Monday, April 17, 2006

Missing Day

Today went missing.

I woke up with a terrible headache. Despite 3 days off over the Easter weekend, I was in no condition to get up for work. My head had ached intermittently all weekend, and my back and head ached especially badly all day Sunday. After going to bed a little late, and taking a couple of Robax for the pain, I awoke to a brutal headache accompanied by a terribly sore neck and upper back. Not wanting to call in sick again, I phoned a colleague and told him I was taking a "flex" day to get some stuff done around the house.

I went back to bed and slept until 3pm.

Quite kindly, my company provides us with 12 "flex" days a year. They're days-off, like vacation days, but can't be carried forward like vacation. So, with my 3 weeks of vacation, I actually have a total of 5 weeks + 2 days vacation every year. How very European! Anyway, these flex days are intended to be used for doctor's appointments and the like, and are a great benefit for folks with busy lives (i.e. everyone), kids, etc. to attend to. They're part of our company's civilized "balanced life" approach to people management.

Somehow I just couldn't call in "sick" after a long weekend. But oddly, when I do call in sick, it is typically on Mondays. Why?

I'm accustomed to waking up with bad headaches. Almost every day, I drag myself out of bed, despite the sedation of Elavil, and the debilitating pain in my head and neck. The analogy I use for people is that of waking up to a hangover every day of your life. A hangover you didn't earn.

But somehow on Mondays, it's harder. On Mondays, the reality of your life with chronic pain hits you like a kick in the stomach. During a weekend off, you're able to pace yourself and adjust your life to the pain, for example, by slowing down, lying down when you need to, or just not doing certain things. Weekends give you the freedom to live your life around the pain, let it dictate what you'll do and when you'll do it. Weekends are flexible.

But on Monday, you're forced to push your pain aside and face the official demands of a Working Life. You wake up to 5 straight days of forcing yourself to function with pain, whether you're able to or not. On Monday, your painful reality comes screeching around the corner and it's tough, physically and emotionally, to face. There's no flexibility to the work week; your work day start at 7am and ends at 6pm, if you're lucky, whether you like it or not. So there's a psychological dimension to Mondays that make them worse. On Monday, you face the loss of control and you need to go out into the world, hurting or not, ready or not, able or not. You have to swim with the other fish, even though your fins are falling off.

So today went missing. I called a colleague, called David, and went back to bed. I slept until 3pm, waking intermittently to intense feelings of guilt. But I just couldn't face the day, nor the pain in my head. I wanted it to go away. I just wanted to go back to sleep and not face it. I wonder, on days like this, if I'm depressed. It sure sounds like it. I think the first thing they ask depressed people is "do you want to sleep all the time?" But I don't feel particularly depressed. At times, I do feel burdened by all of this, but I don't sit around feeling sorry for myself. I do, however, feel overwhelmed a lot. I can't seem to manage a normal life. I'm always behind on things. My "To Do" lists never get done. It is depressing, if not clinically, to never feel accomplishment.

So, on days like this, I escape into sleep. I sleep to escape the physical pain, mostly, and it is so welcome. It's like telling the pain, "ha ha, you can't reach me here." And I also sleep to escape the pressures of a life I can't keep up with. That sounds like depression to me, but the fact is, I feel better once I get it out of my system. It will probably be a month or two before I need to sleep all day again. Before the spiritual and physical exhaustion catch up with me again.

After sleeping all day, you awaken mainly because your body is getting sore from lying in bed. And because you physically can't sleep any more, and your guilt and other emotions keep preventing you from disappearing altogether. I woke up today simply because my brain was so busy going over lists of things to do that I couldn't silence it any longer.

Do I plan to tell my doctor this? No. It's my coping mechanism. Is it healthy? Probably not if I had kids or a family I were neglecting, but luckily, no one notices my absence. David worries, but he understands my need for a missing day. He understands the soul-tiredness, and the fact that I just can't face reality. My colleagues likely don't notice my absence because we work alone a lot of the time, and I rarely miss meetings and always have my work and action-items done.

But I miss the days. I wish I didn't need to take these time-outs. I wish I didn't need to be dead for a day. I wish I didn't have guilt after them. I wish I didn't have to wonder whether I'm depressed, when generally I feel emotionally stable. I wish I didn't have to call in sick, which involves other people and makes them wonder about you. But it's how I cope. I escape into sleep for 16 or 18 hours and it makes my life in pain bearable for another month or two. It somehow recharges me, resets me, restores my defaults, I guess.

And I try to tell myself it's okay. I am not a machine. No one can live with 24/7 pain and expect to be normal and keep up the appearance of normal. This isn't normal, what I feel inside my head. And if anyone lived with what I live with every day, they'd need to sleep 20 hours straight too. But I wonder, still, if it's okay. It seems wrong somehow, to want to sleep and not wake up. But I think it's my body's way of getting some peace, some respite, if only for a few extra hours.


  1. you are not alone in feeling that way. I think that with chronic daily headaches, it does start getting depressing. And you can have a few down days without being depressed.

    Everyone needs a day to sleep, everyone, don't feel bad.
    Hope tomorrow goes a bit better for you!

  2. Like you said, no one can deal with pain all the time. It's draining, and the pain itself is depressing. I don't think it means you're depressed (but you are the best judge of course).

    For me, choosing to cope by shutting down feels different than when I had depression. When you've done everything you can to get rid of the pain, sometimes the only thing left is sleep. To me, that is dealing with it.

    I'm a stay at home mom, and it's hard to have CDH with a family, but I don't know how you do it with a job.

    I hope this weekend is kind to you.