I have come across a term recently, on Facebook and Twitter, called mental health day. To me, Mental Health Day is a day in October when we seek to de-stigmatise mental health issues like depression and anxiety. But no, apparently these status updates are referring to a phenomenon that I guess must be a US thing (correct me if I’m wrong, neither hubbie or I have had an office job in some time) which is basically taking a day off to prevent potential mental health issues.
I’m familiar with it as something I’ve done in the past. I’ve even had a boss tell me to take some time off, get some perspective and come back with a better attitude. Whether it’s considered sick or holiday time I’m not sure.
Generally though I think it’s a good thing. In our frantic world, where we are being communicated with 24-7 and the internet means we’re always at work, taking some time to nurture our brain and spirit is essential.
I jokingly told hubbie I was going to take a couple of hours’ mental health time this afternoon, while he took the kids shopping for my birthday gift. I intended to read my book, but I don’t find reading so nurturing anymore as it feels a lot like work. Then hubbie and I had a row about birthday gifts just before he left (a topic for another day) and I spent my first half hour of free time sobbing.
If ever there was a person on the edge of (another) breakdown it’s probably me. I spent my whole life sobbing at the moment and then hating myself for it. Because it’s so thing specific, and because I had a bad experience with them last time, I really don’t want to go back on SSRIs. The knee injury means I can’t do more exercise and lack of funds rules out a spa day. The daily blog means no real downtime, so what to do?
I spent the rest of my two hours cleaning. Usually I do as little cleaning as possible, as it is an exercise in utter futility in our house. I guarantee that, ten mins after kids, hubbie and muddy dog get home, you won’t know why I’m exhausted. But, hopefully, maybe, I’ve cleared as many cobwebs from my mind as from my house.
What would you do on a mental health day? Is it a sickie or genuinely a way of preventing yourself from collapsing from the weight of work? I’m really interested in the idea. I wonder if it’s what we used to call a Duvet Day, back when I worked flexi-time (those were the days!)
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
Claire let the silence of the car wrap around her like a blanket. Now and then she glanced over at Conor, but he always had his attention on the road ahead, following the directions of the SatNav taking them to the hospital in Cambridge. She studied his profile, but wraparound sunglasses concealed his face. He drove with one hand on the top of the wheel and the other on the gear stick. When the tears came again, in fits and starts, he reached across and patted her knee; always removing his hand back to its resting place.
Claire sighed and stared out the window at the familiar landscape. Her head ached from lack of sleep and too many thoughts. The caffeine buzzed around inside her skull like a swarm of flies.
She didn’t remember falling asleep, but she jerked awake as the car stopped and Conor said, in a low voice, “We’re here.”
Rubbing her eyes, Claire peered out the window at the busy car park and felt a shiver run over her skin. Now she had arrived, she wanted to be anyplace but here.
“Do you want me to come in with you?”
Claire turned towards Conor and her stomach lurched at the concern on his face. She nodded.
Conor opened the door and climbed out of the car. Claire noticed that he moved languidly and with an unexpected grace, as if he had all the time in the world. Before she knew it, he was opening her door and offering his hand to help her up.
“You look like some food would be a good idea. Do you want to eat first? I hear hospital food isn’t as bad as it used to be.”
Claire shook her head, feeling her greasy hair sticking to her scalp. “I’d really like a shower.”
“We can probably do that. There are usually facilities for family in big hospitals. Do you want me to ask?”
She was about to agree, when she remembered that she’d thrown all her cosmetics away at the airport. “No, let’s leave it. I’ll shower when I get to my Mum’s.”
The words made her blanch. How was she going to get to her Mum’s house without a car? Public transport didn’t exactly run that way regularly and she doubted it would be running at all on a Sunday evening. Never mind what she would do if she got to her parents’ house and was turned away again.
Swallowing down imminent tears, Claire decided to deal with one thing at a time.
“Is your Mum local? I can drop you there, after, if you like?” Conor’s voice broke through her turmoil like a ray of light.
“No, you’ve done too much already. I’ll manage.”
“Don’t be silly, Claire. You’ve just got back from a long trip away. Let someone help you for a change. You don’t have to do everything by yourself.”
Claire wanted to protest, but she didn’t have the strength.
“Okay, that would be great, thanks. She’s about an hour away, but it’s in the right direction for you to get home.”
Satisfied, Conor led the way into the hospital and over to the reception desk.
Claire felt her knees give way as she approached the drawn blue curtain. Memories of visiting Ruth, of the shock of seeing how ill she looked, ran through her mind and she hesitated. The receptionist had explained that visiting hours would end in twenty minutes. Deep inside, Claire felt relief: she thought she’d be lucky to manage ten.
With trembling fingers she drew aside the curtain and peered round at the bed. Conor stood behind her but had already said he wouldn’t come in. She felt him gently place his hand on the base of her back and guide her forwards. Without the gesture, she thought she might have legged it.
A woman lay on the bed with a drip attached to her arm. Her closed eyes were sunk deep into her face and her cheekbones rose like armour either side of her nose. Claire wondered for a moment if she had been sent to the wrong cubicle. Then the woman’s eyes opened and her face stretched in the shadow of a smile.
The voice whispered across the room and Kim tried to raise her arm, but let it fall back to lie on the covers. Her brow creased, in pain or frustration, and Claire took two steps forward to stand by the bed.
“Don’t move if it hurts.” She reached for the nearest hand and laid hers over it, ignoring the paper-dry skin and the chill of death that seemed to seep into her body through the touch.
“He had to go home. He’s been here for two days.” Kim paused, as if the words were hard to speak. “The nurse told him he was no good to me if he collapsed.”
She closed her eyes briefly, and Claire wondered if she might be sleeping. Her own breathing felt shallow, as the unmistakeable smell of hospitals and sickness invaded her senses. All the words she wanted to say, the questions and apologies, stuck in her throat.
Somewhere a clock ticked away the time until the sound of scraping chairs around them indicated that visiting hours were over. She gently removed her hand, not wanting to wake her friend. As she rose to leave, Kim’s eyes flew open again and her gaze was sharper.
“Must you leave?”
“Will you come back tomorrow?”
She nodded again, unsure how she would get there but not prepared to let Kim worry about that.
“Claire? I’m sorry. For blaming you. For everything.”
“Shhh.” Claire walked back to the bed and dropped down to her haunches, so she could talk directly to her friend. “You get better, get out of here and home with Jeff. Everything will be okay. There will be another baby, another job, you’ll see.”
Kim’s face crumpled. “No more babies. The doctors said I couldn’t have any more. That was why…” She scrunched her eyes shut and Claire forgot to breathe. “I know now, that the miscarriage was nothing to do with the wedding or anything. I couldn’t understand before, but I’m clearer now. I wasn’t meant to have babies, that’s all.” She tried to smile and the sight wrenched at Claire’s heart.
“We’ll find a way, Kim. You stay with the people who love you, and we’ll find a way.”
With a squeeze of her friend’s hand she fled from the bay.