Whenever I decide to call in sick, my brain immediately turns on what I call the Exasperation Filter. This filter colors every email, text message, and Facebook chat from my boss or coworkers with a tint of irritation on their part, stemming from and reinforcing my assumption that I have horribly inconvenienced everyone and therefore everyone must be annoyed with me for not sucking it up and coming in anyway.
Some of this probably comes from the classic Impostor Syndrome, which gives me the sense that I am the only person to ever call in sick without being in the hospital, clinging to life. Never mind that I know that’s not true. Never mind that logically I know my workplace is more caring than that. Never mind that catching whatever has left me unable to do my job would probably inconvenience everyone far more than covering for me for one day. No, the Exasperation Filter adds a layer of guilt and nervousness to every piece of communication on a sick day, which just makes everything worse when I’m already fuzzy-headed and exhausted.
When I caught The Death going around campus (that’s what we all call the annual virus that makes the rounds at the beginning of spring semester) immediately after getting back to work from Christmas break, I tried to push through it. I tried to read students’ papers and direct small group workshops and ask my coworkers how their holidays had been. But pretty soon it was clear I needed rest. So (with the Engineer sitting supportively beside me) I sent out the dreaded sub request. It was a Monday, one of my longest days, so I worried that not all of my hours would get covered and they would be understaffed and the Writing Center would go up in a ball of flame. (The Exasperation Filter comes packaged with the Worst Case Scenario Upgrade.)
Instead, my boss, B., sent me a nice email with a smiley face saying not to worry and to feel better, that they would manage without me. The next day that I did drag myself into work, B. heard me coughing and asked, “How many hours do you have after this?” I told her. “Any classes today?” Yes, I was facilitating one small group. “Go home when you’re done with that,” she said. “You need to get better. We’ll be fine.”
I started to protest, but she said she needed me at 100% when she would be out of the office later that week.
Her genuine concern for my wellbeing made me squirmy, especially knowing I was about to miss quite a bit of work to tour grad schools with the Engineer. My work has always been a wonderfully affirmative place, particularly when I first started after my super-stressful and toxic internship sophomore year. But I worried that as I started preparing to leave, the Writing Center would have no reason to keep being nice to me. I didn’t want to damage any relationships in my last remaining months. So I pointed out that I’d be gone a lot in the next month already, so I didn’t want to miss any more work.
B. tilted her head and looked at me. “All the more reason you should go home and rest. You absolutely need to go with your boyfriend and you should try to get well by then. Those visits are important too.”
Turns out that was the phrase I needed to disable the Exasperation Filter. Now I manually replace it with the B. Filter, forcing myself to read her emails in her actual tone of voice, not the false accusatory tone I’ve never actually heard her use, and reminding myself that she and the rest of the Writing Center actually do want the best for me.
It’s a much more pleasant way to read my emails.