When You Don't Trust Your 'Good Days'
If there has been something I have been grateful for lately, it has been the beautiful days I have experienced over these last several months.
And no, I am not referring to all the fun and joy that came with the Christmas season, or all the family gatherings and endless amounts of food (and chocolates) that were shared. Nor am I referring to the end of a long December, where we all took a few moments to reflect on the past 12 months while bright lights boomed across the dark skyline, signaling the start of a new year.
As much as I do love this time of the year, this is not what I am grateful for.
I am grateful for the good days. Not just any ordinary good day where Tim Hortons manages to get my tea just the way I like it, or my boss, who is severely strict and overbearing, gives me a compliment about my impressive work ethic. Or when I’m scrubbing dishes clean in the evening and my boyfriend turns on “our songs” and grabs my dripping wet hands and pulls me to dance with him around the kitchen. (Though I will admit, those moments don’t just make my day, they make my week!) While these can make any grey sky seem bluer, I am not referring to the little things that turn an ordinary day into a good day.
I am talking about the “good days.” The days in which my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) doesn’t win another battle, my depression doesn’t weaken my resolve, or my anxiety doesn’t add another chink in my already damaged armor. The days when I look out the window, and despite the snow, drizzle or fog, I feel that feeling that has become so rare it seems unnatural. That flutter that ignites my soul and warms my bones. I’m talking about the days when the darkness that casts over me, the ghastly hands that grip my shoulders and the voice that whispers those lies into my ears, retreats back into the shadows from which it came.
I’m talking about the days when I feel hope. I feel that lingering sense of purpose, a sense that I am worth more than my mental illness convinces me I am. When I can manage to go to work or sit to write at my computer, or binge-watch Netflix, or when I just relax on the couch, putting in my earbuds and blaring my Linkin Park playlist on repeat and just lose myself in the lyrics. Suddenly, I have the dawning realization that, for the rarest of moments, I forget I have a mental illness. I become so caught up in just “living,” even I forget that I am sick, that I can be plagued by flashbacks and night terrors. For those few moments of solace, I remember what it feels like to just be “me,” the girl I was before I was diagnosed with PTSD.
I just go about my business, take it each hour at a time and do the things I enjoy, like writing.
I simply live my life.
It’s a unique experience to have these epiphanies over the simple things — to immerse myself in the ordinary routine that is daily life, to go about my business as the rest of the world whips by in a flash. To simply be.
When you’re consumed in darkness, it can be so easy to forget how easy life can be. Living in a vicious cycle in which every thought, every action, every move requires thorough planning and details, so much so that all you are filled with is dread and self-doubt about every word, every action you take — life can become tremendously difficult when your illness leaves you feeling both mentally and physically debilitated.
So when you wake up one morning after you had a sound night’s sleep, not filled with horrific flashbacks but peaceful, hopeful dreams, you open the blinds, and regardless of what is pouring out of the heavens, you take a deep breath and savor the moment. Maybe send a small prayer to the sky or whisper a simple “thank you” to no one; you just take a pause to revel in the moment.
You’re going to have a good day.
And your heart flutters at those words.
But the good days come at a cost.
Unfortunately, for someone like me, the good days don’t always last.
Many of us approach these good days with caution because they have become so rare over the years, like a solar eclipse or the beautiful sighting of a meteor shower. No, for me, back then, a good day was not necessarily a good sign. Rather it was an omen, the calm before the storm that forewarned the darker days to come. Back then, I questioned the good days. When something so beautiful and rare reveals itself, sometimes you can’t help but question its intent.
Was I strung out on my antidepressants and simply so overtired that I was too numb to feel anything? Did I lose track of my pill count and accidentally take one too many Prozac pills? Was I calm because my heart medication was keeping my anxiety under control? Did my session with my therapist the day before actually help improve my mood? Or was my journal writing helping keep the demons at bay?
When the good days are so rare, it’s easy to question their existence.
And for a long time, a very long time, there were months I didn’t see a single good day. In 2013, when I relapsed into a severe depressive episode, I can count on two hands how many good days I had in 12 months. Eight. I had eight good days out of 365.
I merely had a good week.
And although I remain optimistically cautious when I do have good days, I will never attempt to demean them in any way. The good days are sometimes the only thing I have left to hold onto: the hope for a better day, a better tomorrow. Even if it’s raining, sometimes all I have to offer me comfort is the thought of a good day, like the days my boyfriend takes me by the hand and twirls me around our kitchen.
If anything, I have been taking the good days for granted. For months now, I have crawled out of the dark place and let the warmth of the sun cast over my face. Compared to 2013, I would need a lot more fingers and toes to be able to tally the number of good days I’ve had.
Is the number greater than the number of bad days I’ve had? No. My bad days do still own the scoreboard, but they’re not leading by much.
And even though there are days I do take for granted how unbelievably blessed I am to have a winning streak of good days, I have also become humbled by them. If there is one thing living with a mental illness has taught me, it’s not to keep track of the bad days or the good days. It’s not a competition; there’s no grand prize for finally beating the odds against the bad days.
In the last five years I have been living with PTSD, I wouldn’t even want to know the number of bad days or good days I’ve had. It’s not something I like to think about, so I refuse to let myself dwell on them.
Rather, I approach my good days with optimism and immense gratitude. Compared to five years ago, I have come a long way. Five years ago, I was swallowing, on average, 10 pills a day and simply eating and sleeping enough to keep myself alive. Now? I take one pill at night and my anxiety medication when I have a panic attack, and even then it is only when I can’t control my anxiety using the strategies my therapist has taught me.
I have come a long, long way.
So when I do reflect on the good days and have that slight, fleeting moment of panic questioning their existence, I no longer fret over when the bad days will reveal their ugly head again. This is something I’m not afraid of anymore.
I don’t fear the bad days anymore.
Because I’ve seen the darkest of days. I’ve felt hopeless. I’ve experienced desperation. I’ve put myself through extreme measures to rid myself of the consuming pain that filled my empty void. I’ve convinced myself there was nothing left, convinced myself I was not a good person. My mental illness has won many battles and manipulated me to believe there was no hope. I was blinded by my pain for a long time.
I’ve seen worse. I’ve felt worse.
But I have come a long, long way.
So while I do write this with a slight twang of weariness (because I have been on a winning streak of good days for some time now), I write this more as advice rather than a warning of caution.
You’re allowed to take the good days for granted. You’re allowed to revel in the marvelous feelings that fill your heart when you wake up and you feel unstoppable. You’re allowed to let that fire burn deep in your soul and heal the brokenness in your heart and sweeten the bitter venom that lingers in the back of your throat.
You’re allowed to enjoy the good days, but you don’t have to fear them either. They’re not meant to be a warning of unspeakable pain. They’re a reminder to live. They’re a reminder that there is more than the hurt, deceit and lies your mental illness convinces you are true. They’re a reminder that life is so much more than the torment of living with an invisible illness.
They’re a reminder that we need to take time to heal, to be selfish even when our low self-esteem threatens us, to take all the time you need to do what you love and heal. Even if it’s as simple as snuggling on the couch with your giant English mastiff and watching Gord Downie say his final goodbye.
They’re a reminder we are constantly healing, even when we may feel like we’re making no progress.
They’re a reminder that we are winning the war.
The good days are to remind us that we matter.
And while the good days don’t always last…
Neither do the bad days.
Image via Contributor.
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