A cure for bad days: how I’m living my worst life the best that I can

It’s been gloomy in Atlanta lately, unrelentingly rainy and unseasonably warm. Each day is gray, gray, gray – both weather- and mood-wise.

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Recently, I found myself exhausted by the idea of one more day stuck inside with our 14-month-old daughter. 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.

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 Oprah Winfrey’s ubiquitous phrase, “live your best life”. 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 seemingly perfect existences, from their boastful vacation photos to their saccharine anniversary posts. Meanwhile, I was living the life 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. 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 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. 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.

I took this approach on what would have been my and Jamie’s ninth wedding anniversary. Instead of spending the day alone, I went to the beach with a group of close friends. We popped a bottle of champagne, splashed in the waves and quietly watched the sunset from the shore, one of us breaking the silence every so often to comment on how unexpected life can be. If I was living my best life, I would have spent the day celebrating with Jamie. But the beach day with friends was a pretty excellent consolation.

Whenever 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, 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 similar idea that I read in an end-of-year reflection resonated with me: “Everything [in 2021] seemed to take a little more effort than it otherwise would in non-pandemic times.” Everything, from recalling how to be social to smaller acts like remembering to grab a mask before heading out, seems to take more work. Likewise, walking in the rain requires more preparation than heading outside on a sunny day.

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 a rainy forecast. By all accounts, the next few months – or perhaps even the entirety of 2022 – may not be that great. Covid 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 pandemic.

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. But that doesn’t mean we have to sit inside and wish for better circumstances. We can always put on our raincoats 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.

This is an edited excerpt of a piece that originally appeared in My Sweet Dumb Brain. Looking for more great work? Here are some suggestions:


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