THE GIFT OF THE BAD DAYS
“How are you doing?”
What do you say to that?
Well, if you’re like most people – you probably respond with “I’m fine thanks.”
“Doing well, thank you. How are you?”
“I’m enjoying my job.”
“My kids are loving school.”
“My marriage is rock solid.”
“Just got back from holidays.”
Chances are, you reply with a non-answer, or you thought about the best thing that’s happened lately – and you say that.
When asked how we are doing, especially in casual conversation, people tend to respond with the most easily accessible, positive information.
And patients do the same thing.
When doctors ask patients how they are feeling, studies show that they are more likely to respond by over-estimating their abilities.
When asked to describe a typical day this week, patients are more likely to describe their best day. Not the worst day. Not even an average day.
Why is this?
Psychologists and sociologists are still fuzzy on whether this is because we tend to over-estimate our abilities (which we do) or whether because we are more likely to remember unusual events than normal ones (which we also do). Likely it’s a combination of both.
Scientists like Daniel Gilbert and Malcolm Gladwell have dedicated their lives to trying to explain phenomenon like these. And even they don’t have it completely figured out.
But the point is clear – we suck at knowing how we are actually doing.
I receive a least one message a day from people wondering how I’m doing.
And there hasn’t been a whole lot to say, because, quite frankly, I’m at the really boring stage of my recovery. Each days fades into the next without a lot of noticeable change.
Until I woke up this morning and couldn’t get out of bed.
My body hurts. My head is pounding.
I had a massive panic attack last night and was up pacing for an hour.
Today, I’m cranky and sore and exhausted.
It sounds weird to say – but I forget that I have bad days.
They are getting fewer and farther between.
But I still have them.
I have good days – where the pups and I go for a walk on the beach. Which is amazing.
I have mediocre days – where I can sit and read for hours or crochet a small baby blanket. It’s been sunny and 20 degrees here all week, so I try to sit outside at least a little each day.
And I have bad days – like today – where my body feels like garbage and I just want to sleep for 20 hours.
But somehow my brain forgets about these bad days until I’m in the middle of one.
In his book Stumbling on Happiness, (which is amazing and I highly recommended) Daniel Gilbert talks about how if you want to know how someone is – you have to ask them about the moment that they’re in. We tend to discolour our memories of the past. And we tend to poorly predict the future. But we are fairly accurate at describing our current state.
And today’s current state is miserable.
Why am I telling you this?
Certainly not because I want you to feel sorry for me. If you are in the process of crafting a message telling me to chin up – it will get better – let me save you the trouble. I recognize that this is my worst day in a while. I know that it will get better. So, with all the kindness possible, please don’t send me messages that say that. Or emailing me saying that I could be dead, and that would be worse, so feel better. (Someone actually did this the other day. Seriously, people?)
I’m writing this because you are likely reading this post for one of two reasons.
Either because you care about me and want to know how I’m doing – which is cool – thank you. This is how I’m doing today. Today sucks. I appreciate that you care enough to read my rants. I recognize that each day is different and that my health is trending upwards. You rock. Being sick has taught me who in my life actually cares. And if you do, and you’re reading this, I am grateful to you. You don’t need to respond. Just know that I appreciate you.
Or, because you are preparing for a similar experience and want to know what to expect. And I’ve received a surprising number of messages from people that fall into this category. And I am honoured that you would read my story, and I hope that I can provide you some guidance, help, or reassurance. If you fall into this category, then this post is written specifically for you.
Not to depress you or scare you.
But to let you know that you will have bad days.
You will have days where you don’t want to get out of bed.
You will have days where the pain meds seem to do nothing.
You will have days where you feel like you’re going backwards.
But those days are not the end of the world.
One of my nurses told me that the best way to gauge our abilities is by measuring our bad days.
That we are ready to commit to doing what we can do on our worst day.
She told me that while I will want to estimate my health based on what I can do on my best day – that a better gauge of my recovery is my bad days.
That my bad days are getting better over time.
And that my paying attention to them, I will be able to track my progress, as well as my abilities.
That I will have a realistic gauge of what to expect of myself.
And you will too.
Six weeks ago, a bad days was narcotics and my vacuum pack and literally sleeping all day. Maybe choking down some ginger ale and crackers.
Today, a bad day means advil and being able to write this blog – which takes about 30 minutes – before I go back to bed for a nap. Then getting up and eating some soup. Reading for a bit. Then another nap.
When you’re in it, it can be hard to view this as progress.
But believe me – it is.
I want to know when I can go back to work, back to training, feel normal.
I want to get back to my regular life.
And on my best days – I feel like I could do some of those things.
But that’s why some people go back too soon, and get injured or relapse.
So, be gentle with yourself. Give your body the time that it needs to heal.
The bad days are important, because they help you know how you are actually doing.
The bad days protect you.
I’m learning that too. I am learning to be grateful for the bad days.
Now I’m going back to bed.