Like a screen door on a submarine


I took my first ‘official’ day off from work. It would have felt great.  But I was sick. Legit sick.  It was gross.  I was supposed to be having a delightful weekend at the lake w/ my family–my parents had flown in from the north, my sister had driven in from the east, and I had wandered south.

Instead: I got sick. Who doesn’t hate getting sick?  I’ve never met anyone who started coming down with a cold and went “YEESSSS, I CANNOT WAIT TO FEEL EVEN WORSE!!!” I knew it when I woke up that day. My throat was burning, I was running a slight fever, and my face was filling up. Fast. My first day off and I was a hot mess.

So, you’re thinking: “duh–that’s what sick days are for, being sick dummy.”  You’re oh-so-correct.  But I have to say, one of the things I had looked forward to for WEEKS was knowing that I was going to take a long weekend and spend it doing fun things like kayaking with my sister.  Perhaps my excitement was pre-mature since I haven’t actually had any ‘sick’ days in a bank in four years.  I was like a child the night before Christmas.  I was REAL excited.

Instead, my excitement turned into a glazed over look.  The next morning, my mom announced that she wanted to go hike some mountain to stare at some waterfall and I looked at her and told her there was no way I was in any kind of shape for hiking–literally or figuratively.  My head felt large and in charge, my throat was still burning, and I had slept terribly from my head cold’s ability to move all the junk from side to site but never being able to breathe.

I won: there was no hiking.  My dad chimed in after my first ‘call to surrender’ that he didn’t really want to hike either, he didn’t feel like it.  I told him, “you’re welcome” and he laughed at me.

Now, I wasn’t all gloom and doom and yes, I handle colds with the best of them, but hiking a mountain in search of a waterfall seemed like more effort than I wanted to exert.  Instead, we kayaked, canoed, fished, and I dumped my mom out of the canoe. I have no balance and think I’d fail a roadside sobriety test after a cup of coffee.  It was a delightful weekend overall.  The cold just made it impossible to breathe.

The moral of the story: take a sick day.  Take two if you can spare them. As a new faculty–you’re going to 1. earn them and 2. need them. Like oxygen. Know when to throw in the towel for some R&R. I have no plans for the upcoming weekends.  My weekend at the lake, along with spring travel, and other commitments had me gone and on the road for almost three weeks straight with small 3-4 day stop overs at home to do laundry, re-pack, and hit the trail again. While these experiences were all valuable and I really loved seeing my family–I am exhausted.  The cold has only compounded this issue.

Last week, I had said something to PIC about going to the small city nearby to eat some food, go play guitars at the local guitar shop, and perhaps spend a nice day out.  This week: I no longer want to get in the car and travel. Anywhere. I can play the guitars at our house.  We are both good enough cooks that we can manage a ‘restaurant like meal’ from our own kitchen.  I’d rather put roots down on my couch.

I’m thankful that my department and my supervisor value me enough to look at me and say, “go home, you sound like Snuffleupagus and look like death.”  Those were the kindest words I’d heard all day. I’m also thankful that no one is breathing down my neck and making me punch a time card.  My circadian clock has me up and working around 7 a.m.–answering emails, taking care of business, making early calls but around 3 p.m. I’m as useless as a screen door on a submarine.  My mind wanders, I cannot focus, and truth be told, I’m not maximizing anyone’s research or institutional dollars. It’s probably good that I’ve been heading out to sites to collect data around this time–something different for my brain to focus on.

I negotiated this term though.  Reflecting on my own job search, I do remember asking if I would be required to punch a clock, be micromanaged, or anything of the like.  The answer I received was comforting.  With technology, family, and integrating work/life balance, working from home is a viable option for me and I’m left to design my own schedule.  I appreciate that about this position and my employer. Perhaps this is another resounding request to negotiate your way to a position. I have friends who have to go in at 8 a.m. and sit there until 5 p.m.–yuck.

I am eternally grateful for my position, my understanding and flexible employer, and the opportunities it comes with. As a new faculty, it’s easy to get buried in details, get bogged down my deadlines, and feel as though you’re drowning in a sea of problems you created for yourself. Burn out is high and the rewards feel small more times than they feel large.  Before you get to the ‘useless as a screen door on a submarine’ stage–take a sick day. Take some time for you. Everyone around you will appreciate it, especially if you don’t sound like a snuffleupagus anymore. 😀

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