Mental Health Day Guilt

Leslie Knope As I write this, I have just come home after seven hours of enduring nausea and abdominal pain at work. I’m wrapped up in my bathrobe that makes me look like a unicorn, I have just scarfed down some chicken broth, and I’m scanning Tumblr for anything related to the musical Hamilton. Mind you, I have enough sick time accrued for four days, but I just couldn’t bear the idea of leaving early until the pain became unbearable.

I experience enough guilt with calling out at work because I’m physically sick. The idea of calling out because I am too stressed? Too depressed to get out of bed? That’s considered a fake excuse. I’m constantly encouraged to go about my routine as usual and maybe “facing the day will get me in the right headspace.” This also comes from not only school, but also my heavy performance background. If anyone in the cast was absent for more than two rehearsals, they were out. This was even if it was just a chorus member of Annie, Get Your Gun at the community theatre. School and/or work included, that’s at least 10-to-12 hours of putting on a face and saying that you’re OK.

This is meant to make someone analyze how they use their time off, but what really happens is that the guilt sets in and I end up taking no time off. I’ve yet to miss an improv class. I have never wanted to miss a class. There’s so much information that is missed if a single class is skipped. As I am often shy and nervous around new people, I try my best to go to class on my scheduled day. I’ve entered class in a depressive state, grimacing with menstrual cramps, or in a hysterical mess of stress. That’s nothing! I think. Dave Grohl broke his leg during a concert and still finished it! Be Dave Grohl! Heavy metal! Exclamation points!

Halfway through Level Two, I was having one of the worst days mood wise. I had not gotten enough sleep the night before. Work was inundated with a plethora of emails and difficult tasks that had a hard deadline coming up. I had forgotten to pack dinner, and my scheduled pre-order for Which Wich fell through because of construction. And when I finally got out of work, ready to go food searching, I was met with horrible traffic. I raced to Deep Ellum, parked by 6:10 p.m., and shoved quarters into the meter before galloping to AllGood Cafe.

The waitress picked up a menu upon seeing me. “Let me take you to your--”

“I’m getting this to go!” I said, a little too loud as I waved my credit card in the air.

Eighteen minutes later, I snatched the styrofoam box from the waitress’s hands and crossed the street back to the training center. I walked in and the entire class is there, staring at me as I destroyed tortilla chips and a vegetarian sandwich. My eyes were welling up with salty tears, and I was prepared to use any fallen tears as extra seasoning.

“So,” my instructor said, “how is everyone doing?”

“Awful!” I announced. Of course, my cheeks were filled with food, so it sounded like, “awr-fuhr!”

“‘Awful’?” he repeated with a laugh. “Alright, then!”

I probably should have missed that class. I probably could have made it up easily, and that meeting new people wouldn’t be so bad. As they say, “Shoulda, coulda, woulda.” The guilt is stronger than what little rationalization I have in those moments. However, there was a release with the honesty when I admitted that I was anything but “fine.” I had an awful day, and it was acknowledged. No one was trying to make it better.

I hate letting a cold or depression or anxiety get the best of me, and therefore I force myself beyond my limits and pretend it’s just another day. For others, this is a great way to get back on their feet. For me? It’s not so great. I know that, but I don’t do that. So if I look miserable beyond belief, pretend I’m a co-worker that came into the office with a severe cold. Do a stubborn girl a favor and tell me to go home.

KC Ryan is currently a Level Three student at DCH. An office worker by day, she spends her nights writing, improvising, recording podcasts, and having existential crises. She’s a co-host of Parsec Award-nominated podcast Anomaly Supplemental about general sci-fi and fantasy topics. Her greatest achievement so far is convincing her husband to watch Project Runway.