I believe that I'm something of a hypochondriac. I wonder all the time whether I'm getting ill, and I've definitely taken time off work or skipped social engagements because of sickness that turned out not to be as severe as I thought. On the other hand, knowing this makes me doubt my own judgment and sometimes overcompensate for it by trying to power through when I should really take a break.
A lot of this is due to the strange effects that anxiety can have on the body — I've had episodes of nausea, dizziness, spacing out and shortness of breath that felt like they had to be caused by something physical but, with hindsight, were definitely psychosomatic. (I assume my readers know that that's not the same as 'made up'.) Something else that hasn't helped is my busted thyroid gland. Having been both very hyperthyroid and very hypothyroid between the ages of fifteen and twenty, by the time my metabolism was stable, I had a weirdly un-joined-up perception of my body. Was I hot or cold, hungry or full, tired or energetic? Sometimes I couldn't say at all.
At the moment I have a pretty good handle on all of that stuff, but when I was fresh out of uni and in my first job, which was awesome but gave me a lot of responsibility, it was a lot harder to tell whether I was really coming down with something or just malingering. And if I was actually ill, what should I do then? Suffer through it or stay at home until I was totally fit? Perhaps if I took a day off but constantly worried I'd made the wrong choice, that might cover both bases...
I am very grateful to David for all his patient explanations that presenteeism is bad for everyone, and for providing a good example of taking time to truly rest and recuperate from sickness. (Of course he has his own tendency to work more hours than he possibly should, or forget about meals when a problem is particularly interesting, because he's a game developer, but he knows that's maladaptive in the long run and tries hard to be sensible.) As well as this, my current workplace has its priorities very much in the right order regarding employee welfare. My scrum master has told me to go home more than once when I wasn't well. Since I work 100%, I even get paid time to go to the doctor!
The end result is that I'm better now than I used to be at knowing if I can soldier on, and at letting myself be taken care of when I need to — at least for temporary illnesses. This autumn our house was a carousel of colds and ailments, and David, Kelsey and I took turns at making tea, fetching blankets and finding painkillers for one another. It had, however, taken me literally months of saying, "I've been feeling pretty tired lately," and, "How heavy can your periods get before it's a problem?" and, "Maybe I should start taking an iron supplement," before David convinced me to see a doctor and I learned that anaemia is a good explanation for repeatedly falling asleep in meetings and pair-programming sessions at work. (Not to mention all the other things I'd been sleeping through.) I was pretty sure, before that, that I was just making it up.
Here is an important thing to remember, if you're female-assigned, especially if you have reproductive, hormonal or mental-health troubles. I'm trying to remember it myself. There are lots of people who'll dismiss your perfectly-real health problems, unfortunately including plenty of doctors. Don't do their job for them by dismissing yourself before you even get to the doctor!