We Weren’t Meant to Wallow

 ~To a friend who is having a bad day. 

Today was bad.

Something made you angry or frustrated or upset.  Something made you feel lost or confused or worried.

Today, something got the best of you.

And when it did– maybe you tightened your jaw. Maybe you balled your fist and seethed. Maybe you slammed your hand on the table and screamed. Maybe you rolled your eyes and sighed. Maybe you sat in the front seat of the car, stared into your lap and felt the power and energy and spirit that runs wild in your veins and arteries and zigzags from your heart to your gut to your head vanish as if someone slit you open, stole something inside, sewed you up and left just a shell of you sitting in the car, staring into your lap, absolutely unsure of what to do next.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do                                                                                       

with your one wild and precious life?

~Mary Oliver

I was diagnosed with cerebellar degeneration 5 years ago.

The first few years after the diagnosis were hard. Hard on my nerves. Hard on my psyche. Hard on my spirit. And no matter what people told me, no matter what  advice they gave I  found it impossible to squeeze my lemon into lemonade.

Life is apathetic to us.

We lose family and friends. We lose jobs and money. We get sick. We suffer setbacks and unwillingly swallow defeats.

When these hard times hit we often seek protection in the hallow house of self-pity. We foolishly believe wallowing is productive. We waste our energy feeling sorry for ourselves. We seek synthetic comfort on Facebook. We want others to entertain our pity. To partake in our self-sabotage.

Look– I, just like you, don’t want to suffer. But suffering is the price of admission for this life. It’s part of the contract. And so suffering, if nothing else, is a biting reminder that you’re alive.

What you must remember is that you– your creativity, your intelligence, your spirit, your story– are stronger, tougher, and more agile than hard times. Than bad days.

“You should be dead or in a hospital bed.”

That is what my neurologist said to me when he first saw the MRI of my brain 5 years ago.

I think about that sentence every day.  Sometimes in the quiet morning hours when the sun lays across the sky. Sometimes when I see my children lose themselves in laughter. Sometimes there is not a stimulus. Just like a wayward memory that knocks at my door and patiently waits, like memories do, for me to answer.

My initial diagnosis sucker punched me. My youngest child was only a few weeks old. I was enrolled in grad school. I was 33 and healthy and strong and excited about my life.

But life, as it so often does, had other plans.

For years after my diagnosis I wallowed and wondered– How could this happen to me?  I was too young, too healthy, too valuable, too good for this fate.  Why me?

What I didn’t realize was that hard times are valuable opportunities for growth, for self-discovery.

Suffering sucks. I get it. But maybe we don’t have to needlessly suffer. Maybe our pain is trying to tell us something. Maybe Benjamin Franklin was right when he wrote, “The things that hurt, instruct.”

Living with a chronic, progressive illness is hard. It requires a lot of deep breaths, an occasional beer, and a keg of perspective.

But we weren’t meant to wallow.

We were meant to strive and thrive and challenge ourselves, no matter the circumstance, to do great things.

When you have a bad day remember that negative experiences teach us just as much as positive ones. That pain and suffering, failure and frustration exist to teach us about ourselves. About what we can endure. About what we’re capable of.

Be well,


PS– If you know someone having a bad day or enduring tough times feel free to share this post with them.

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