I had my appendix out last week. It wasn’t expected (clearly) and I was a little stunned by the speed with which everything happened.
One minute I’m at my osteopath complaining of what I thought was a pulled groin muscle, a few hours later I’m waking up from an operation. Coming out of the anaesthetic, the first coherent thought I had should have been, “What a miracle is modern medicine. My life was just saved by what is considered minor surgery.”
That’s not what I thought however. What passed through my mind was, “Who is expecting what from me this week? How angry are people going to be that I can’t fulfill my promises? What am I going to be able to do anyway?”
In my industry, you’re not afforded the luxury of sick days or compassionate leave. I’ve performed with food poisoning, dislocated ribs, whiplash from a car accident and I’ve been denied time off to go to a family funeral—it’s all part and parcel of my job and has been for nearly two decades.
I am left speechless by friends who tell me that they took three days off for a head cold. “Where do they work?” I wonder. “Where is this magical land where you can take time off when you’re sick?”
I’m sure there are some of you reading this thinking that the demands put on me are completely unreasonable. But I’ll bet there are many more of you thinking, “So what? That’s my life as well. This is what ‘working’ means.”
Many of us have jobs where we are expected to be available at all times. And if you work for yourself, or you’re the owner of the business, there’s no-one to replace you and earn the money in your absence.
It’s the brutal reality of the world we live in: there is no downtime. Ever.
I was given one day’s grace after my appendix operation and I was then expected to reply to emails, take phone calls and answer people who wanted to know when I would be ready to work for them again.
I wasn’t out of the hospital, much less off heavy pain medication. I had to reply to some people keeping my operation a secret, just in case they dropped me from the job. For the people expecting an answer on when I would be ready to work again, I had to guess.
And when I say guess, I don’t mean guess how long it would take me to be well enough to work, but guess how long the people hiring me would tolerate me putting the job on hold, irrespective of my health. There were even people who were slightly annoyed that I was cancelling or postponing on them. A large part of me wanted to respond to these people by telling them to shove it up their arses, but the realist in me knew that I couldn’t.
If I didn’t do the work, or didn’t apologise profusely for causing other people inconvenience, I’d be labelled unprofessional or worse, a drama queen.
How did we get to this point? Is it because we are contactable all of the time? Is it because the world now moves too fast?
Or is it because our society has become so fragmented that we are incapable of behaving like a community any more?
Not only do we see our own demands as being the most important but paradoxically, we see fulfilling the demands of those we deem more important than ourselves as equally important. The idea of helping each other has been discarded. We don’t have the time for that any more. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves.
The truth is that it isn’t time that’s the issue, it’s what we’re prioritising. We’ve screwed everything up.
You see, this all the time with the ridiculous adulation of the so-called ‘Super Mum’. Super Mums are not only always there for their children, spouse and extended family, they’re also always there for their boss, their business partners and their employees.
Super Mums never get sick, never get tired, never have a bad hair day and never, ever let anyone down. What an utter fantasy. I’d wager that behind every Super Mum is either a heart attack or a mental breakdown waiting to happen.
Leaving work to pick up a sick child shouldn’t involve running the gauntlet of disapproving stares. Going to a family funeral shouldn’t be seen as skiving off. Wanting to take a day off once a week shouldn’t be seen as weak.
Popular culture doesn’t help. We idolise the over-worker. Almost every television show has the dedicated lawyer/detective/manager/checkout operator who leaves their phone on all night and is on call all of the time. They rush off from their child’s birthday party or the sickbed of their dying father to do their boss’ bidding. The entertainment industry romanticises work stress.
Saying “I’m so busy” isn’t a brag any more, it’s a necessity. Anything less than being run off your feet at all times makes you a loser. And what are we running around doing? The bidding of demanding people who care nothing for our own wellbeing. It’s insane.
We don’t have tribes any more. My sister is lucky—she has an amazing elderly couple who live next door and are like a third set of grandparents to her little boy. My sister can call on them to watch her baby if she is sick herself or must all of a sudden run out the door for an emergency. But many of my girlfriends have nothing of the sort. Many of us look at the harried or sick friend and vaguely think to ourselves “God, I’m glad that’s not me…at least not this week.”
We should stop downplaying and sacrificing our own needs. We should learn to stand up to the pushy bosses, family members and friends who make unreasonable demands of us and just say ‘no’. Or better yet, ‘piss off’.
Who’s going first?
MORE STORIES BY CORINNE GRANT
*Corinne Grant is a stand-up comedian, MC, presenter, writer and broadcaster and has performed both nationally and internationally. In addition to her years on Rove Live and The Glasshouse, she has appeared on everything from Spicks and Specks to Dancing With The Stars to Good News Week. She has co-hosted successful national radio shows, performed countless solo live shows and appeared everywhere from the Sydney Opera House to the Kalgoorlie Arts Centre. Corinne’s first book, Lessons In Letting Go: Confessions of a Hoarder (Allen and Unwin) was released in September 2010 and went into reprint just months after its release.