Too Sick to Not Go into Work


Jared missed his last four sessions with me because he had walking pneumonia. What started out as a cold developed into bronchitis and then turned into pneumonia.

When we met last week he told me that he’d had a rough go of it, though he proudly said he missed only one day of work. I was confused as to why this was a source of pride. “Why wouldn’t I be proud? I didn’t let this thing beat me down.”

I was still puzzled, “If you were able to go to work, why weren’t you able to keep your sessions with me?” Unfazed, he said, “Oh, I was just too sick but I went to work because I had no choice.”

Jared works for a financial firm whose office politics are toxic. His co-workers are backstabbing and his boss is a passive-aggressive narcissist. While I’m not a doctor, I suspect the stress of the job contributed to his cold devolving into pneumonia. He went into work sick because he believed that if he took any time off, it would put his job in jeopardy. Of course, if he died from pneumonia then he wouldn’t be able to work!

Jared first came to me seeking help in learning how to both protect and assert himself at work. Virtually every aspect of his job had beaten him down and shredded his self-respect. Yet, here he was taking pride in not letting pneumonia keep him from going to his toxic job, even though doing so jeopardized his health. This is crazy thinking!

Jared hates his job, but he needs his job — such are the times we live in. He was afraid that if he took sick time, he’d be laid off. And, yes, this is a possibility given the nature of his boss. BUT, nothing good can come from a place of fear.

We explored why he felt proud that he had the stamina to punish his body. Why pride instead of anger? His response, “If I stayed home, they’d think I was weak and I didn’t want them to see me weak.” So, he went to work in a sick, weakened physical state. Huh?!

He surrendered his power to the fear-mongers. The bottom-line question for Jared and for each of us is: If you don’t protect yourself, who will?

Recognizing that you’re ill, doing what’s necessary to mend quickly, that is a real form of assertiveness. Pneumonia is not what’s attacking Jared’s self-respect. His toxic boss is attacking that self-respect.

PS: shortly before I sent this column to the paper, Jared called — he’s been laid off. And so the real work of learning how to protect and care for himself begins for Jared.

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