Have a Mental Health Day: 2013 365 Challenge #276

Daughter taking some downtime in the dog bed

Daughter taking some downtime in the dog bed

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.

Son and dog chilling out together

Son and dog chilling out together

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!)

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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: 

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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.

“Claire.”

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.

“Where’s Jeff?”

“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?”

Claire nodded.

“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.

***

17 thoughts on “Have a Mental Health Day: 2013 365 Challenge #276

  1. We’ve used the term ‘mental health day’ to ourselves, for as long as I can remember, maybe 20 years for that day when one just cannot face the day at work and you skip to stay home, or sneak off to go fishing or other relaxing pursuit. By using the term to ourselves, I mean there is no official day, and your boss is not supposed to know the reason for the day off is you could not stand the workplace one more minute. So you call in sick with a *cough,cough* or a stomach bug or some other fake short term illness. This means you cannot go out shopping and lunching in public unless you leave the area,for fear you run in to a coworker who will rat you out. One or so mental health days a year would likely be tolerated at work as long you are not constantly calling in sick with false illnesses. Also, if your job allows a limited number of sick days, you may need to save them for real illness.
    If you do not want to sneak with the fake sick call, then you request a personal day to be deducted from your vacation days, but your boss has the option to refuse approval, and if you are really on the edge mentally that refusal my prompt you to swear at him and get fired. Plus the sick call gives one the psychological boost of guilty pleasure in the tiny bit of revenge of recapturing one day of your year just for you.

    • I certainly remember the secret thrill of taking a day off when I wasn’t completely sick! It’s a long time ago, though. I don’t think Mummies get sick days. Or holiday for that matter! 🙂

  2. The “mental health day” is common amongst University Students in New Zealand, where I live and study/ I really enjoyed reading your reflections, and I encourage you to embrace the concept when you can 😀 You make marriage sound exciting, yet realistic. Exciting for a man like me deep in the “throws of love”.

    I didn’t read your chapter from “Two hundred steps home”, maybe when exams are all over, and after a mental health day or two, I’ll settle down to read one of your books! 😀

    • I’d love to get your views on the last two months’ worth of installments (not all of them, obviously!) as my protagonist has been in NZ for a few weeks. When your studies have finished, obviously. I lived in NZ for a year, so it often features in my writing.
      I’m glad marriage sounds exciting even with all my rants and rambles. I’m certainly enjoying it, and we hit the 7-year-itch this year (well, actually 9 years together so not really). It’s the best thing I ever did, that’s for sure. We went to NZ for our honeymoon! 🙂

      • When I worked in an office, we used the expression to mean that you weren’t really sick, but you were taking a break.I always felt guilty because I felt if I said I was sick (and wasn’t), I would get sick. So I never really enjoyed them anyway.

        About cleaning. I find if I go through a period of extreme duress, as I am now (not to go into it), that cleaning or cleaning out a drawer, makes me feel that at least I am being productive (even if it means that I am avoiding something that really needs being done)

        But no, a “mental health day” was invented many years ago before mental health was even discussed without stigma. And it really meant sneaking a day off.

      • I am feeling more calm for being on top of things, I have to admit. Even having the dishwasher half empty rather than two loads behind has reduced the number of teary tantrums I’ve had today. I just wish I could keep it so orderly. I’m not a natural housewife!
        I hope things improve for you soon x

      • Do I have to start from the beginning to understand the story? I’d certainly be keen to see your written perspective. I’m so glad you chose to come here for your honey moon, It’s such a beautiful place. Where did you go? I live in Dunedin, South Island.

      • You could probably pick up the story, I do try and drop lots of reminders.
        Big grin: I lived in Dunedin for nine months, when I went out travelling in my twenties, a decade ago. I worked at Elm Lodge! It’s a gorgeous city, definitely my home from home.

      • Yay! Dunedin! Nine months are a decent amount of time for a big city like ours, I bet you never ran out of things to do. 😛 It makes me happy to know you can picture where I live. Apparently the world is small…

  3. All my reading of self help and personal growth books has made me more aware of my moods and triggers, which just makes it all the more obvious how insane I am sometimes too! It helps to try and observe yourself from a mental distance if you know what I mean.. and just think, hmm, where did that come from? Or yes, I’m freaking angry right now and I’ll just sit with that for a minute and try not to buy into it, but accept it before I go validating myself or beating myself up for it. I don’t have any other answers, just this morning I shut myself in the pantry for a few seconds and screamed rather loud. It didn’t help a lick. Sometimes the ‘third eye’ awareness makes me feel like I’m reading a novel about my life and it helps a little bit to just watch how it all unfolds, rather than get swept along in the mayhem.

    • Haha I can totally relate to this. I often feel like the protagonist in my own novel. I am also very aware of my own emotions, if not always in control of them. Sometimes I wish my brain would just shut up and give me a break. I’m only human!

  4. We call it sanity time in this house. 😉

    Loved your excerpt but reading your post got me thinking. You know, if doing the blog AND the book is doing your head in you are allowed to step back from all of this and take five. It may feel like a race, heaven knows it does to me (you’ve seen my post being the Tortoise and wanting to give the hair mogodon yes?). But the thing is, your success is defined on your own terms. From where I’m sitting you achieve amazing things. If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to confuse a much needed rest with a failure to achieve. Just remember it’s OK if you miss a post.It won’t make you a bad person. It’s not worth redlining your brain for too long. Trust me on this, I’ve been there,

    As for the knee. Ouch. You have my sympathies about that. I’ve had one all my life, and as of July this year, by cleverly riding my bike into the path of an oncoming vehicle, I’ve achieved a matching set. When it’s painful, I get down so I’m sure it’s the same for you and not being able to exercise can make the malaise worse. It your knee the kind of thing you can ride a bike with? I was pretty ambivalent about riding bikes but now that it’s about the only form of exercise I can do I find I absolutely love it. Sorry a bit of a ramble. Oh and if it’s any help, Michelle is not the only woman who’s shut herself in the pantry and screamed! Phnark! MTM puts hand up timidly, I have done so many times… I also guffaw when I drive fast.

    Cheers

    MTM

    • I always hated riding a bike, as it was my only means of transport as a child and I wasn’t that fit, so would arrive in town five miles away red faced and sweaty. Not great for a teenage girl! I don’t own a bike, because the roads round here scare me, but I have thought I ought to give it a try. I will add it to the list 🙂
      The daily blog has become a personal challenge that I don’t want to quit. Eight years ago I tried to do a mountain hiking challenge called the Three Peaks, climbing the three highest peaks in the UK in 24 hours. My knee gave out and my team mates made me abandon the middle peak against my wishes – I guess because they didn’t want to fail if I was really slow. I’ve always regretted letting them talk me out of my dream, and I’ve never done another challenge since. So now the daily blog/novel has become my personal three peaks: I’ve conquered the first two and have one more to go. I can’t quit now! 🙂
      I’ve shut myself in the utility room and screamed a few times: unlike my sister Michelle I find it helps enormously. At least it’s one less time I yelled at the kids!

  5. Oh I hear you re the bike I felt like that too. I live in a town so it’s easier for me. Also I do weights, nothing serious, just 3 minutes on each machine 3 times a week. It really really helps with stuff like the limper’s dodgy back. Also keep going back to the surgeon regularly -every 4 years or so – because science moves on and although there’s been nothing thay can do for mine for 20 years it looks as if they might be able to do something now….

    Take care anyway and try to take it easy.

    Cheers

    MTM

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