I made a mistake today. I have a cold, and in an effort not to seem anything but “normal”, I went back to work as soon as my fever ebbed. I’d had it for several days already, so I wasn’t contagious anymore. And normal people never take much time off for a head cold, do they?
Problem is, my condition complicates things. A cold that lays a healthy person low for three days can take me out for three weeks. If my head still feels like it’s about to roll off my neck, my throat still hurts, and my blood sugars are still out of whack, it’s not the time to push myself back to work.
Feeling this way is not just for (contagious) sick days. A few weeks ago, I found myself dealing with what turned out to be an expired vial of insulin. It happens, but sometimes it takes a while to figure out since it’s so rare. While I struggled with high blood sugars that just would not come down, I wanted to go home from work early, but I didn’t because it felt like failure.
Why do I feel this way?
This is the first time I have taken unexpected sick leave in the eight months I’ve been on this project, and as far as I know, neither client nor boss has a problem with me teleworking. When I try to unravel it, it sounds like the patient’s version of something called “imposter syndrome.” It’s that feeling you get when you doubt your abilities and start to feel like a fraud for even trying to do whatever you are attempting. For anything else, my “fake it ‘til you make it” instincts would kick in. Instead, I start to compare myself to everyone else in the office, and while plenty telework more than I do, my internal monologue starts to whisper that their reasons are more legitimate than mine, and that I don’t deserve more time at home unless it’s totally unavoidable, like a doctor’s appointment. Apparently, my unforgiving internal monologue does not think that diabetes factors that exacerbate illness are legitimate.
The best and the worst thing about having an invisible condition is that you can play at being “normal”, or at least healthy. Every time I hear “But you don’t look sick” reinforces the idea that I can “pass” for healthy. It’s a great feeling when someone sees me as nothing more or less than how I wish to be seen. It also makes it harder and harder to make appropriate accommodations for myself when I need to, which can be dangerous.
One would think I would know all of this by now, and one would be right. I know it in my head. It’s my emotions that can’t keep up. Sometimes I go so long feeling how what I imagine a healthy person feels, I will deceive myself into thinking my body is just like everybody else’s so I can hold onto that. And if I can’t let go of my own illusion and I am just like everybody else, then I don’t deserve the accommodations other chronic patients get. When I start to doubt what I need to take care of myself is justified, I become very harsh and self-critical. That’s not productive.
It might be better to consider what I would say to someone else in my situation. Of course they should take the time they need. And if they should, so should I.