Superwoman crashes and burns, aka sick leave


I’ve often had people ask: “how do you do it?” They are referring to working full time, running a charity, starting one business while running a couple more, volunteering, taking courses, taking care of my kids and husband, and various domestic pursuits as well. Well, I usually reply, “I don’t sleep much.”

Now that’s true. But more of the truth is that I’m one of those people who was born with lots of energy and a big passion for life. If you knew me in my twenties, I did a heck of a lot more than I do now. Attended university while working full-time, and that kind of craziness. However, about ten years ago when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, my husband likes to say I slowed down to an almost normal persons’ pace.

The thing is, I’m used to being a bit tired now, and fighting off infections and that kind of thing, because rheumatism is an immune disease and I’m on immune suppressants. But in the late summer/fall, I got this horrible pain behind my ear and across my face. I’ve been sticking it out and battling my way through it, visiting specialist after specialist, none of which seems to really know what is wrong. The thing with chronic pain is that it starts wearing at you, and attacking your immune system even more. So I’ve been getting virus after virus, infection after infection… And I’m just plain worn out. The constant pain also aggravates my arthritis, so I’ve had a week or so when I couldn’t stand to teach in class. It mentally starts to wear at you too, so I’m less patient and more easily irritated, even with my girls.

Anyway, “superwoman,” as my husband calls me, hit a wall. (Of course I know I’m not superwoman, it’s just a metaphor for perceived invincibility.) The long and short is that I’m exhausted, from the inside out.

My doctor convinced me it was time to take a break and get well. She is right, of course… I won’t get well until I stop running on the hamster wheel. So I did the unthinkable for someone who barely takes a day off, and went on sick leave. I’m off until the end of the semester, and I’m trying to really concentrate on nutrition, pain management, and research to get well.

It’s a hard pill to swallow… I’ve had all these horrible guilty feelings, about leaving my students and not being “professional” enough to stick out the semester. Yet, I know I’m right to take time to get better. And as the doctor said, it’s only going to get worse until I take the time to get well.

The reason I’m posting this isn’t for a pity trip… Or for support, really, as I have that in spades from my family. (Like my awesome mom, who just stayed for 6 days and cleaned my house and folded a couple of loads of laundry before she left!)

It’s more just to debunk the myth of the superwoman. She doesn’t really exist. And if you, yes ladies, I am talking to you, are starting to go downhill, don’t wait several months to address it like I did. Because then you won’t have any choice on the timing at all. As I said to a student recently: “do as I say, not as I do: Take care of yourself.”

7 thoughts on “Superwoman crashes and burns, aka sick leave

  1. Thanks for your post Arnica. I too am struggling with trying to do it all and health issues. Hoping you get some well deserved rest and that your body starts healing itself.

  2. Feel better!!! Chronic pain and fatigue is a difficult hand to be dealt.. doctors were convinced I had RA (blood tests and symptoms showed I did)… but then after 2 bouts of autoimmune meningitis and various other weird issues, they’re convinced it’s something else.. and have thus labelled me ‘undiagnosed autoimmune issues’… as well, my mom has been diagnosed with both RA and Lupus, but have stumped doctors as well.
    Sleep is very very important for people like us.. make sure you get lots and lots of it!!!

    • Thanks Kari. There is part of me that thinks I may also have Lyme, but none of the docs really want to consider it. So, we’ll try it there way! Lol and I sincerely hope their diagnoses and treatment plans are right!

  3. Good for you Arnica. I hit that wall at the end of August and took a medical leave. It takes time to heal so take the time.

  4. Well, I hate to see you like this, but the petty little sister in me, particularly the one who has NEVER been able to keep up with you, is glad to know that you’re human. Get better, don’t feel guilty (there is no point to guilt, it’s a negative emotion. Learn and move on, instead), and take care of yourself and your family first. One of the things I had to accept with my own illnesses and as a teacher was to get over my ego. You’re a wonderful instructor, Nica, but your students will do just fine without you. You’re not irreplaceable, not professionally. You ARE irreplaceable to your family and loved ones, though!

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