Carolyn Hax: Taking a desperately needed leave without having to tell colleagues why

Carolyn Hax
Columnist January 6

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I’m a young professional with a decent office job. I generally like my co-workers. At work I am cheerful and friendly and, at least to the eye, a picture of perfect health.

But I’m also a recovering rape survivor who is battling an increasingly debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder. Recently things have gone downhill, and I find myself at least once a day crying in the bathroom like a bad ‘80s prom night.

I am working with a therapist, doctor, etc., but things have become so overwhelming that I’ve decided I need to take a leave of absence from work to focus more intensely on my therapy and learn how to self-care again. I’ve talked to my boss about this and she is wonderfully supportive.


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

The question then becomes, what to tell my co-workers? My boss said she’d be fine with just telling them I’m burned out and taking a long vacation (about five weeks), but I’m not comfortable with that, as my leaving gives everyone else more work and I don’t want people to think I’m making things harder for them just for a bit of R&R.

The other option is, of course, to say “medical leave,” but I feel like that’s going to invite a lot of questions I can’t bear to answer. Also worth noting, a lot of my co-workers are around my age and we are friendly outside of work to the point that I know intimate details of their life. I just can’t deal with sharing this one of mine. Help?

Invisible Illness

I’m sorry you’re going through this. It does sound, though, as if you’re handling it with strength and grace.

“Medical leave” is the way to go, and it’s the only explanation you need for mature acquaintances, who will have questions but also enough sense not to ask them. Those who aren’t there yet will pry, yes, but the only answer required is, “Thank you for your concern. It’s a private matter.”

As for the more-than-acquaintances, “intimate details” crew, you can say you’re sorry to be cryptic, and ask that they humor you on this and not press.

Some assurance that you’re not in stage-4-cancer-type danger would be appropriate, too, worded as vaguely as you need. Take care.

Re: Medical leave:

I totally agree with “medical leave” on this one, but, more importantly, just wanted to give “Invisible Illness” a shout-out of love and support. We’ve never met, but your post was touching, and I’ve never been raped nor do I think I know anyone who has been. I think it’s great that you know yourself as “recovering” and a “survivor” and are taking this time off for yourself.

If you were my co-worker, you’d have nothing but my support and I’d gladly take on a little extra if it meant I could help in some small way (without even knowing why, even just knowing it was “medical” and you needed the help).

Take care of you right now; you’ll always have a chance to do something kind for your co-workers or someone else down the line. All the best to you and your continued recovery! I hope you find peace.

Anonymous

This is lovely, thank you.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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