I had a health scare recently. Poor control of my diabetes, a rise in blood pressure, and being on the constant go-go-go of my job led me to spend 24 hours in the hospital thinking I was having a heart attack (on Valentine’s Day of ALL days).
Admittedly I put myself in that position. How? Besides the lack of good control of my health and my health choices, I married myself to my job. While most people think working in customer service is inherently stressful, tell that to someone who works as a “jack of all trades, master of none.”
Without getting into all of the details as to what led me to that moment, sufficed to say it was a slap in the face wake up call for me. And it is clear to my employer I need the time to truly heal.
While I ultimately have made the decision to take a leave of absence from my job, many in this volatile economic time are scared of doing it. While yes, some may not be able to for a variety of reasons, the truth of the matter is if you know the rules, it may not be as scary as it seems. I am finding that out first hand right now.
The federal law, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), allows eligible employees to take unpaid leave for specified family and medical reasons and allows the individual to retain their medical coverage while being out. In some states, such as California, there is a concurrent law, similar to FMLA that allows for the same protections. Some employers will even offer salary continuation, meaning they’ll pay up to 100% of your salary while being out.
Now there are rules and restrictions, and not everyone can qualify. Hence, this where a leave of absence can be scary. How do you cope and heal while being able to pay the bills?
First, not every medical leave can be anticipated for. Life happens. Things happen. We never expect to be sick or have a catastrophic illness. We feel invincible. We even deny we have a chronic, life-threatening illness (tell that to my inner me!). So when we get our health benefits we sort of skim over the details and focus more on the “sexy” parts of the benefit package; usually “show me the money.” We look at all of the legalese and get a headache reading all the material. “I’ll never need that,” we’ll muse. Then, BOOM, something happens.
Do the research. Ask the questions. Don’t let a bunch of legal sentences and words put fear in you. The programs are there for you. And even if you don’t qualify in some areas, you may in others.
Second, how can we prepare for moments like this? Well this is not the easiest part of the equation. Nowadays more and more people are forced to decided do I pay the bills and forego the medical, or eat, or whatever. I see this all too often in the low income sector as a homeless advocate. I, myself, have often had to make those choices – and I was working and had insurance. If there is an answer, it is make the right choices whenever it is possible. Eat better, try to stay healthy, and keep up on your care. And when it reaches the point where it becomes more and more difficult, swallow your pride and ask for help. As I said, I know this is not an easy question to answer. Everyone is different, and I won’t impose my thought on you for this portion.
Whatever you do, don’t look at a leave as being a forced moment when you can prepare for it. I’ve learned the people I work for and with do care. They want me to get better. They want me to be there. They want me to be able to work and concentrate and not have to constantly worry about what will happen. They’re not trying to force you out of work. Think of it as a gentle nudge to look at what is more important, your life and health or future.