Jack Bragen
Friday September 13, 2019 - 03:14:00 PM

If mentally ill and working, taking a sick day when not feeling well could be appropriate, or it could be the beginning of the end.

In general, the expectations of most employers are that mental or psychological reasons for taking a sick day are not valid reasons. This is disablist. It does not acknowledge that if you are mentally ill, you might not be up for work on occasion. Mental illnesses in the minds of most employers are not really being sick. They believe that the employee is making excuses to get out of work. However, a flareup of mental illness is just as real and just as valid as influenza.

On the other hand, sometimes taking a sick day can lead to a breach of the basic discipline that allows us to show up for work. If we already have emotional difficulty showing up for a job, taking a sick day could lead to more sick days, and more. Taking a sick day, if work is challenging, might weaken the resolve to hang in there at one's job.

When I was a high school sophomore, I had a habit of taking one day off most weeks, toward the end of that year. I'd ask my mother to write a note, and she would do it. I'd already had a brother who'd been violently attacked by other students. He'd had to quit high school because of that.

High school is a completely different thing than the work world, however. Companies need to be able to rely on employees showing up--or they will be unable to function in business. They may be forced to efficiently eliminate those who can't be there on a daily basis. I've had jobs in which I had no sick days for six months to a year. This suited employers just fine. 

When I contracted Mononucleosis in my twenties, I needed time off because I was physically very sick. I was bedridden for a month. The illness was rough. It took me several years to regain the previous level of physical health. During that time, I was in successive jobs in which I took frequent sick days, and this got me fired. In retrospect, I wasn't totally back to normal following mono. But, at the time, I felt as though I'd blown the jobs and wasn't really that sick. 

If you get up in the morning and you feel that there is no way you're going to be able to fulfill job duties, because you are just not up for it, whether the reason is physical or mental, it might make sense to take a sick day. If you go in and don't feel well, you could show up for work but have bad performance, which works against you in keeping your job. 

I consider writing to be my current job even though I don't earn a steady wage at it. When I have brain fatigue or have some other difficulty, I don't even try to compose. This is not a problem for me, since I love what I do, and there is no lack of hours put in. When self-employed, you can usually make your own hours. 

The problem with being a writer is it doesn't really bring home the bread. Probably ninety-nine percent of published authors must not quit their day job. Being published is a definite feather in the cap, but it usually doesn't pay anything substantial. 

If the reader wants to improve conditions for oneself through employment or self-employment, don't put all your eggs in one basket, especially an unrealistic one. 

Due to age, health problems, mental health problems, and other obligations, it is impracticable for me to show up for work at a regular job. I also wouldn't be able to do something like DoorDash, for numerous reasons. 

However, if the reader is in their twenties or thirties, it is a good time to go to school and either get a degree or get a certificate that will allow earning a decent wage at something. 

In my mid-twenties, following the point where I obtained SSDI, I had a lot of apprehension and/or guilty feelings because I was adjusting to not needing to work to survive. At the time, it took effort to convince myself that this was okay; and I had a legitimate reason for not working. I still would rather have employment in which I could bring in a decent amount of money. However, my values have shifted. The issue is unrelated to liking myself, and, instead I would rather improve my life conditions. 

Employment is usually better than unemployment or partial unemployment. Yet, if the disability, part of which is the effects of medications, prevents competitive work performance, maybe we should give ourselves a break. 


Jack Bragen lives in Martinez, California. He is author of "Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia: A Self-Help Manual" and other titles.