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a man on two sides of a wall, one dark and sad and the other bright and happy

When It's a Bad Day

My mom has this quote she says whenever anyone in our family is just having a rotten, no good, awful day. “It's a bad day, not a bad life”. This is not to downplay bad days, but it is more of an acknowledgment that the bad day will end. And, more importantly, that the bad day may turn into days, but even those days will come to an end as well.

Coping with my bad days in a healthy way

I’m very lucky that my mom always encouraged me to work through bad days and there was never an expectation to be “okay” all the time. It helped me develop healthy coping mechanisms which have now become invaluable as I deal with the stress, fear, worry, and general flood of emotions that come with being a cancer patient. I would say 99% of the time I can work through whatever I’m dealing with in a very healthy and careful way. I fully admit that there is that 1% where I do not do this (and I’ll touch on that later). So, let’s talk about how to deal with bad days.

Okay, you're having one of those day(s)

You’ve gotten scan results that are not what you’re hoping for, the doctor delivers bad news, your body isn’t cooperating, your ostomy won’t stop leaking, or you’re just overwhelmed with the whole cancer thing. It's a really, REALLY bad day(s). What do you do?

Tell people what you need

My husband is a fixer. When I am in a “My cancer sucks, I can’t take it anymore mood,” I don’t want a fix or people saying, “It's going to be okay.” Generally, that has the opposite effect. I very early on told my husband to just leave me alone and let me do what I need to do to work through my emotions. At most, he is allowed to just agree with me and give hugs. You have to tell your friends, caregivers, supporters, what kind of emotional support you need. Maybe you want to be left alone, maybe you NEED someone to list out all the ways things are going to be okay, maybe you really just want a hug. If you don’t communicate how you want those around you to react to your bad days, they may say or do something that makes it all even worse. People aren’t mind readers.

Don’t bottle your emotions

Give yourself permission to feel every single bit of your emotions. We put so much pressure on ourselves to stay positive and be happy. Cancer patients are actually expected to always be overly optimistic and have fight in them. Pushing aside and not acknowledging sadness, anger, and all the not happy thoughts just leads to a shaken soda situation.

Give yourself the time and space to process your feelings

Eventually, it all builds up to an even worse day down the road. If I feel the need to cry, I cry. I’ve also been known to yell and beat up a few pillows. The key is to give yourself a stopping point. I’ve set an alarm on my phone, or told myself “at the end of this shower” or “the end of this playlist.” Just some kind of signal that I need to start pulling myself together. It doesn’t always work exactly, but when I notice my time is coming to an end I know it's time to start breathing and calming myself.

Take care of yourself

Self-care is not just some buzzword from 2020. Self-care is probably one of the most important at-home rituals a cancer patient can develop. Bubble baths, skincare, yoga, comfy clothes, favorite foods, whatever your individual self-care looks like, embrace it on a bad day. My favorite routine is a good soak in the tub, followed by super comfy loungewear, Oreos, and playing video games. This has developed into a sure-fire way for me to pull myself out of a funk, while also giving me space/time to work through whatever is causing my bad day.

Sometimes, you need more than a bubble bath

Remember how I said there are times I don’t do these healthy coping rituals? I am not perfect, and I don’t always work through my emotions in the most appropriate ways. I want to acknowledge that sometimes things are really bad. I recognize that there’s not necessarily a wrong way to deal with bad days, but there are definitely things that can spiral and cause habits that are detrimental to your mental and physical health. If you find yourself struggling, reach out to a therapist. Seek medical intervention. I had a period of time where I was on medication which helped me work through depression. If I ever needed that support again, I would not hesitate in asking my therapist. There are some things a bubble bath just won’t fix.

It's okay to let the "brave warrior" mask slip

I want to remind my fellow cancer patients and caregivers that it really is a bad day, not a bad life. Cancer is hard, probably the hardest thing many of us will experience in our lives. If we as a community can start to acknowledge that there are days when the brave warrior mask slips, we can as a whole begin to help each other work through the bad days and get more of the good days.

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