What’s great about America is that we’ve got a highly productive workforce that grinds like no other. We invent some of the greatest products and consistently build some of the largest companies in the world. But we are also increasingly suffering from mental illness. As a result, more of us need to take mental sick days.
What’s sad about America is that we’re working ourselves to an early death. We pride ourselves on working double-digit work hours a day. We pack our schedules to the brim and never give ourselves a break.
I’m guilty of adopting the “always be grinding” mentality because I landed a dream job in New York City after college and then migrated to San Francisco, another hyper-competitive city. I didn’t want to take my luck for granted, so I tended to constantly push myself to the limit.
Even after I left full-time work in 2012 after 13 years of 60-80-hour work weeks, I still wanted to keep the intensity up with my writing on Financial Samurai. I was free to kick back and do whatever thanks to passive income, but I refused to live a life of leisure after the first six months of freedom.
Unnecessary self-imposed pressures are why so many of us aren’t as happy as we should be. As soon as I let go of my perennial goals of outperforming the S&P and reaching ever higher website growth, I started to feel happier.
Accept Your Mental Illness
Nobody bats an eye if you tell them you’re planning on taking several days off because you’ve come down with the flu or some nasty bacteria. Falling physically ill is normal, especially if you’ve got little ones running around.
But nobody comes out and admits they have a mental illness that’s keeping them down. Yet I argue we all experience some sort of mental illness at some point in our lives.
I come down with a mental illness at least once a year.
Sometimes I get depressed about how unfair life is. My depression always focuses on why some people have so much opportunity, while other people have so little opportunity.
I go through a guilt phase where I often ask, why me? During this time period, I have no desire to hang out with anyone. I start thinking wild ideas like relocating to Virginia over Hawaii because I need a certain amount of suffering to feel more worthy.
While living in Malaysia, one of my friends died in a car accident at age 15. He lost control and rammed into a tree off the highway. Yes, he legally wasn’t allowed to drive, but we were irreverent. The passenger in the front seat didn’t survive either.
We were skateboard buddies from different schools who would hang out over the weekend. He was one of the coolest kids around and I wanted to go out with him to the club that night, but he ignored me because I was only 13.
The next day, I called Mark to ask whether he wanted to hang out. I will always remember his mother’s voice telling me he had passed away.
I have a degree of survivor’s guilt. I’ve learned that one of the best ways of overcoming this mental condition is to journal my thoughts and be useful to others. Over the years, no other activity has helped me more to overcome this mental affliction.
The reason why I started Financial Samurai in July 2009 was due to extreme anxiety and fear that I was going to lose everything I spent 10 years building up until the financial crisis.
I had nightmares of having to go back to work flipping burgers at McDonald’s for a tyrant manager. As a result, perhaps I’m more sensitive to financial loss than the average person.
Through my posts and now through the Financial Samurai Forum, I’ve found a supportive community that acts as my supplemental mental health care system. Over the years, so many folks have reached out to share similar thoughts.
Take Sick Days For Your Mental Health
When I advised employees to take sick days instead of PTO in my post, Using Vacation Days Before A Severance Negotiation, I expected some readers to question my advice given our “always be grinding” society.
Here are a couple responses of disapproval,
“Your suggestion of using sick days in lieu of vacation days is a gray area. Some companies have policies which theoretically forbid that. Or, if you use a certain amount of sick days in a row (say 3 or more) you have to get a doctors note. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be relaxing on the beach in Hawaii having to call my boss each day pretending to be sick.“
“Taking a sick day when I am not sick? Sorry, my moral code won’t let me go there. A day’s pay used to be worth a couple of grand, that is significant, but the price of my word, that is nonnegotiable, or priceless, if it is a Visa commercial. And if the company is being evil, well, that’s on them, I’m fine with fighting but I only fight fair regardless of how someone else fights. What anyone else does, not my problem, what I do, I have to live with that guy.“
To a manager or CEO, these responses are music to their ears. Their goal is to have employees be max loyal to the firm, while they enrich themselves with max reward.
What the commenters don’t recognize is the importance of taking sick days to improve one’s mental health. Their automatic assumption is that sick days are only for physical illnesses, which is a big blind spot.
I used to work at a firm that allowed a three-month sabbatical for every five years of work. Unfortunately, no manager ever took a sabbatical, which meant that nobody else took a sabbatical out of fear of getting a crap bonus or worse.
But after my 8th year at the firm, I decided to take a step towards living a more balanced life by taking all my vacation days. For the last three years at my old firm, I took six weeks off a year and loved it. I stopped giving a crap about what others thought.
Interestingly, while I took six weeks off a year, my production improved. Unfortunately, my firm didn’t properly compensate me for my production. But instead of complaining, I negotiated a severance.
Types Of Mental Illnesses
Perhaps you still have doubts about how common mental illness really is. Well here is an infographic that puts together many mental health issues. I’ve written most of them out since there are so many and the graph is so small.
Types Of Anxiety
- Acute Stress Disorder
- Adjustment Disorder
- Substance Induced
- Separation Anxiety
- Selective Mutism
- Caffeine Induced
- Androphobia (fear of men)
Types Of Schizophrenia
- Brief Psychotic
- Shared Psychotic
- Disorganized/ Hebephrenia
Types Of Eating Disorders
- Anorexia Nervosa
- Bulimia Nervosa
- Binge Eating
- Eating Disorder Not Other Specified (EDNOS)
Types Of Self Harm
- Using Objects (kicking or punching a wall)
- Ripping Skin off
- Hair Pulling
- Rubbing objects on the skin
- Misusing or Abusing Alcohol or drugs
- Eating Disorders
- Suicide Attempt
- Law Breaking
- Poisoning with toxic chemicals
- Excessive exercise
- Multiple piercings and/or tattoos
- Overspending money
Types of ADD/ADHD
- Classic ADD
- Overfocused ADD
- Temporal Lobe ADD
- Limbic ADD
- Ring of Fire ADD
- Anxious ADD
Types of Addiction
- Video Games
- Plastic Surgery
- OTC Medications
- People Pleasing
Depending on your degree of mental illness, I urge everyone to seek professional help for their mental health issues on top of taking sick days. Take advantage of experts in their field who have treated others with your same illness.
Sick Days Are Built Into Your Compensation Package
Not utilizing your sick days or PTO or not taking unemployment benefits is foolish because they are part of your compensation package. Your employer pays unemployment insurance, which directly affects your compensation.
Don’t be a proud ignoramus like me who only took maybe 15 sick days after 11 years of service, when I was allotted 77 sick days. Definitely don’t be one of those people who hoard their PTO and actually lose some of their days because they exceeded the carryover limit.
Take your sick days, take your vacation days, use short-term disability and long-term disability when needed.
You don’t feel bad about your employer subsidizing most of your healthcare costs. So why should you feel bad about taking sick days?
If your employer gets around the unpaid PTO issue by offering unlimited PTO, your mission is to take more PTO, especially if you are planning to do something else. Test the word “unlimited.” So long as you’re hitting your performance metrics, you should be fine.
We’re in a tight labor market folks. The very least you can do is take advantage of all your benefits. And for goodness sake, let’s all accept that mental illness affects us all in some way. Some of us will need more help than others.
Once you embrace the ubiquity of mental illness, you will develop more empathy for those whom you find disagreeable. Peace and love.
Readers, why doesn’t society do a better job at recognizing mental illnesses? Why do some people feel embarrassed or conflicted about taking sick days or PTO? Have people been conditioned this badly to not recognize their benefits?