A Secret for Surviving a Rough Day
About a year ago, I wrote an article on how to turn an unpleasant experience into a pleasant one (“How to Mindfully Turn a Mindful Experience Around”). I often rely on the practice in that piece to help me cope with life’s little irritations. But what can you do when, given the way a particular day is unfolding, that strategy is not in the cards? I’ll describe one such day in my own life and then share how I dealt with it. Hopefully, you’ll try it when your next rough day rolls around.
A few months ago, I woke up not having slept well the night before. Despite feeling lousy, I knew I had a doctor’s appointment that afternoon with a specialist whom I needed to see. Not only that, but I’d have to drive myself to the appointment (about 45 minutes each way), because my husband had a longstanding obligation he couldn’t cancel. At least, I thought, I’d be able to take a good long nap before I had to leave for the appointment.
Unfortunately, at about 10 a.m., I began to feel pain in my bladder. Within minutes, I knew from past experience exactly what was happening: I was coming down with a bladder infection. I know the signs well. My primary care doctor and I have worked out a protocol for handling this when it happens: I have antibiotics on hand; I begin taking them once I’ve collected a urine sample to take to the lab sometime that day.
First, I realized there’d be no delivering of a sample today. The appointment with the specialist was in the opposite direction from the lab—and in a different city. I couldn’t go both places on my own. So I sent a note to my primary care doctor, explaining why I couldn’t provide a sample and immediately began taking the antibiotics.
Second, they don’t begin to work for at least eight hours and, until then, I’m in considerable pain. I have pain pills I can take, but I didn’t think I should since I wasn’t sure how even one pill would affect my ability to drive safely. I’d have to put up with the pain, and this meant there’d be no napping before I had to leave for the appointment.
Bottom line: I was in terrible shape and saw no way to turn this unpleasant day into a pleasant one. At one point, I began to panic as I found myself thinking: “I can’t cope with what’s going on. I’m in pain. I had a bad night’s sleep. I can’t nap. I have to drive myself to and from this doctor’s appointment. How will I ever make it through this day?”
Then, thankfully, the title of a Beatles song came to mind: “A Day in the Life.” I took a deep breath and said to myself: “You’re all right. It’s just a day in the life. You’ll make it.” As soon as I said that, the panic subsided. I stopped mentally fighting the exhaustion and the pain. As a result, I could feel the tension in my body and mind relax, and I knew I’d be okay. Yes, it was setting up to be an extremely unpleasant day in the life but it was only one day…and it would pass.
As a bonus, this new perspective led to compassion arising for how terrible I felt. I began silently speaking to myself with kind words: “This is a hard day. Your body is not the enemy. It’s doing the best it can. Be gentle with it while it’s in pain and remember that soon you’ll start feeling a bit better.”
So, the next time you think you can’t cope, try gently saying to yourself, “It’s just a day in the life; you’ll make it,” and see if those words help you the way they helped me on that most unpleasant of days in the life.