We have all experienced the guilt when we are ill. When you have to make that decision to force yourself into work or stay at home and rest.
As a teacher, you know that if you take time off, it means more work for the people at school. Somebody has to cover you and you still have to plan the cover work. For most of us, it is not a decision we take lightly.
A little about me
I had glandular fever when I was at University and ever since, I have been prone to illnesses especially since I started teaching. I look after myself as much as I can and I have found taking Vitamin D tablets have helped after discovering that I had low levels. This year, however, has been a mix of different illnesses which seem to have come out of nowhere. From sinusitis to laryngitis and stomach bugs.
About a month ago, I had laryngitis. I completely lost my voice for the first time since starting teaching. I went to the doctors who advised me to stay off for the rest of the week and rest my voice. However, I didn’t listen as I had GCSE groups who were coming up to their exams. I couldn’t face the idea of me not being there for them, the guilt would have been too much!
Fast forward a month, I have another virus. After talking to the doctor, he explained that because I hadn’t allowed myself to rest, my body had taken longer to heal and because my immune system was low, I had been knocked down by another virus.
In today’s society, the focus is always on what we need to do at work, our never ending to-do lists. We pop pills and painkillers so that we can carry on with what we need to do and we even feel a sense of pride that we are battling on through even though we feel awful. I have heard, “well I haven’t had a day off in x amount of years” so many times as though it is a badge of honour. As if it has anything to do with how capable we are in our role.
In schools we award 100% attendance awards and certificates to both students and staff. I do understand the point, it is important to attend school but why are we celebrating the ability to NOT get ill? As though it is something we have control over?! It seems completely unfair to students and teachers alike. I think of my nephew who has a rare blood condition who, through no fault of his own, has days off, and will never get one of those certificates. Anyway, I digress slightly. My point is that we have accepted this pressure and we don’t question it. As a result, we care more about what other people think and perceptions than truly looking after ourselves.
As I have found out recently, we can force ourselves to go into work and feel that sense of achievement that we are battling on regardless but it will eventually come back to bite us in one form or another. For me, it has been a second virus within the span of a month.
We all know that stress is one of the biggest killers in the world today. Is it any wonder when we have this kind of pressure to constantly do do do??? Do this, do that, whatever you do, don’t do this but make sure you do that. However, we make things worse by how we talk to ourselves and how we prioritise what other people think above what is best for us. Our own thoughts and emotions are so powerful and sometimes, they can make a relatively harmless situation into a nightmare.
I cried today, great big sobs. I felt awful, I wanted to be at school, I wanted to be there for my students but I couldn’t move without cramps and nausea. But I didn’t get stressed and cry because I was ill, I cried because I was worried about what school would think, what colleagues would think, worried that they would somehow judge me.
If I had taken away the worry about perceptions of what others think, I would have tried to sleep, tried to drink some water and maybe relaxed. Instead, I worried, I felt guilt and I thought about all of the negative things people could be saying about me.
If we want to truly practise self-care, we have to look not only at how we eat, drink, exercise etc but how we talk to ourselves. We could blame other people and society for our problems and while it might be true, we can’t change what others think but we can change the conversation we have with ourselves.
Today I am choosing to look after myself. I choose not to worry about what other people may think or how they may judge. I know that I need to rest if I want to be able to do my job well. I know that nobody at school is going to care about my body and my health as much as I do and therefore I have to make looking after my body a priority. After all, my body is the one thing that is guaranteed to be around when I get older, I need to look after it now so that it can look after me then. No other job or being on the planet has that kind of power over my future.
If you have ever felt this way, I urge you to think of yourself first. It is not selfish. You have to be fully well to support others. After all, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Make yourself a priority every day and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for it.