When I was in elementary school, I used to win the Perfect Attendance award every year (except for one memorable year when I got the Near Perfect Attendance award for no other reason than that there had been no student with perfect attendance and I suppose I came the closest, having only missed two days…). I honestly don’t know if other schools even had such a thing, but mine did, and I was the one who got it. Not because I wasn’t sick – I was an undiagnosed lactose intolerant for almost twenty years, and we were a big milk-drinking family – but because I was sick so often that I assumed that was how everyone felt. If I’d stayed home every time I had a stomach ache, I would probably be finishing up the eighth grade this year.
I never told my parents about my stomach problems because I didn’t want to complain about something so obviously run of the mill (isn’t a child’s perspective a strange thing?), so I suffered unnecessarily for years. The thing is, that almost daily suffering gave me a high thresh hold for what I could ethically consider a “stay home illness,” and consequently, I almost never missed school. (For the record, you could keep your perfect attendance record if you went into school in the morning and were sent home sick, and that did happen to me my share of times because I was so reluctant to say anything in the morning).
Even on the days when there was plenty of evidence that I deserved to stay home, I always felt guilty doing it. Was I sick enough? Was I exaggerating the symptoms? Could I tough it out for at least a few hours? Often by the time my parents came upstairs to see why I wasn’t following my rigid morning routine (I came downstairs dressed, packed up, with bed made every morning within the span of the same few minutes…), I had worked myself into hysterics trying to decide whether or not I was legitimately sick.
This is not an issue that has eased up much for me as I’ve gotten older. Now that I work from home, it’s easier to say, write from bed if I’m not feeling well, but when I was teaching, I would go to great lengths not to miss work and inconvenience my classroom. When I had swine flu, I went to work three of the seven days I was unbearably sick (to be fair, I didn’t know what I had until I had to go to the hospital that third night). And this week, when my diet has consisted mainly of Gatorade and apple sauce, I still thought it was necessary to go out for a run to prove that I was doing something (turns out what I was doing was ensuring a long, painful walk back to the car).
Fortunately, over the years, one of my best friends has been trying to break me of this ridiculous anxiety. She is (self-proclaimed) one of the laziest people in existence, and she never, ever goes to work if she feels even a tickle in the back of her throat. She says life is too short and she’s paid too little to suffer like that. Her solution to any illness is curling up in bed with a good book, and she stays there until she’s feeling better or has finished whatever series she’s gotten sucked into…
So for once, I decided to take her advice. I canceled all my appointments, put my computer and my phone away, and crawled under the covers with Discount Armageddon, because really, what better way is there to pass the uncomfortable hours than with frothy urban fantasy? I have to tell you, I think my friend is on to something. I don’t think I looked up for about five hours, and when I finally finished, I actually didn’t feel quite as bad as I had before. I felt sort of…relaxed. Like I wanted the next book in the series to be written already (it’s not). Like maybe I would try one of her other novels if I wasn’t feeling well the next day…and like maybe I had wasted a lot of good sick days…
Find out more about Seanan McGuire here.