“I go to work in pain and don’t mention it, feel sick and don’t complain – I don’t want them to think less of me for ‘always being sick’.”
In this series of articles we have heard from women who continued to ‘put their work face on’, and keep going, while experiencing turmoil in their personal lives. After all, life doesn’t stop between 9 and 5.
Here’s Sarah’s* story.
Sarah is a mother to twins and has arthritis and fibromyalgia which she says makes “working full time difficult.” Sarah’s last job was as a HR and Office Manager working in the finance industry. Things became even more difficult for Sarah when she was thinking about having a baby.
“My role was very central and had a lot of responsibility and I knew my absence for at least six months would create a strain on others. So despite wanting to start a family, I delayed the timing, mostly due to the fear of losing my job.”
When Sarah informed management that she was pregnant she says they were supportive “on the surface, but at the same time the regular talk about the strain it would create on the team, how paying my maternity leave and a replacement would put the budget under huge stress etc made me feel really uncomfortable and like I was creating a problem for everyone else… It made me really anxious.”
My new manager was relentless at reminding me that I ‘only’ work four days a week
After the birth of her twins Sarah returned to work after six months off, “because I felt guilty.” She says she wanted to stay with her babies for longer but felt it would be unfair to her employer. Sarah negotiated one day a week parental leave as a compromise.
“Looking back now I wish I had taken more time off and not allowed myself to be made to feel that way, but at the time I felt very torn and like I had a responsibility to my work colleagues.”
When Sarah returned to work she had a new manager. “She was relentless at reminding me that I ‘only’ work four days and that she had to do some of my duties each Monday.”
Sarah recently started a new job closer to home. “The decision to move was in the hope that less commuting would improve my work life balance.” She took a large pay cut so that she could work closer to her kids school. In her new workplace Sarah has tried to hide the full extent of her health issues from her employers as she is fearful about how they would respond.
I go to work in pain and don’t mention it, feel sick and don’t complain – I don’t want them to think less of me for ‘always being sick’
“I am reluctant to let them know just how much my illness affects me… So I go to work in pain and don’t mention it, feel sick and don’t complain, and I turn up to work when I am sick with sore throats/colds etc because I don’t want them to think less of me for ‘always being sick’.”
Sarah says she feels pulled between her family, health and job. “Even this week I have been sick all week but didn’t go to the doctors until Wednesday, and I’m only off because I am way too sick to go to work. Usually I go to work even when I am in pain.”
Taking time off makes Sarah feel guilty for letting her work down and leaving them without an integral employee. Her own experience working as a manager has given her an insight into how higher up managers view “complicated” employees.
I know that in reality my working life will not last more than another five years
“As a HR manager I always try to support flexible working for all, not just mothers, but I know first hand that executive management levels would prefer if employees just turned up and did 9-5 and kept everything non work related to outside those hours.”
“Ultimately even when employers say the right things and appear supportive, you still always worry about your job.”
Prioritising her children and her work over herself leaves Sarah feeling “under huge pressure” and “regularly exhausted.”
“I feel pulled in multiple directions, like work, kids and home need to be given equal priority and that any time for myself or my health needs to come last.”
Despite the strain of parenting and coping with a chronic illness, work is important to Sarah and she says being able to work is better for her emotional health. She is anxious about what the future holds with regard to her illness.
I am not really psychologically ready to give up work, I don’t yet want to officially be ‘disabled’ or ‘sick’ and be home all the time.
“I know that in reality my working life will not last more than another five years max. A time will come when I probably will have to leave and claim on my illness insurance and so, until that time, I downplay my illness, drag myself to work and keep going.”
“I am not really psychologically ready to give up work, I don’t yet want to officially be ‘disabled’ or ‘sick’ and be home all the time.”
Sarah says there are things that the government and employers could be doing to make life easier for employees who have caring responsibilities or are living with an illness. She would like to see a genuine commitment to flexible and work from home initiatives, “and funding should be available for small businesses to be able to afford to pay maternity leave and sick leave and to cover replacement staff members.”
For now, Sarah says she is, “coping because I have to.”
*Sarah’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
For more articles in this series see –
About the Author
Taryn de Vere is a writer, a colourful fashion activist and a mother of 5.