It's Okay to Have Bad Days
Updated: Mar 15, 2021
Be kind to yourself, especially when circumstances are not!
In the early 1990s, I moved from Vancouver, BC to Montreal, QC. I arrived in Montreal in November, under-dressed, overwhelmed, and unprepared. Today's post is not about how or why I ended up in Montreal though, but rather about bad days and I begin with one of my early days in Montreal.
As noted, I arrived in Montreal in November so the weather already sucked. By the time the new year arrived I was really beginning to wonder what the hell I had done. I mean I was a west coast girl. Rain was my thing and -3c was about as cold as I ever experienced. I did not know what a Montreal winter was like. I learned things that I had no idea about: frozen nostril hairs, wind chill factor, and freezing rain! The last was a concept that I could not wrap my brain around. I always thought freezing rain was snow, but I would soon find out how very wrong I was! This messy, cold, sloppy, and dangerous product of mother nature did not even classify as rain as far as this rain forest raised gal was concerned.
For those that do not know, freezing rain happens when the atmosphere that the rain originates from is warmer than the atmosphere it enters into usually due to overcast skies holding the cold air lower to the earth's surface. So when it rains, as the rain enters the colder atmosphere, it starts to freeze and become slushy and icy. But the worst part is when the rain hits the cold freezing surfaces of cars, windshields, pathways, sidewalks and roads and instantly turns into ice. It takes no time at all for everything to be covered in a thick layer of ice. This is what I faced on a January morning when I was leaving for a training program I was enrolled in.
I walked out of my house and gingerly made my way down our walkway to my car where I quickly realized that I could not open the door because it was frozen solid. This required me to go back inside to boil some water to pour onto. While I was waiting for the water to boil, I went back outside to start chipping away at my windshield which was completely covered in a 1cm layer of ice. On my way back to the car, I slipped on the walk and fell. Not only did I give my tailbone at good jar, I was also soaked and freezing. I looked at my watch and realized that by the time I got changed and the car unfrozen, I would be leaving for class after the class was scheduled o start. Sitting on the cold, wet ice on the verge of tears, I decided I did not have the energy needed to go to class that day. The program had an attendance requirement, so I called the instructor to advise her I would not be attending that day.
What I got from her was not understanding or concern, instead she chastised me for a good five minutes. She lectured me that I lived in Montreal now and I could not use the weather as an excuse for not showing up for things. She told me it was unprofessional and that it was incumbent on me to figure out how to get to class every day on time. All of which I agreed with, but I explained I had hurt myself and just needed to rest and not risk further injury by walking on the ice. But she did not let up and basically made me feel like crap. She lectured me about it again when I saw her on the next day. Lesson learned, there did not appear to be any circumstance in which she considered taking care of oneself was more important than showing up.
Fast forward about five years and I am back in Vancouver as a single mom. I was learning to navigate the new challenges of working full-time, commuting, and daycare for my daughter while on my own. I was about ten days into a new job where I was commuting from Richmond to downtown Vancouver - approximately a 30 minute drive in good traffic conditions. Around 2'o'clock in the afternoon on Valentine's Day it started to snow. By 3:30 people had started to leave downtown Vancouver in droves because everyone knows commuting in the snow in Vancouver is a nightmare. My employer however, made me stay until 5:00 pm; usually this meant I would be picking up my daughter by 5:45. By 5:30 I had travelled exactly six blocks. By 6:30 I was still at least another 30 minutes from home. There were no cell phones back then. I had to find a pay phone and pull over to call the person taking care of my daughter and inform her that I had no idea how long it would be until I got there. She was not impressed. I climbed back in my car, but 20 minutes later when I still had not made much progress, I found another pay phone, and called my mom who I lived with and asked her to pick up my daughter. Keep in mind that I was dressed in office attire and had not been expecting a heavy snowfall.
By the time I made it home it was after 7:30. I was exhausted and really not feeling well. It was all I could do to take care of my daughter's needs and get myself to bed. When I woke up the next morning I had a raging fever, terrible cough, and pounding head. There was no way I could work. I had to call in sick. And just like the instructor before her, my boss chastised me. She reminded me that I was still in my two-week probationary period. She asked if I realized "how this looked." And she tried to cajole me into going to work anyways. But I really was very sick, and I simply wasn't able. She made me feel like I was putting a job that I really needed on the line because I needed to take care of myself. So again, message loud and clear, showing up was more important than taking care of myself.
Both of these things happened when I was in my twenties, and in both situations it was women chastising me. This really makes me wonder how often women are sent the message that our well-being doesn't matter. That our commitment to others trumps taking care of ourselves every time. How many meals have we cooked, kilometers driven, loads of laundry washed even when we were exhausted and just wanted to sit down and have someone take care of our needs for a change? How many times in a week, month, year, do we get out of bed to take care of others when we need taking care of ourselves? How often do we donate our time, energy, and talents to others to the point that we have none of those things left to give to ourselves. How many hobbies have been given up by women because dance classes, hockey, or whatever for the kids drained the bank account? How many times has mom walked around in worn out shoes that hurt her feet, or a bra that has past its lifespan so kids could wear the latest fashion, and husband has good work boots?
I could go on and on. It seems that from a very young age women are taught to deny themselves self-care. We aren't supposed to have bad days to begin with, let alone expect a break when we do have one. In my home, when I was raising my daughters, if I mentioned or showed that I was having any kind of problem it was met with impatience and disdain. If I said my feet hurt (I live with chronic pain in my feet but rarely let it hold me back) the response would be "why don't you do something about that?" Never a suggestion I sit down and take a load off. If I was distracted with a lot on my mind I was asked, "why are you in such a bad mood?" If I was sick in bed with the flu or suffering a bad headache it was implied I was a baby and being dramatic. And of course calling in sick to an employer is the worst feeling ever. They always made me feel like I was a liar and faking illness. I went to work sick too often because of this. (Not difficult to understand how a pandemic spreads when employers treat employees this way.)
But when my youngest daughter moved out of the house I decided it was time to teach myself some new tricks. Guilt-free self-care! I am taking care of myself first. I am only human. I get tired, I get sick, I get frustrated, and I have streams of bad luck just like anyone. I have days when I want to grab the bull by the horns and conquer the world, days when I struggle to get out of bed, and all kinds of in-between days. And they are all perfectly okay. I give myself full permission to have guilt-free, do nothing days because sometimes the world just feels too heavy and I need to take a load off. I give myself permission to cry when pangs of hurt from struggling relationships overwhelm me. I give myself permission to spend hours alone in my office, writing, reading, thinking, painting, meditating... whatever I need and want to fill me up. I give myself permission to do all this because I recognize that I need restorative healing from the wounds that daily life leaves. And I accept that none of is us perfect. We all get overwhelmed and feel like we aren't measuring up to others' expectations of us, but also that sometimes other people don't live up to our expectations. So I forgive myself my bad days, days when I am tired, impatient, irritable, sensitive, or lazy. As with everything, I know those moods/feelings will pass. And I encourage everyone reading this to be kinder to yourself too, especially on your bad days!