down. And yet, even though I knew my team would be absolutely fine with me taking a few days to get back on my feet, I still found myself struggling with the decision.

What if people just think I’m being dramatic and not actually sick enough? I have so many commitments that I don’t want to miss out on, maybe I can just drug myself along and push through? 

Oh sweet sick brain, no no no no no. No. Rest, recoup, watch hours of book reviews or Disneyland haul videos and blow into a thousand tissues. That’s what a sick day is for, not this notion of “pushing through” — which I assume either comes from my own desires to be highly productive or society’s invisible expectations for me to be “highly productive.” It’s a toss up.

After all my Googling about sick day eligibility, I finally sent my email asking for the day off, a day that turned into four days as my chest cold held on tightly.

In the weeks since getting back on my feet, I’ve realized the many misconceptions I continue to have about around rest, relaxation, and productivity. Dismantling the idea of productivity being a measure of self-worth or the designator of when one deserves “rest” came up a lot during this time spent on the couch, and in the weeks since, I’ve been making it a priority to listen to my body when it’s first, very politely, trying to communicate with me rather than when it’s screaming in outrage as burnout is knocking on incessantly on its front door. I’m learning rest is allowing your body time to recover, it’s being patient with your progress and not hindering yourself with expectations or even the pressures of being fully functioning before you’re ready. It’s also being on your own team and trusting that your health is worth your full attention. It does not make you lazy or selfish or dramatic to prioritize your health, whether mental or physical, and maybe this is a lesson we can all start learning together.

So should you also find yourself Googling about sick days in the upcoming months, let me put your mind to rest by busting a few sick day myths I personally battled during the memorable chest cold of 2020.

I am not sick enough. 

You’re literally Googling “sick day myths” at 3am, you’re sick enough. But also, there is no such thing as “sick enough” — if you’re feeling unable to show up at work for physical or mental reasons, take the time off! That’s why you have sick days, use them!

People will think I’m not a team player. 

False, everyone gets sick, including you! You’re trustworthy and punctual, traits that also mean  your coworkers and loved ones trust your word and experiences. No one is going to show up at your door demanding you prove your level of sickness so I think it’s time to stop worrying about what anyone else thinks (honestly, they probably aren’t thinking about you beyond “hope they feel better!”) and start tuning into your own experience — like how are you going to combat that 101 degree fever.

I am burdening other people. 

You’ve got people’s back when they’re sick so let them show up the same for you. The work world will not stop spinning should you take time to actually recover. It’s also important to remember, people don’t mind when someone calls in sick, but they 100 percent mind when someone brings their sickness into the office and refuses to take time off, therefore contaminating the rest of the group.

I am being dramatic. 

Dramatic is yelling that the table clothes at your party are white when they should have been pearl. Dramatic is not prioritizing your own health and recovery before your body or brain takes a real nose dive. You’re a human so please let yourself live like one.

2 thoughts on “Busting “Sick Day” Myths

  1. Scott February 14, 2020 / 7:17 am

    Very enjoyable piece, like your father, being in the fire service it is an example of, am I gong to make the “sick” people I tend to even sicker? Did I get this sickness from my sick patients? I could do the job, but will that make me feel poor even longer? I am a believer in rest and no stress will improve my mental and physical wellbeing. Thought provoking piece


Comments are closed.