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A cure for bad days
There will be plenty of not-so-great days this year.
It’s been gloomy in Atlanta lately, unrelentingly rainy and, until a day ago, unseasonably warm. Each day is gray, gray, gray—both weather- and mood-wise.
Last week, in the midst of yet another rainy stretch, I found myself exhausted by the idea of one more day stuck inside with our daughter. At 14 months old, our baby is officially a toddler, and an increasingly mobile, curious, and temperamental one at that. Like me—and, presumably, every human being—her mood is greatly improved after spending time outdoors. And on this particular day, I wasn’t going to let the rain stop us.
So I gathered our raincoats, put on some waterproof shoes, strapped on the baby carrier, and grabbed an umbrella. It was raining pretty heavily, but we went outside anyway. I didn’t spot anyone else outside during our nearly hour-long walk. It was just me and my daughter, the pitter-patter of the rain on our umbrella, and the satisfaction of finally leaving the house.
Like many walks tend to do, our rainy stroll sparked some useful thoughts. In particular, as I dodged puddles, I was reminded of a motto that I adopted not long after my husband Jamie died: To live my worst life, the best I can.
My motto, or anti-motto as it were, was a response to the ubiquitous phrase, “live your best life,” coined by none other than Oprah. In the thick of my grief, that idea grated on me. I was annoyed and frustrated by the pervasive “live your best life” vibes that filled social media. I hated the way that people flaunted their perfect-seeming existences, especially in comparison to the life I was living—that of a heartbroken young widow, grieving and grasping for any sense of normalcy.
And so, I vowed to live my worst life, the best that I can. I was lonely, but I could take myself out on a nice date every once in a while. I was angry, but I could channel those feelings through a sweaty night of volleyball. I was sad, but I could attempt to cheer myself up with a warm bath and soothing music.
What started as a silly catchphrase became a lifeline for me—a way of getting through an otherwise brutal time. Living my worst life, the best that I could, allowed me to simultaneously accept my current situation while also making the most of it. Instead of wishing for a reality I couldn’t have, I embraced the shitty circumstances I was dealt.
I did this in small ways, one day or moment at a time. Sometimes it looked like deep-cleaning my house, then curling up with a movie. Other times, it was choosing to spend a holiday alone. Many times, it took the form of blasting a song in the car, screaming along, and allowing myself to cry as much as I needed.
If these actions did spark a moment of happiness—even if it was fleeting, amid an otherwise miserable existence—I tried to acknowledge it, to celebrate it, to take note that all was not lost.
Following this motto enabled me to focus on the precious things under my control. And last week, as I walked in the rain with my happy, babbling girl, I remembered how much that mindset helped me in the past, and how much I could benefit from it in 2022.
A few days after that rainy walk, I found myself facing the same scenario. Sunday was another gloomy day, but I hoped to log some outside time before my daughter’s afternoon nap. I looked at the forecast, and the rest of the afternoon, along with most of the week ahead, was the same: Nothing but rain and clouds. Once again, I put on our raincoats, strapped on the baby carrier, and grabbed the umbrella.
Later that day, I read an end-of-year reflection, which noted that “everything [in 2021] seemed to take a little more effort than it otherwise would in non-pandemic times.” That idea resonated with me. Everything, from the bigger endeavors (like putting together an outdoor party and remembering how to be social) to the smaller acts (like remembering to grab a mask and sanitizer before heading out the door) seems to take more work. Likewise, walking in the rain requires more preparation than heading outside on a sunny day.
Thankfully, I find the old adage rings true: The greater the effort, the sweeter the reward. If you accept your less-than-ideal circumstances and adapt to them—even if it takes a little more work, preparation, or motivation to do so—you can usually make a bad day a little less bad.
It’s important, though, to consider the toll that all this extra effort takes. Sometimes, it’s ok to take the easy route and let a bad day simply be bad. That’s a choice we have, too. We can stay inside and watch the rain from our window. We can give ourselves room to mourn and grieve and wish that things were different.
The choice is where our power lies. We aren’t letting bad days dictate our lives; we’re deciding how we will respond to them.
Thinking about the year ahead reminds me of looking at that rainy forecast. By all accounts, the next few months—or perhaps even the entirety of 2022—may not be that great. For starters, COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon, natural disasters continue to be an increasing threat, and all of us are feeling the mental health effects of the past few extra-stressful years.
Like many years before, 2022 will be full of hard moments. And, like many years past, it will also hold incredible lightness. No matter how hard we try, we won’t be able to control either thing—the heavy moments or the light ones. As much as we wish we could, we can’t control the weather, COVID case counts, or the deaths of loved ones.
Fortunately, we do have the option to accept and make the most of whatever situation we’re faced with—no matter how hard it may be. We always have the choice not to add needless suffering on top of our existing pain.
The months ahead might be cloudy, foggy, and not at all what we hoped. But that doesn’t mean we have to sit inside and wish for better circumstances. We can always put on our raincoats, grab an umbrella, and make the most of the situation we’re handed. After all, that extra effort just might make a bad day a little less bad.