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15 Things It Might Mean When I Say 'I'm Having a Bad Day' as a Person With Chronic Illness

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The other morning I had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to take my girlfriend to work so I could use our one car to make it to an appointment at our Local Job and Family Services — a different kind of appointment than usual as my chronic illnesses were currently making it impossible for me to work and I was applying for food assistance.

We were running late, which is typical for me, and as she was rushing down the three stories worth of stairs from our apartment, I was walking impossibly slow. My ankles felt like rubber, I felt unsteady, and in a general disoriented state. I assured her I was still on my way down the stairs, the same ones I lost my balance on a few months earlier, resulting in a fall and a broken foot. I told her, “I think I’m just having a bad day.”

When I got back home I started thinking about how many times she, and so many others, have heard me say I was a having a bad day. To the outside observer it would seem like I have a bad day just about every single day, and they wouldn’t be wrong in their assumption. But the thing is, a bad day, for me at least, can mean so many different things.

I wrote a post on Facebook about some of the meanings behind this phrase and got some amazing feedback and support from friends, especially those who are also learning to live with chronic illness. A few people asked me if they could share my piece. I was flattered and also inspired to really flesh out this list in hopes it could help more people feel less alone or understand what their loved one, employee, neighbor, or random person they meet may really be saying when they say it’s a bad day.

Things I want you to know about the phrase “bad day” as a person with chronic illnesses:

1. Saying I’m having a bad day is not a whiny complaint, it is a fact.

2. A bad day does not always mean I’m in a crappy mood, although it can. 

3. Having a bad day as far as disease process can mean so many things. It could mean my ankles feel like rubber and I’m unsteady, my brain feels disconnected and I’m having trouble thinking or communicating, I’m in a ton of pain, etc. 

4. I can have regular ole bad days as well. The dog messed on the floor, I can’t find anything to wear, my hair is doing that flippy thing on one side that I hate and I have a new pimple forming. You get the point. 

5. I can have double bad days. That means little annoyances and feeling physically and/or mentally un-well at the same time. 

6. I have a lot of bad days, but that doesn’t mean I’m grumpy all the time. 

7. If I tell you I am having a bad day, that means I trust you. It means I feel comfortable enough to share the details of my illness with you. I am not looking for attention, what I really am say is “Please be patient with me, I’m really trying.” 

8. If I say I’m having a bad day, please don’t tell me that someone out there has it worse. Trust me, I know that and I am probably more thankful for the small things in life like being able to walk and to have conversation and be independent because I have been in a place where I could not do those things and know that at any time I may be in that position again. Knowing it could be worse does not reduce my struggle in the moment. 

9. I can have a bad day and still be productive, just not at the level of a well person. 

10. I never know when I will have a bad day until it happens. I don’t plan it and sometimes don’t have any warnings. This causes me to be reluctant to make plans because I often have to cancel them. Know that I am truly sorry when I do. I want to be there.

11. Sometimes it’s easier to say I am having a bad day than to really explain what is going on. Having a bad day is way more relatable than telling someone that I was running a low grade temperature this morning so that either means I have tons of inflammation or an infection. So I will have to retake my temperature in a few hours to see where it is then and that I’m stressed about another doctor’s appointment or extended period of illness. Or that for some reason I am feeling really depressed and I don’t know why but I am trying to get up and function the best I can anyway. Or to tell someone a symptom and hear yet more unsolicited — and probably inappropriate — advice they heard from so-and-so who has a second cousin with such and such that I also happened to be diagnosed with.

12. All bad days are not of equal severity.

13. I can have a bad day six days in a row, but each day may be “bad” for different reasons. Monday I had a headache, Tuesday I had cramps, Wednesday the dog ate my sock when I showered. It can change everyday.

14. It can actually change throughout the day. I may wake up with a headache, rest and get rid of that, but the extra time immobile has caused joint stiffness and now it’s difficult to walk.

15. Even when I have a bad day I am still trying. I think this may be the most important for me. If I didn’t try I would be dead. I know this. I try by getting up and taking my medications, making the effort to move from the bed to my recliner, telling someone how I feel. Please don’t take me resting and taking care of my body as me not trying. It is the opposite. I am trying to be as well as I can be so I can keep plans, be witty and sarcastic, and get back to participating in life the best way I can.

This is my list and what having a bad day means to me. It is far from an exhaustive list as chronic illnesses are unpredictable and sneaky little buggers. I would love to hear what having a bad day means to you. I’m sure there are so many more I could come up with, but the words just aren’t there today. Most likely because electrical waves in a certain part of my brain are lower than the norm and aren’t responding to the stimulant medication I’m prescribed, or you know, it’s a bad day.

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Originally published: October 17, 2016
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