It was 5:45 in the morning and my iPhone alarm blared below my pillow the same way it has every Tuesday and Wednesday this semester. I hit snooze so as not to disturb my snoring roommate, and I pressed my palms into my closed eyes as I tried to convince myself to face another long day. I had gone to bed a little less than three hours before after a full night of homework, and my body felt heavy with sleep after what was basically a restless nap. So I did something I have never done before — I called in sick, despite a lack of physical symptoms.
I blatantly lied in my email to my boss.
Just before 6:00 a.m. that day, I told him I had a nasty stomach bug and couldn’t make it to the office. I sent my sincerest apologies for my made up flu, and hoped he would write it off as a 24-hour virus when I showed up on time and healthy the next day. Without waiting for a reply of approval, I fell back asleep, then ate cereal in my pajamas, and then spent the day doing homework on the couch.
Then I realized the true severity of my lie — I was willing to disclose a “nasty stomach bug” (with side effects that generally involve expelling bodily fluids), but I was not willing to admit I needed a mental health day. I was more willing to lie than I was to admit that I needed to take a step back. I needed rest for my body and mind and spirit. I needed to put school first. I needed to put myself and my health first. For fear of invalidation, I chose a well-worn route to a sick day that I knew would be believed without raising any eyebrows. I chose to claim an illness with visible, knowable, and outward symptoms. I chose, once again, to hide that I was having a hard time. I chose to keep to myself the fact that a day of rest for my mind was just as meaningful as a day in bed would be to someone suffering from the flu.
The truth of the matter is, I was sick on my sick day, but you may not have noticed — and while this is perfectly OK, it is similarly acceptable for me to feel the realities of my decision to stay home.
We all have some work to do. We have to be able to admit when we need help, when we need to pause, when life is moving too quickly. In a city like D.C., “fast-paced” is the name of the game. Being a journalism major in a school where 96% of students are interning only adds fuel to the fire, as I push myself well beyond reasonable limits with two jobs, a side-gig as a nanny, a staff reporter position for the paper, and a challenging course load just for the sake of proving to myself that I can do it all. This semester has brought incredible writing experiences, along with a lot of life lessons on self care and self help. To be honest, I did way too much, but I had to try and I had to struggle before I learned this lesson on my own terms.
It’s hard to say if I will be able to admit to a future boss that my mental health needs to take priority for a day. I am confident that this will eventually happen, but I hope, too, that someday will also bring a more open, honest, and legitimate tone to conversations of the validity of mental health.