When asked to think about my very worst day, several pop up at once in my mind. I wonder if I’m alone in this or if others have experienced their “worst day” more than once. I suppose that is a part of being human with imperfect relationships in an uncertain world. It truly feels awful to experience the worst day over and over again.
One of my worst days sticks out more than a few others. As an adult, I recall hosting a holiday dinner for my family. Dinners with family can be hard sometimes. Sometimes there are things that are unspoken and old wounds may come to surface. I thoughtfully prepared the meal, cleaned my house and I tried to prepped myself mentally for what was to come. The gatherings were generally not as hard as I anticipated mostly because I learned to set boundaries over time. I love my family but sometimes my perception of our interactions would be less than helpful (even if well-intentioned on their part).
Back to the dinner - I was ready. Siblings, parents, extended family and additional guests. Everyone was coming to my house that year. This was a big deal. I welcomed them and we made it through the meal together. I would love to share details about what that looked like but honestly I can’t remember them. The conclusion of that gathering however was one that I will never forget.
We all said our goodbyes. One by one. Hugs and “text me when you get home” were common among the farewells. But then it happened. An unwanted touch.
No, I thought. That didn’t really happen. Surely that was an accident. Surely. Then a touch the second time. And I knew then, this wasn’t a mistake. That touch was intentional.
When You Experience Your Worst Day...Again via @iamsteveaustin #metoo #catchingyourbreath #recovery
I desperately wanted to say something at that moment but I was terrified. Things were already a little complicated with some of the guests and I didn’t want to make it worse. I couldn’t process the information quickly enough to even get the words out. Suddenly I felt like my childhood-self long ago who experienced significant trauma by a caregiver. I had no control. I felt alone and scared. I didn’t always feel believed. Did I really find myself in that situation again? I was so mad, disappointed and couldn’t believe this happened in my house. What the actual f***?
Several people left including the person who suddenly changed my world– again. I took a moment and used all the colorful language to express my immediate anger to the few people who were left. I begged them not to say or do anything about it. And to those remaining – just a handful, I expressed my disappointment, shame and hurt from that person I should have been able to trust. Some of the people didn’t quite know what to do with what I said. I’m grateful they believed me. One started to sob because they too experienced a great deal of hurt and pain and felt like they should have protected me. So in that moment, I grieved even more and did what I could to console them. I was devastated.
I was sad and felt alone. I shared what happened with a couple people I trusted but most people didn’t know about this “secret.” I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I felt like I was a child again with no control over what was happening to me. I was upset because I worked so hard (therapy, building friendships, education, coping skills, etc.) to work through significant childhood trauma and it seemed to unravel right in front of me.
I was depressed. I continued to reach out to people I could trust because I knew healing was rooted in healthy relationships. I confided in my pastor whose first words were, “I believe you.” I cried. She believed me. She validated my worst fear – disbelief. I reached out to professional supports again because even though I worked in mental health, I knew what I was experiencing was beyond things I could work through myself. I needed help.
It’s important to know that something unwanted like that may seem “small” or “insignificant” to some but it is actually a really big thing. Those type of hurtful/unwanted traumatic experiences can lead to relationship challenges, less productivity at work, and an increase in mental health symptoms. For me, it was all of those things. It took a long time for me to work through this part of my mental health journey. And I haven’t arrived. Our mental health journeys are not linear. There is no straight line, destination, or arrival point. Life ebbs and flows and with it comes different thoughts, feelings, and learning how to work through it.
Some of the best tools we can use to promote healing to get us through our worst days are:
We need to do what we can to take care of ourselves. What that looks like for each of us is a little different.
As a person who has experienced several “worst days,” I’m still here, living life and doing what I can to provide support and help to individuals around me. You belong here too. You don’t have to do this alone.
Bio: Jessica Smiley, MSW, LCSW, CCTP currently works in a community mental health center as Project Director and is the Director of Youth Ministries at her church. She is passionate about spreading mental health awareness, suicide prevention and speaking up against stigma related to mental health.
Curious what emotional health is all about? Download my free checklist, "21 Elements of an Emotionally Healthy Life," today.
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