Sick Day Guilt Is Real

Why do we feel guilty for taking care of ourselves?

Photo by on Unsplash

Since sometime in September I’ve been in a constant cycle of being ill. Nothing too serious — a mix of colds, sore throat, migraines and now what feels like the flu.

I tend to be robust, health-wise. If I get ill I can normally fight it off within a day or two.

Lately, that’s not been the case. Or, if I do get rid of whatever is plaguing me, something else simply comes along to replace it.

People tell me it’s normal when you have a child, and I get that — kids are germ factories. But my daughter is just over four months old, a long way off the point at which she will be attending nursery or school, exchanging germs with everyone else. Surely she’s not the reason for my travails.

Or not the direct reason, anyway. Indirectly, the increased stress, worry and sleepless nights that a newborn baby brings probably contribute to being run down and therefore having a weakened immune system.

This all wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t feel so guilty for being ill.

Guilty because when I’m ill I feel useless; less able to help my wife around the house and help with my daughter, guilty because I’m going to spread my germs to them.

And guilty because sometimes it makes me miss work. Since September I’ve missed 7 days due to illness. It might not sound like much but before then I had not missed a day all year.

When I miss work, I feel guilty about that. I worry that, somehow, something catastrophic will happen in my absence or that I’m letting people down.

If I’m having a sick day I generally won’t leave the house even if, say, I need to get something from the shop — even if it’s after 5pm, when my working day would have ended anyway. I worry about somehow bumping into someone from work who will see me out and think I must have been faking it.

This is ludicrous for a couple of reasons: firstly, you don’t necessarily need to quarantine yourself at home just because you’re ill (fresh air can be good for you) and secondly, my office is about an hour away from where I live, and no colleagues live in the same town as me. Nor is there any reason for them to visit it — the odds of me bumping into someone from work are astronomical. But still, the guilt — the worry — is there.

But sometimes you can’t help being ill. Especially this time of year in my part of the world when we’re deep in cold and flu season. That’s what I’d be saying to anyone else feeling what I’m feeling, maybe I should listen to my own advice.

If you work in an office I daresay you’ve suffered from sick day guilt too. Wouldn’t we all be much better off if we allowed ourselves to actually rest on our sick days, instead of worrying?

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David is an author and freelance writer. He has two short story collections available, and his non-fiction work has appeared on The Mighty, WhatCulture, and Just Football, among others.

Navigating parenting with a disability and trying to write a novel. Email:

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