My Dad once said to me that faith is believing despite your doubts while Nelson Mandela said:
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
And this has been rattling around in my brain the last two days. Why? Well you see, after writing Saturday’s post, I finally screwed my courage to the mast and emailed it to Dad. He had figured out I was keeping a blog a while ago but I didn’t want him to read it because I was afraid, as I often am, of being open about my feelings. Cue a worried phone call Sunday morning and me in tears on and off all day. We talked about what I could do and what I wanted to do and whether it was time to go and see a Doctor already.
God, even admitting to this in writing feels embarrassing.
Going to the Doctor’s and asking whether I was stressed enough and ill enough to get time off sick felt like weakness. Felt like failure. Scratch that, feels like failure. Present tense.
Just listen to my Jerkbrain: “I’m supposed to be strong enough to cope with this. It’s not like I’ve been that ill. Come on, it’s just a few more months. See, you feel fine now – do some work, just a bit of Cell Tracker. How about that Excel spreadsheet? Now that you’ve got some time, how about you do all those things you haven’t got round to? You could clean your armour, polish your sword collection, fix that pile of clothing you’ve been meaning to mend for months, finish making that medieval shift for next season. Oo, you could hoover your room, hang your swords on the wall, tidy up your dresser, put your speakers up. Food shopping, how about that? Laundry? Dishes? Tidy the living room? Two weeks off is loads of time! No reason you can’t get all that done. You could even get around to visiting all those museums and art galleries in town that you still haven’t been to after living here for two years! Hell, how about a bike ride or a run? Yoga class? Those physio exercises you never do?”
Feelings? Embarrassed. Ashamed. Uncomfortable.
Feels like? Weakness. Failure. Giving up.
Gotta love how my brain just never shuts up. If I was going to diagnose myself, I’d say I suffer from chronic perfectionism. That my brain could use the necessary time off I need to recover slightly as an opportunity to beat me about the head with my massive home to-do list is just wonderful. It’s also what I knew would happen if I did get time off sick, and was one of the reasons I didn’t want to. You know, aside from the major one of feeling ashamed because it shouldn’t be necessary.
So instead I’ve got plans to go and stay with family for a week and to visit friends I haven’t seen in months. Then I’ll have a few more days back here before a follow-up Dr’s appointment and a counselling session, and my intended return to work date. Telling my family and friends was such a relief, even though I felt uncomfortable admitting to what’s going on.
I’ve even told a couple of mates in the lab. That was hard. Saying out loud that I can’t currently do this because it’s making me sick feels awful but such a relief. I have, obviously, informed my supervisors but I’m also debating the merits of emailing a few select people in the lab. My instincts are screaming at me to hide my weakness even though I know my lab folk will be supportive, all because of the stigma surrounding mental health and illness.
Interesting aside was one of those jokey conversations in the lab when Elaine said to me something along the lines of “oh, you don’t strike me as a very emotional person”. To which I responded: “that’s because I do all my crying in private”.
Never a truer word was spoken.
I’m frightened people will see me as weak, when it’s myself that sees me that way. I feel ashamed of being ill enough and stressed enough that I actually need a break. I defend my need for a break on the grounds of “look, I’ve been ill! Read my long list of illnesses!”, where the unspoken word is “physical”, rather than just straight up
admitting saying I’m too stressed out. Look at how I’ve used the word “admitted” in this post, and how it speaks of me feeling like I’ve done something bad that I ought to be ashamed of, when all I’ve done is to make the difficult decision to listen to my body and look after myself before things get even worse. How messed up is it that even making that decision to look after myself is such a difficult one, fraught with such emotion and fear? See how our culture will just about allow you to be physically sick because that’s something you actually can’t help, whereas to be emotionally sick is your own personal failure and inability to suck it up? Good grief, how I wish we didn’t see it that way, that we took mental well-being just as seriously as physical well-being.
As it is, I want to take some time to blog about how I feel about being off sick as a PhD student over the next few weeks. I want to put my story out there because I know I’m not the only one going through this. I want to put it out there because courage is doing the stuff that makes you feel afraid and ashamed, when you know that in an ideal world there would be no cause to feel that way. I want to put it out there, because if I don’t share my story, who will?