Gentle reminders for people working through sickness

Sometimes it's okay

Monday, 26 February 2024

First things first:

  1. Listen to your body.
  2. Don’t get other people sick.

I write this article having fallen ill a week ago, home-bound and literally voiceless. I advocate against working while ill and believe people should rest most of the time. I, however, do not quite follow this advice (‘do as I say, not as I do’). If I’m staring at a screen anyway I’d lament any stagnation of my endless to-do list, dwindling into a muttering mass of productivity nihilism. This article is for people of a similar ilk.

Willingly working in a poor state of health should be done for personal benefit: if there is none, don’t do it. If you feel you have to work while ill, that’s a red flag; condolences to anyone with tough living situations or toxic workplaces. Working while sick means we make personal sacrifices, so doing it for ourselves is the only reasonable situation.

1. Accept that your productivity will take a dive.

Energy should be focussed on your health first. Being unwell means the ability to do most things has waned. Don’t do silly things like promise deliverables or anything that’s delivered at your usual capacity.

2. Prioritise your health

Rest and sleep are important. If we don’t let our bodies do what they need, we slow down recovery and lower our capacity to do anything, not just work. Don’t feel guilty for doing the thing we’re primarily meant to be doing, which is recovery. Some days we feel very little was accomplished and that’s fine; our body’s battling away at other things we can’t consciously put effort into, so whether we want or not we still made progress.

3. Reduce as many obligations as possible

Tone down everything in the schedule; push back everything manageable. This includes chores. If the laundry basket is overflowing, it’s okay - you’re not going to be left battling a laundry mech over that sock that’s been missing for three months.

If you happen to be privileged, use it: order food, groceries, laundry services, literally anything that would’ve taken you time otherwise.

The point is that some things have to shift somewhere. There simply just isn’t energy for everything. If you can’t make the time and space for work on top of healing, then pleeeease ditch trying to work, and focus on healing.

4.  Accept help

Further to point 3, this is definitely not the time to try to do everything yourself at your usual capacity. If you are lucky enough to have people around who want to take care of you, LET THEM. Normally people who love us help us anyway regardless of what we’re doing; personally, I feel I owe it to them not to be especially burdensome. We’re both Team ‘Point 2. Prioritise Your Health’, so I avoid making any decisions that would lead to deteriorating health.

Remember: there should be a benefit to working under abnormal health circumstances; if it is not therapeutic or bringing you peace of mind, stop. You need a tolerant, full-health you to deal with stress and hot messes.

Stay well, and don’t let your posture mimic that of a shrimp!