Some days are just hard, no way around it. It’s one of the hard parts about life and being human. The human condition, you could say. The day your car breaks down and you have no idea how you’re going to pay for another one; the day you get bad news from the doctor; you have a fight with your spouse and your not sure your marriage is going to make it…dark days.
Some days are dark, without the obvious triggers. Some days are like swimming through mud but when you look around, there’s only sunshine and you wonder why in the world you feel as unsettled, down, anxious, pained as you do. These days are a unique burden. What do you do when there’s not a situation to fix? Not a person to stand up to, a grief to outlast, or a fear to face? Just a feeling, void of context, hanging over you clouding what “should” be a sunny day. That, too, is the human condition.
I have go-to coping skills that I use on a regular basis. Things like writing, taking a bath, breathwork, progressive muscle relaxation, etc…but some days nothing seems to work. Some days skills just seem to fall flat. Life has very dark parts, shadows and pains. I think sometimes we have this unrealistic idea that life is sunshine and if we experience dark parts, we’re doing something wrong. At least, I know I do. Sometimes I think the goal is to never experience anxiety, then my logical self takes over and reminds me that I’m setting myself up with that kind of magical thinking. Sometimes I think I should only be sad if there is an obvious reason. No one died? Ok, sad doesn’t make sense so stop it. Really healthy, I know.
All of this but I’m coming to the realization that sometimes the dark parts of life are filled with obvious monsters–death, heartbreak, rejection, loss… And sometimes the dark parts are shifting shadows without a tangible glimpse of exactly which monster we’re dealing with. These monsters, the covert, ninja like ambiguous ones, come with a lot of shame and self judgement, running from them and trying to talk ourselves out of their presence.
It’s these monsters that I’ve struggled more with lately. I haven’t beaten them with the usual weapons ie coping skills. These, I don’t exactly fight at all. These I weather. I’m in no way perfect at this yet, but here’s what I’m discovering…
1. Axe all critical self talk. You’re already struggling, why would you add on more suffering? I can’t imagine kicking a friend when she’s down. “Of course you’re sad right now, you really suck and no one likes you. You should be better than this” Yeah, wouldn’t do that. Don’t do it to yourself either. It will only make your pain that much more intense.
2. On a similar note, don’t obsess over all the bad, terrible, scary, shame inducing, embarrassing, frustrating things you’ve experienced since you peed in the trashcan when you were three (don’t judge me). Again, if a friend is struggling, are you going to remind her of all the other stuff she should also be upset about?
3. No future telling either. “This is never going to end. My whole day is ruined and probably the rest of the week too.” That’s like a friend telling you that her boss was a jerk at lunch and you telling her “Yep, your whole day is ruined and probably the rest of the week to.” That would obviously make her feel worse….Yep. You guessed it. It will make YOU feel worse too.
4. Keep your eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel, even when you can’t see it. It’s amazing the things that we can overcome and get ourselves through when we have hope and a strong will to make it. Keep your eyes up.
5. Connect with those you love. Connection may not “fix” the pain but it helps us weather the storm. It helps us make it through. We may still struggle, and some days we WILL still struggle, but connection (real connection, not email, text, social media) is a like a life preserver. You may still be struggling with the waves, but connection will help keep you from drowning.
6. Accept where you are and what you are experiencing. It’s totally counterintuitive, but stop fighting. Stop telling yourself you should feel better, stop trying to force yourself to feel better. Stop giving yourself the message that this kind of ninja monster is unacceptable or not allowed. Sometimes what we fight only magnifies the longer and harder we fight it. Accepting your experience doesn’t mean sulking in it or staying in it unnecessarily or even pitying yourself for the way you feel. Acceptance is like “this hurts” or “I’m struggling right now and it’s ok to let it be” or even “It is what it is.” Lately I’ve been using “through it all, it is well” because I know that even when it doesn’t feel like it’s ok, I am still ok. Even when it hurts, I will make it through the storm. That accepting reminder eases the struggle while I wait for the storm to pass.
7. Don’t let the dark days keep you from living. This one is hard sometimes. We struggle not to let life come to a standstill when we struggle. It’s hard not to give in to the idea of locking yourself in your room and doing nothing. But that’s exactly what the monster wants you to do. Doing this sacrifices the connections that you need to weather the storm and it’s a sinkhole that will be harder to get yourself out of. You may not feel like living life but DO. IT. ANYWAY. It keeps the monster from winning.
Life has its dark days and it has its joys and beauty too. At any given time in our life, we may find ourselves in a peak or a valley. That’s life, I suppose. These tips are meant for the ups and downs of life. If life is consistently down for you and nothing you’re doing is working, it’s time for some extra support like a trained therapist or doctor. People often think that reaching out is shameful, but it isn’t. It’s courageous. So be brave and do what you need to do to support you.
I’d love to hear what you’ve discovered to weather dark days and monsters. Leave a comment!