First of all, I don’t think that bad days are necessarily all that “bad.” They just are. Their purposes are many and most likely, we won’t ever fully understand the Whys behind a bad day but that doesn’t necessarily matter. Bad days (or weeks, months or years for that matter) act as a counterbalance to the good ones and afterall, we need that; if not for anything other than to know a good day when we have one.
Fine but the question was, “How do you get through it?”
My response is mainly I don’t know but gratefulness helps. If I switch gears for a minute and stop brooding over “what’s wrong” and focus on the parts of my day or my life or my relationships that I feel fortunate for, it somehow allows me to go back to “what’s wrong” at a later time—when I’m less emotionally entwined and see things with more clarity and objectivity. You’re better able to determine what you can change and how or even if making that change is a possibility. If it isn’t within the confines of your control, at least you have the power of deciding how you want to approach the situation. Most times, I try and approach nearly everything with a grateful, open heart. When one is grateful, on a conscious and present level, it makes worrying all the more difficult.
Now, there is no step-by-step formula, per se. As in, “you get out of bed in the morning and you do x, y and follow with z.” However, having a routine helps. It doesn’t have to be a heavy one, either. As in, first wake up, come up with a mantra for the day and meditate on it for fifteen minutes. Although there’s nothing wrong with that, it can actually be simpler than that. As in, if you like coffee, get out of bed, put your slippers on, shuffle into the kitchen and make yourself coffee. A routine that helps you care for yourself, even in small, subtle ways can be extremely helpful. That’s part of my routine. First thing I do is make myself coffee. I might not even drink it, but at least it’s there and it’s hot. And it gives me a pretty good reason to leave the warmth and comfort of my bed. (Sometimes you might have to resort to pretending to trick yourself.)
However, if I’m having a particularly bad time of things, it might be unusually hard to get out of bed. If that’s the case, I tend to lie in bed for a few minutes and allow myself to feel that impending dread of initiating another day that might be laced with uncomfortable things like pain and realizations. It’s okay to do that. It’s just important not to wallow. While I let myself feel the ick, I try and focus my eyes on something pleasant. Like a painting in the room I particularly love, or a view out the window. I try and listen to the world outside the walls of the house, too. It’s like peer pressure in a positive sense. A sound track of life happening around you—birds chirping, cars passing—they are all little reminders that you aren’t alone. You do have to eventually get on the bandwagon and start your day. Everyone else is doing it. Think of it this way: if you can get dressed—shoes on, laces tied—then you’ve made it through the hard part. (Well, there’s no guarantee, but chances are the rest of the day will be full of other things to think about, like your day job and getting your oil changed.)
One of the greatest lessons about “getting through it” I learned from Katy. Katy lived with “c” for nine years. That’s nine years of trying to maintain a normal life, raising her two boys alongside her husband while going through endless bouts of chemo and radiation, experimental therapies and remission. All so she could keep living—a task most of us find hard enough as it is. She did everything in her power not to let “c” control or define her life. One of the ways she did this was to live anyway. When it came right down to it, she was dying and she knew it. Her response was many things—anger, frustration, fear, sadness—but when all that dissipated and evaporated, she knew the inevitable would just be, no matter what, regardless of how she felt about it. So her response to “c” was, “So?” She lived as best as she could using every minute of the time she had. As long as she felt good, and probably even the days when she didn’t, she walked her dog, went running, went skiing, gardened, laid in the sun, sometimes naked, wrote her heart out, yelled at her kids, fought with her husband, went to her book club, nearly finished her MFA, read self-help books, went to concerts, responded to emails, sent birthday cards and snorkeled bald in Hawaii, saying her head looked like Scotty Pippin.
Katy’s response to “c” was “F*ck You.” She would lash out from time to time and smash the shit out of a feather pillow with a tennis racket or break down and curse all the bad cells consuming her good ones, but it didn’t stop her from living her life. It was scary and hard and sad but for Katy, there was no alternative but to live anyway. She argued she was no different from anyone else in this life. We’re all dying, afterall, she’d say. Everyone else is just lucky enough not to be so conscious of their mortality.
She was right. We take it for granted, don’t we?
Katy taught me to be brave enough to face it all with gratefulness. No matter what, there are things you can always be grateful for in this life you just have to be brave enough to look for it. She was proof of that. With every breath she took, she would breathe gratefulness. Whatever thought came into her head, she’d thank the universe profusely: Thank you for the trees, thank you for the sky, thank you for this iron that’s broken so I have the opportunity to pick it to pieces and see how it works. Gratefulness was her way of seeing through the bad and identifying the goodness of life. It was a way of seeing purpose and finding meaning, of putting back the pieces to make it whole again.
Whenever I think I’m having a bad day, I think of Katy. It knocks everything back into perspective for me. But it’s not like you have to be dying of cancer to have a valid, legitimately bad day. Fear and loss and sadness affect everybody. It sounds cliché but it’s true: it’s just part of life. Katy would argue there’s a lesson there. And remembering that we only have a limited time here is what’s important when it comes to thriving in life’s chaotic brew. So, since you asked, my advice when it comes to “how to get through it,” is to take Katy’s advice: Be grateful, see it all as a gift and live anyway.