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Lisa Cleary Headshot

Let Bad Days Be Bad Days

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Having a bad day is like getting a stomach virus. We all get them from time to time, and they're debilitating. Suddenly, without much warning, you're forced into bed and cocooned under the covers in a fetal position.

When people tell me they're having a bad day, it's my natural inclination to tell them to cheer up. I don't want to see my friends or family in a sour mood, and they sure as hell don't want to hear me grumble. After all, a day is a gift not to be wasted, or so says every cross-stitched pillow.

While I'm typically a cheery person, I don't always whistle while I write, nor do I have blissful encounters with intelligent people all of the time. Sometimes, my natural sparkle can transform to sparks, and I'll tell myself that I can't wait for this such-and-such a bad day to be over. No one, including myself, enjoys having a bad day.

At the same time, bad days are essential in life and we should welcome them with open arms. Why? We need to experience the lowest of the lows to recognize that a mediocre day is not, in fact, a bad day. It is simply a mediocre day. And, on the opposite end of the spectrum, we need a foundational measurement to show that a day without a hitch is indeed a blissful day.

Let's rewind a bit, and I'll explain my reasoning more.

One day, I was on little sleep and had a bad day. During the morning, I refreshed my computer at work and saw that the deadlines in my queue had piled up faster than I anticipated.

Then, when I was leaving the office for lunch, I slipped in front of a Hooters establishment when the waitresses were out front, swinging their hula hoops around. I was hit, hurt and fell on my stomach, and my skirt rose high enough so that I mooned the entire Hooters lineup and then some.

(Clearly, my bad day wasn't the end all, and I've been in far worse situations. But, it just so happened that that day struck a nerve.)

A few hours later, as I drove home from work, I let my shoulders slump forward and my body relax. I was planning on heading straight for bed until a song by Sara Bareilles came on about "her first horrible heartbreak." Since I was having a horrible day, too, I felt an instant connection with her. I took a deep breath, belted out the tune along with her and drove toward a spa.

I desperately needed to destress.

Once inside the massage studio, I kept my face lowered in the dimly-lit room as the massage therapist pointed to the robe and the table, prompting me to undress and lie down. (I can't remember this dear woman's name for the life of me, so I'll call her Virginia.)

After I lowered myself face first on to the table, Virginia came back in and started to knead between my shoulder blades.

"You have an awful lot of stress knots, more than young people should have at your age," she commented.

I started to shake my head in obvious agreement. But it just so happened that the word "stress" triggered my waterworks, and I scrunched up my face into ugly crier mode.

"Oh... oh... am I hurting you?" Virginia asked, alarmed, and flung her hands away from my back. "Am I using too much pressure?"

"No, you're not hurting me," I said, and I started crying harder. "I'm just having a bad day."

Virginia remained startled while my body shuddered with each sob, and I could feel her hesitate to touch me.

"No need to lighten up," I continued to cry, and I wiped my nose on the edge of the heated towel. "Those stress knots are killing me today."

Virginia pushed her palms deeper into my lower back, and I realized how much tension I was carrying around with me day to day. Where had this all accumulated from? I closed my eyes and focused on relaxing a different part of my body with each deep sigh, and my back went from feeling tight to feeling incredibly sore.

Near the end of the massage, Virginia nudged me to roll over on my back so she could stretch out my neck. I turned my left shoulder to flip over, and she gasped when she saw my face.

"Oh my gosh, oh my gosh. Let me get you a tissue," said Virginia, as she widened her eyes. "You certainly weren't lying... I hope everything turns out OK."

I sat up, dazed, and looked at myself in the mirror above the side counter. My eyes were almost swollen shut, and I had streaks of mascara dripping down my cheeks. Through my smears of black eyeliner, I looked like a kindergartner's attempt at painting a watercolor racoon.

Virginia caught me scowling at my reflection, and hugged me. "It's OK to have a bad day," she said. "Now go home and get some sleep."

I dabbed my eyes and made my way home. Once in bed, I ate four string cheeses and a bag of Popchips, and then fell asleep instantaneously.

The next morning? Besides looking like holy hell, I felt great. I had let it all out, and let me tell you -- it was cleansing and empowering. I acknowledged that my day had gone to the dumps, and I let myself openly cry without shame in front of a stranger. In my stage of vulnerability, I welcomed Virginia's comfort.

As humans, we're destined to feel weak and have miserable days, and there's nothing wrong with that. Have a bad day and be real. Sing, cry and eat. (It works for me.) Address your emotions and let it out -- not just a little bit, but all of it.

Let a bad day be a bad day, and then be done with it.