Why the heck do I feel guilty when I’m sick?


I’m an artist, a dreamer, but I’m also a doer and a go-getter.

I’m getting pretty good at working smarter rather than harder or longer. But I still have this urge to feel productive at least a few hours out of each day. No matter WHAT. Nothing can stop me. Or so I wish to believe. 

By productive I mean doing something that moves my art, my writing, my business, forward. I am also a stickler to my daily yoga practice. In the past that would have been running, or dancing, or weight-lifting. In short, exercise. 

As long as I get some work done and and make it to the yoga studio, I feel accomplished.

Why do I feel guilty when I'm sick?

House chores, grocery shopping and cooking feel like distractions to me. I don’t count those activities as “being productive.” In fact, sometimes I wish I didn’t have to break to eat. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, this is not because I have willpower.

It’s because I have an addictive, obsessive-compulsive personality. I’ve simply learned to harness it and put it to good use.

Now this is all fine. Until, that is, I get hit by a curveball like a bad cold. Usually I try to push through and keep all the balls in the air even when I’m sick. And then of course my cold lasts not one but two or more weeks, because I did not take care of myself.

My kids have all had colds recently, and I’ve been there to nurse them back to their healthy selves. And so of course, a few days ago, I got sick too.

This time the cold hit me so hard that every muscle hurt. I couldn’t breathe, I coughed non-stop, and I had a bad case of brain-fog. I didn’t go to the yoga studio so I wouldn’t make my fellow yogis sick too … If that were not an issue, I’d have made it there one way or another.

I tried to work a bit a couple days ago, but exhaustion hit me and I felt my energy just wither away. I did the tasks I simply needed to do, and then set an out-of-office auto responder on my e-mail.

I spent the rest of the day lying in bed reading. Paper books. I even read a novel I had bought 2 years ago but never got around to opening. I finished it. I started another book. One day turned into two. Today is the third day and I’m feeling much better.

I work for myself, so other than checking in with editors and clients to let them know I may be slower in getting back to them, I’m good. I mean, I don’t have to ask a boss for a sick day. I don’t have to ask anyone for a sick day. Only me.

Although my body did everything to let me know I just needed to stay in bed, and I did, instead of just enjoying the rest, I did what I tend to do. I felt, and still feel, guilty.

Guilty for not forging on as usual, for not doing a full yoga practice even if I do it at home. For not working on the book I need to turn in on February 1. For not being able to cross off everything on my To-do list.

Why do I feel guilty when I'm sick

I’m married to a fellow writer, and I know he also feels guilty if any kind of illness sets him back. We have this obsession with being productive. But when he gets sick I tell him to relax, to chill, he deserves it. It’s so easy to see from the outside and so hard to accept when it’s me.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always worked for myself. Maybe it’s because my paycheck depends on the hours I put in. Maybe it’s because in 2009 I was a single mom on welfare. Maybe it’s because I feel that life is too short to be lying around nursing a cold. Maybe I think the “gods of freelancing” won’t send more work my way if I don’t do the grind no matter what.

I’m still trying to figure this one out. Unfortunately I’m not writing the post to give you answers. I don’t have any. I’m just trying to find out whether there are others like me out there. Are there? Are you one of them? If so, how do you cope with this guilt when you just aren’t at your best. When you simply NEED to rest? It’s never too late to learn a new life skill!


6 Comments on “Why the heck do I feel guilty when I’m sick?

  1. Delfin Carbonell

    You took the thoughts out of my brain.
    Are you a mind reader? A seer? How did you know that is exactly how I feel?
    But you do not know that when I am sick I am thinking about my writing and my teaching, trying to improve them.
    Thank you.

  2. Reading your Blog post and also having a hard time not working and relaxing and resting while I’m sick so I’m also with you. the answer to the why is maybe because of our own doing, we sabotage ourselves, we don’t want dishes laying around dirty, beds not made, shoes laying around all over the entrance, lunches not made. I also work for myself and prior to that I had a well paying job and the first thing I did was hire a cleaning lady, once a week, I later decided to work on my own business..that had to go and boy do I miss her more that my old job perks. If we all had cleaning ladies we would never feel guilty I promise you.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting! Actually the house could crumble around me as far as I’m concerned. 😀 … I’m also lucky that my husband does the cooking and the kids do the dishes. For me it’s actually that I cannot WORK that bothers me. As in write my book, my articles, etc. That’s what gets me down. Housework? Nah. But I’ve always worked for myself … my entire life, so maybe that’s why. If I don’t work, I don’t make money.

  3. Wanda Waldroop

    I feel guilty when friends call and I say I don’t feel good….I expect myself to be the leader in enthusiasm so sometimes I fake it and pretend I feel good. It’s allergies that get me down so I don’t feel like doing anything , I actually feel depressed when I am down. I feel friends and family think “ you’re always sick”..I just can’t seem to ride it out gracefully,until I am up and running .

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