The Sick Leave I Didn't Know I Needed

Sometimes the last thing you'd expect is exactly what you need.

Read this post on the blog, or keep scrolling.

If you're wondering where I've been for the last...however long it's been, I've been on sick leave from my job. Surprise!

While I wanted to share this with you before it happened, I honestly couldn't find the right words. Now that my sick leave has ended, I feel more prepared to talk about everything. So here we go.

When Someone You Love Is Sick

I haven't shared this anywhere online, but back in July, my brother got sick and it pretty much instantly broke me. Not to bore you with the (very complex) medical details but my brother ended up being diagnosed with an incredibly rare disease, like actually one in a million rare. My brother went from being the healthiest person I know to spending three weeks in a hospital literally overnight.

To say it shook me to my core would be an understatement. The good news is that he is responding well to treatment (there is no cure), and is finally getting back to his 'normal' routine after three months of constant tests, treatments and chaos.

My brother's condition propelled me into a depression, the likes of which I have never before experienced. I have dealt with Seasonal Affective Disorder the last two winters, so I wasn't entirely unfamiliar with the onset of my symptoms. I just hadn't felt anything so intensely to the point where I knew I needed to make a change or things would have quickly deteriorated.

I Needed a Break

The intensity of my emotional state and how it was affecting my day-to-day life led me to seek out therapy for the first time. From there, I saw a psychiatrist who recommended a one-month sick leave from my job, to help give me some space to heal.

I didn't know how much I needed this time off until the first day of my leave.

This depression manifested with the following symptoms: problems sleeping, weight gain, fluctuating/non-existent appetite, feelings of hopelessness, lack of energy, and concentration and cognitive problems.

As you can imagine, all of these things made my day job much more difficult. My brother's condition, coupled with an increased and unrelenting workload because of the pandemic pushed me to my breaking point. I knew I couldn't continue the way I had been. But, I couldn't change my brother's situation. The only factor I had any control over was my job.

I work in a unionized environment, where we have access to job-protected sick leave. Despite all of the challenges at work, I could not have been more grateful that I had access to something like this. It is a privilege to be able to take time off work, still be paid, and know you have a job to return to. I absolutely do not take that for granted.

So, here I was, four weeks ago, about to take the longest break from work or school I had taken in my adult life, since I started university.

Did I feel pressure to accomplish a lot during this time? Yep.

How much did I actually accomplish? Like 10% of the stuff on my list.

Week 1: Cautiously Ambitious

When I started my sick leave, I was still in a pretty volatile place emotionally. I spent much of that first week resting, trying to get my brain back so I could continue my part-time online HR program I started a year ago.

It is incredible how much my focus and cognitive capacity has increased from the beginning of my sick leave to the end. At the beginning, I was having problems even reading anything. My brain just couldn't process the information.

Week 2: Create, Create, Create

Into week 2 of my sick leave, my therapist gave me what felt like a pretty incredible task, trying to do one thing a day that brings me joy. I was so genuinely lost that I asked you on Instagram what brings you joy. I honestly could not picture what that was for me, or what joy even felt like anymore.

It was frustrating at first, but I finally managed to put some joy activities into my to-do list. To give you the highlights, I:

  • tried making scrunchies for the first time

  • finally got around to making my own kombucha

  • did my hair and makeup for fun

  • took an afternoon off to nap

  • get really into The Vampire Diaries

With the exception of TVD (which is objectively magnificent), all of my joy activities involved me creating things. I had forgotten how much I like to try things, even if I don't ace them (my scrunchie attempt was less than perfect, but it was still fun).

week 3: I Guess We're Moving?

Week 3 was a doozy. We had just learned that my partner was successful in getting a new job. In a new city. 1400km (870m) away.

I went into overdrive to get our first-ever home ready to sell. I decluttered, organized, painted and staged. It was not particularly relaxing (except for the painting part). But it needed to be done. And it sold! More on that in a future post.

Week 4: Realizing It's Over

I'm finishing up this post on my last real day of sick leave. This week has been a bit of a mixed bag. Since we sold the house, I've had more time on my hands for that pesky 'relaxation', but I've spent most of the week continuing to do a deep declutter to get us ready to start packing for the big move. I've also watched a lot of Vampire Diaries (don't get me started on Season 7. It's too much).

I wish I could say that my one-month sick leave has 'cured' me and gotten me back to a place where I can return to work full-time, but I can't. On the recommendation of my therapist, I will be completing my last weeks at my job before we move doing half days. I was starting to get nervous at the prospect of having to return, knowing that nothing had fundamentally changed about my workload. So it was a weight lifted off my shoulders to know that I would be doing half days. I knew I wouldn't be able to do full 8 hours days without putting myself back in the bad state I was in when I started my leave.

Moving Away and Moving Forward

So, no, my sick leave did not magically cure my depression. But it did remove enough pressure to help me see more clearly about how bad I was feeling and how much I needed a change.

I have had a lot more good days than bad in the last month. But I know mental health is not a linear process. It's more like a rollercoaster with ups and downs punctuated by flat bits.

My brother's condition turned my world upside-down overnight. I know it's cliche, but pretty much everything (my job, my house, my program, this blog), stopped being important the moment I learned he was sick. Nothing else mattered, except figuring out how to move closer to my family.

As luck would have it, I'm getting my wish. My partner accepted a job offer back home and I cannot express how happy I am that I'll get to be closer to my brother.

I hope wherever you are in the world, you're staying safe.

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