We have a program at work called “Not myself today” that is intended to help people spot signs of mental illness or dysfunction – anything from work-related stress, to more major issues of depression or things like that. Jaunty posters in the elevator encourage us to take time out during the day to step away from screens, to go for a walk, to listen to music, meditate or talk to a friend. We have testimonials on the Staff Web from NMT representatives (Ambassadors) who talk frankly about their own experiences, and encourage us to share ours. The whole point is to show that everyone is suffering to some degree, thanks to Covid, to staff shortages, to the pressure of the modern world. Ignoring that fact, just putting on a brave face and soldiering on doesn’t solve the problem.
So I shouldn’t have a problem with telling my co-workers that I’m on the edge of a breakdown myself, right? I shouldn’t have to remind myself that it’s been almost six months since Mrs Dim had her stroke, that I’ve spent that long worrying about her health, her future, our finances, the mortgage, the kids’ education, the car… I shouldn’t have a problem with telling them that I need some time off, but I do. Because I don’t get paid for time off. Because I only work four days a week anyway, so why would I need more time off? Because my job isn’t hard, it’s not physically demanding, or mentally draining, and I don’t have to bring it home with me. And besides, there’s only three of us to do the job, one of whom is still learning the ropes, and the other ALSO only works a four day week, so if I don’t go in on Friday, there’s only one person to do everything…
There’s always a reason, isn’t there? But last night I was looking at the upcoming days and feeling dread. Every morning was going to start early and there would be things to do immediately, even on the weekend. I would be getting up with the alarm and starting off at once all the way through to next Friday. Then I could have a lie in, if no one arranged anything else for me to do in the meantime. But you know what? We have to get the tires changed on the Mini, and I should have booked a dentist appointment, and I need to see the Chiro again… The thought of having to wait so long for just the possibility of a bit of a break was too much.
So I had a little bit of a breakdown.
Mrs Dim called work this morning and told them I wasn’t going to be in for a couple of days. Of course, she only spoke to the answering machine, so I don’t know what’s actually going on there today, but Mrs Dim keeps telling me that’s not my responsibility. I’m not the boss.
But I still feel terrible for putting the burden on someone else. Yes, I feel better for staying home, and it’s true that my responsibilities for the home mean I have to prioritize my mental health – I’m no good to anyone if I have a full breakdown, after all – but feeling better just means I feel I should be going in to work.
The point is not so much the stigma about mental health preventing me for asking for time off, it’s me being in a precarious work position at 49. My job doesn’t have paid vacation, so time off means less money. The library as a whole is struggling to fill positions, so the auxiliaries who would usually cover vacant positions in my department are already fully employed in other positions for weeks ahead. I can believe in the validity of my need to give myself a break, but there aren’t mechanisms in place to support my department if I do. Again, that’s not supposed to be my problem, but letting go of the idea of my responsibility to the patrons is hard. It’s one more source of stress.
Here I am, collecting my scattered wits at home, trying to find a balance between caring for my wife and letting her care for me. Wondering what’s happening at work, if my absence will actually push anyone to make changes.