The stress, anxiety, and depression from being stuck in a toxic work environment is taking its toll on me – physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’m at the point where taking a stress leave feels like my only hope.
But I’m also worried that I’m not really “sick”. That I might just be looking for an easy way out of a job that I hate. And out of an unfulfilling life that’s stuck on auto-pilot:
- Get up
- Go to work
- Complain about everything
- Go to bed
Yes, I’ve had some good days thrown in there. But I’ve also had some pretty horrible ones, too.
Most days, however, feel more like nothing. Like all I can do is sit and wait – for a new job (or the promising prospect of one), to be laid off (or fired?), or to reach my breaking point.
It’s frustrating because I’m not just sitting back and passively waiting for something to happen. I’m trying to make a change. But there’s only so much I can do.
For over 6 months now, I’ve been checking the job postings daily, applying for everything that seems doable and/or reasonably enjoyable, reading books about career building and coping with stress, talking to medical professionals, and trying my hardest to stay at least a little optimistic about the whole thing.
But I’m getting burnt-out. And I’m seriously considering taking a medical leave because of all the stress.
Ironically, the thought of going on a stress leave stresses me out.
I’m trying to convince myself that I’m “not really sick”. But I am sick – or at least I’m not healthy. I’m eating less, sleeping less, my back and neck are riddled with knots and pinched nerves, my body aches, my migraines are coming back, and it feels like there’s a brick of anxiety growing in my gut. Simple things are taking an exorbitant amount of focus and energy, and I no longer like things that I like.
So why am I so hesitant to take a sick-leave to get better?
Has the stigma around mental health gotten the better of me, too?
I know that stress, depression, and anxiety are all real illnesses and that they have serious consequences if not treated. But here I am, showing many signs of all of the above, and I’m hesitant to take some time off.
Worse yet, I’m trying to convince myself that it’s just a bad day (or week, or month…). If I broke my leg, I wouldn’t think twice about laying around the house for a few weeks, would I? So why is this different?
Why am I afraid to admit that I need some time to recover mentally?
There are a whole lot of questions and “what if’s” racing through my head, and few clear answers.
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What If I Don’t Qualify for Benefits?
A big “what if” is if I take a medical leave, how am I going to support myself without the income from my job?
Thankfully in Canada, mental illness is covered under the Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits, which is part of the E.I. program. You can get financial assistance when you are unable to work due to sickness or injury, just as you would if you were laid off and collecting unemployment. This benefit is roughly equivalent to 55% of your regular income.
If you live in the United States, you may be covered under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). You’ll have to contact your human resources department to find out if you’re eligible to take a stress leave and how to go about applying.
Some health insurance plans also include short and long-term medical leaves. This might be an option for you, so check your benefits package or contact your HR department.
You will need a doctor’s note or doctor’s certificate to support your claim. My doctor says he’ll sign whatever medical forms I need. As did the mental health counselor I’ve been seeing.
The administrator for my work’s health benefits also said she’d help me with completing the E.I. Sickness Benefits application forms. She says the forms will take about an hour to fill out, but that I could be denied or have to provide more documentation.
But how do you “prove” that you are mentally unwell?
And how do you know when you are better?
What If I Have to Go Back to the Same Toxic Job?
Ideally, during my stress leave, I’d use my time to take my job searching up a notch, and would successfully find a new job where I’m happy. That’s all that any one really wants, isn’t it?
But I know there’s a good chance that that won’t happen. It’s very possible that I’ll have to return to my current toxic job. Either because I run out of time, I run out of money, and/or because I’ll (hopefully) get “better”.
I really don’t want to return, though. I don’t think any one would!
If my bosses (and some co-workers) reacted so horribly to me for filing a labour board claim against them, I suspect their reaction in this situation would be much worse.
And I don’t imagine it would be long before the stress, anxiety, depression returns.
What If This is a “Red-Flag” On My Resume?
A short-term leave may not be reflected on my resume at all, especially if it stays short-term. I can also be mindful and include it on my resume in the right way. But I’m still concerned about how this may impact my career and my job hunt.
I live in a small city where it’s all about who you know. I wouldn’t put it past my bosses to gossip with other’s in the industry, in particular.
They also say it’s easier to get a job when you have a job. I’m not sure if there is any actual truth to this or not, but it’s come up enough times that it’s stuck in the back of my mind now, too.
I’m trying really hard not to worry about any of these things, and instead focus on this quote I found online (but of course that’s easier said than done):
What If Having Nothing To Do Makes Things Worse?
I’d like to think that taking a break from work would also give me a break from feeling so much stress and anxiety. That I’d finally have the time and mental capacity to do a thorough job search, get help with my resume and cover letter, come up with a plan, run every day, cook every day, clean my apartment, write more, read more, explore more, go outside more, volunteer, and be happy.
But what if I don’t do any of these things?
What if not having to get out of bed each morning means that I just don’t get out of bed at all? That instead I’d sleep all day, rarely leave my apartment, watch entire series of TV shows at a time, and push myself further into a depression instead of away from one?
What If I Can’t Enjoy the Good Days?
There many news stories floating around about people getting fired for doing this or that while on sick leave. Most of these cases are people who are purposely trying to commit fraud but got caught. I know I shouldn’t be worrying about that, because that’s not at all what I’m doing.
But it is making me paranoid.
With depression, stress, and anxiety every day if different. You don’t just wake up one day cured. It’s a process that can take years, with many ups and downs along the way.
Am I supposed to pretend there are no good days? Hide in my apartment for fear of being caught smiling in public and end up being fired for it?
What If I Am Faking It?
I know I’m not faking it – but perhaps I’m exaggerating it? I’ve been known to be a wee bit of a hypochondriac, and I’m concerned that I’m making things worse in my head than they really are.
I’ve unfortunately dealt with depression before. This doesn’t feel as bad or as hopeless as it did back then.
However, I’ve never dealt with anxiety before. The fact that I feel nervous most of the time (over what?) is pretty indicative that I’m not faking it. Same goes for the unexpected return of my migraines.
But it’s no secret I don’t like my job and I want out. Especially with the summer coming, which is where the migraines originated from last year. Taking a stress leave is an easy way out – a way to “quit” without really quitting. Even if it’s only temporary.
What If I Can’t Afford a Stress Leave?
This, of course, is the biggest issue. Most of you reading this post because you’re also considering taking a stress leave are likely worried about how you’re going to afford it, too.
I have some savings, but not much. Certainly not enough to live off of for more than a couple of months at the most. And using all my savings is a terrifying thought!
I don’t make a lot of money either, so collecting “55% of your average insurable weekly earnings” while off work thru E.I. Sickness Benefits would be very tight. Things are already tight collecting 100% of my earnings. I’ve been trying to cut back everywhere I can in preparation, but that’s not making much difference.
I suppose the bright side of going on medical leave vs. being laid off or fired is that I still have a job to come back to if money becomes too much of a problem.
Should I Take a Stress Leave?
So friends, acquaintances, fellow bloggers, and strangers of the Internet – should I take a stress leave?
I know this post only provides a snapshot of the bigger picture, but I’ve been so focused and worried over all the nitty-gritty little “what if’s”, that the bigger picture is also getting lost on me.
I’m tired of being stuck. I need to do something!
I’m just not sure which direction to take. There are pros and cons no matter which way I go.
I can’t even fully admit to myself that something is not right, so putting this out for all to read and asking for feedback is scary. I want your honesty, but I do hope it comes with kindness.
Positive, negative, your own stress leave stories or experiences, pointing out something I haven’t considered, a virtual hug to show support, a virtual ‘suck it up, buttercup’ slap across the face, resources, links, whatever.
Any advice, comments or feedback is greatly appreciated.
Comment anonymously if you’d like, or contact me directly.
An Update on My Stress Leave
As you can see, this article was originally published a few years ago. Since many people have been asking, I wanted to provide an update.
I did take a stress leave, after all. I was off work for about 16 weeks. Thankfully, I did not have to return to my former toxic job, because I was able to find a new one, just in the nick of time!
If you are considering taking a stress leave from your job, I strongly suggest that you do. Explore your options for financial support. Talk to professionals. Get the help you need!
Doing so changed my life for the better. It might have even saved my life, if I’m being perfectly honest.
You deserve to be happy and healthy, too!
Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and making a living. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a FREE library of career & job search resources.