Legal Law

As my struggle with COVID-19 taught me, it’s okay to take these sick days

I tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday March 15, 2021. My husband tested positive the week before, and while I’ve been feverishly shoving food and essentials for him under a passageway for the past week while he was isolated, I knew in my stomach that it was only a matter of time before until i would test positive. Just for me, the wave of the virus would hit ten times harder.

During a Zoom presentation on a Friday afternoon in front of over 500 spectators, I felt hit by a bus. I knew something was wrong, but I pushed myself to get through. I then spent the whole weekend in bed. On Monday morning I was already overwhelmed by a fever, body aches, chills and night sweats. I drove to urgent care to get tested and within an hour I knew I was positive. I started emailing clients and prospects and letting them know what was going on. I’ve canceled as many calls as possible this week. On Thursday I felt like I was 100 pounds. Weight vest permanently attached to my chest. Even a short walk to the bathroom left me breathless. The urgent chest x-ray showed that I had an infection in my lungs and was on heavy steroids to reduce the swelling. My husband then drove me to the hospital, where I sat on an antibody drip for several hours. With an already weakened immune system, I knew I had to use every possible recovery alternative to keep me from spiraling any further.

All I could think about while I was getting the IV was how I was going to pause a full calendar of projects that spanned eight weeks. What would customers say? Would you understand how serious this virus was? What about lectures and other events that I have already committed to? As a sole proprietorship, I was very concerned because I had no control over what was happening to me or my body.

My mind immediately recalled my days as a lawyer when a “sick day” meant working from your bed and making up for billable time. Just with COVID-19, it was impossible to work or create extra hours. I had no stamina or energy and my body was just completely lifeless under several blankets. I slept 12-14 hours a day. I tried to tell myself that the next day would be better. I waited. It was more than 10 days before I could even sit at my desk. Before COVID, I was up at 5 a.m. every day and could work until 5 p.m. without worries. Almost two weeks after COVID, I was sitting at my desk and my stamina was broken after an hour. I would suddenly be overwhelmed by so much fatigue that I had to lie in bed for several hours. The vicious circle continued.

As a sole proprietorship, it was difficult to understand that I had to shut down and block my calendar so I could recover from COVID-19. I was conditioned for so many years that I never had a sick day. I remember executive shareholders lecturing me on how customers expected us to be available 24/7 even when we had the flu. You earned extra points if you showed up to work with a fever and locked yourself in your office just to collect your bills. I was taught to soak it up and push a virus through while sleeping with my Blackberry next to me to respond to partner or customer at any time of the day.

COVID-19 threw me for a loop. I was neither physically nor mentally prepared for it. I changed clothes several times in one night because the sweat was flowing off me like I’d just finished a CrossFit workout in a sauna. Some days I felt on the way to recovery and then a wave of fatigue, body aches and chills set in again.

Lying in bed for so many days and hours brought me to a very dark place. I would turn from anger to sadness to frustration and then despair. The body aches and pains increased my feelings and made me feel helpless and isolated. I cut myself off from social media to focus on my recovery. I replied to emails from my phone between sleep phases. Daily texts from family and friends were often the only thing that kept me going on the COVID-19 roller coaster.

These past few weeks have taught me that I must forgive myself. It’s okay to need an extension for a project. It is okay to say no to this additional commitment or someone else’s project. It’s okay to reschedule calls. It’s okay to step back from work when you are not at your best. It’s okay to let your body rest and recharge. There’s no shame in telling others that you are fighting COVID-19. It gives me grace and patience for myself that I don’t have to keep pushing harder, work extra hours to outbid a project, or show up on social media to stay relevant. It is perfectly okay to allow yourself sick days to take care of yourself, both physically and mentally. As I continue the long road to recovery from COVID-19, I remember these mantras daily and create this important affirmation: I am human (not superhuman) and my wellbeing is a priority.

If you are a lawyer who has battled COVID-19 I would love to hear from you and how you have handled your recovery. If you are an executive attorney, I hope my story encourages you to show mercy to your co-workers and their families as they recover from COVID-19.

Wendi Weiner is a lawyer, career expert and founder of The writing guru, an award-winning executive resume writing company. Wendi creates powerful career and personal brands for lawyers, executives and C-suite / board executives for their job search and digital footprint. She also writes for major publications on alternative careers for lawyers, personal branding, LinkedIn storytelling, career strategy, and the job search process. You can reach them by email at [email protected], connect with her LinkedInand follow her on Twitter @ thewritingguru.

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