The one question I dread being asked when I take a day off due to my depression is, "so, what's wrong with you?". I go into hospital the next day and feel like I have to make up a fancy physical illness - "yeah I had gastroenteritis and had diarrhoea and vomiting for two days so couldn't come in" or "I suffer with migraines/trigeminal neuralgia and I just couldn't face the bright lights in the hospital". But why should it be that way? Why can people not accept that sometimes you need to take a day off for the good of your mental health?
Mental health can be just as debilitating as physical health, if not more. I would feel really guilty missing a day due to a cold, but when my depression strikes I literally cannot get myself out of bed. Yet when I was filling in an absence form one time, my supervisor just said "oh, just say you had a bad cold or something".
A lot of people will know the sort of day that I'm talking about. It's one of those days when dragging yourself out of bed at 7am seems more onerous than climbing Mount Kilimanjaro; a day when you feel like you'd rather be anyone else but yourself; a day when you don't even have the energy to make a cup of tea - getting the milk out of the fridge is just too hard. You just really would like to go back to sleep and forget that your exist. Heck, hedgehogs have it easy - hibernating for half the year seems like a wonderful option.
I sometimes need to take mental health sick days to recuperate and recharge my batteries for the week ahead. I know that if I didn't take these days I would be about 10% of my normal self - unproductive and demotivated. I wouldn't learn anything and I would probably just sit there all day, staring into space. Sometimes I need days to have 16 hours of sleep and some comfort eating, mixed in with a good dose of Netflix. Yet I feel guilty taking days off for my mental health, and feel that if I told people it was for my depression they would think I was lazy or not committed to medicine. When in fact taking the odd day off here and there actually makes me even more productive and more determined to make a difference in the future.
I'm not promoting taking loads of days off for your mental health - it shouldn't be taken for granted and it should never be used as an excuse. But you will know the days that you really need to stay at home when they hit you - those days off aren't an excuse. Mental illnesses are a genuine reason to have an absence for.
Sometimes you just need a day to prepare yourself for the week ahead. Sometimes you need a couple of days, sometimes a couple of weeks. And that's okay. Mental health and depression are different for every individual and you can't predict the amount of time they will need to recover. It doesn't mean they are lazy, it doesn't mean they are making it up. Depression is a serious illness and this needs to be understood by more employers out there. I'm looking forward to the day that I can ring up work or university and say that it is due to my mental health, rather than making up something physical.
Anything's possible if you've got enough nerve.
- J.K. Rowling
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