Do you ever forget the goal that you’re working toward or who you’re striving to become because of difficulties you’re facing – difficulties that can make you want to aim for something smaller?

I do. I’m often fighting doubt, circumstances, symptoms, or whatever else it is that’s keeping me from the courage and motivation to pursue my truest potential in life. And I know I’m not the only one feeling this.

One of the differences in my life post-Mayo Clinic Pain Rehabilitation Center that keeps me going on this arduous but worthwhile path of living a full life, despite pain and symptoms, is my bad moment bag. It sits in the back seat of my car as my ever-present passenger, since I’m a commuter and I live in two separate houses. It’s something I reach into when I see myself facing a day that I am scared of because of higher-than-usual symptoms, challenging tasks back-to-back(-to-back), or something that I can’t honestly figure out, but is messing with my peace (anxiety, I’m looking at you). It’s something I grab when I worry that I’ll shrink back instead of rise to the challenges I’m facing that day. It’s something I root through when I see myself thinking about (or actually) falling back into old habits rather than putting into practice my newer, healthier, better habits. I see myself wanting to cancel plans, quit when the going gets tough, take extra pain medications, skip going to the gym, and just stay home, curled up in a blanket burrito.

It’s a bag of reminders of where I’m going, not what I’m facing right now that’s making me doubt that journey. It’s a bag of little things to keep me going when I honestly think I can’t. There are activities I can do or small moments that I can create that will help me to pause and breathe, rather than slump into my couch for the rest of the day. And, on a similar note, this is why it’s called a bad moment bag rather than a bad day bag. I’m learning not to condemn a whole day as bad based on how I’m feeling at any one point.

What’s in my bag?

  • My difficult day plan, something I created during my tenure at Mayo Clinic for times like this. It’s a list of promises to myself, ideas for things to do in hard moments, and people I can call, among other things. I’ll write a longer post on just that at some point.
  • Mayo Clinic stuffed animal to remind me of the wonderful times I had with my cohort – a group of people so great that we all forgot why we were there most of the time.
  • Notebook of encouraging letters from my peers at the PRC. When I don’t feel like myself, it’s hard for me to like myself or look at myself how someone else might – with grace, love, and words of kindness. Others’ words can help me remember who I am when I’m at my best and who I am when I’m striving for growth. My peers from Mayo saw and understood what I was going through then and they certainly know now, too.
    • I have an electronic version of something similar to this, too – whenever anyone sends me a lovely message, I screenshot it for a rainy day in the future. The chances are that your words are somewhere in this folder, my friends.
  • Photo of loved ones to further remind me that I’m not alone.
  • Bible because reading the Word can help me regain a long-term perspective and remember that I am a beloved daughter of God, regardless of what my circumstances look like.
  • A music note to encourage me to listen to or even to create music.
  • Socks to push me toward the gym because, no matter how much I may dread going (I mean, it’s counterintuitive to exercise when you’re in pain and don’t want to), I almost always feel far better afterward. There’s a lot of evidence that exercising (that’s right for you – whatever that looks like) helps with fibromyalgia, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), and mood disorders and anxiety, AKA everything I face.
  • “The Nice Handbook” for if I want to make a difference in a community – no matter how small – as a part of my day.
  • Notes from my church members that I received while I was at Mayo because the prayers enclosed in them all came true in some form, and it reminds me of what God has done.
  • Fidget toys like stress balls and Play-doh to keep my hands busy if I’m experiencing anxiety.
  • Bubbles to help me breathe slowly and deeply. You can’t blow bubbles when you are breathing in too quickly and shallowly. Deep breathing can – and will – help you be your own body’s ally rather than nemesis. Hence the “Breathe” bracelet as well that my biofeedback therapist gave to me.
  • Body lotion because… treat yo’self.
  • Blank “thank you” cards for the people I love.
  • A lamb because it reminds me of my beloved sorority, Sigma Phi Lambda.
  • A pillow of the silly face emoji to remind me that life isn’t always as serious as I make it out to be when I’m feeling down.
  • A magic wand to remind me to believe in my own magic.
  • cognitive behavioral therapy ABCDE thought log to help me reality check.
  • Coloring pages and markers to help me get out of my own head when I’m having repetitive thoughts about pain or anxiety.
  • Mascara and chapstick to help me look good (and hopefully feel good, too). My natural reaction on high pain days is to wear super grubby things. I wore comfortable clothes for three years straight, and people could tell how much pain I was in/how crappy I was feeling based on how many days it had been since I tried to look decent.
  • Chocolate and Jolly Ranchers (well… before I ate them) because I love them. They’re both a reward for getting out and getting back at the end of the day.
  • Handmade bracelets from past clients to remind me that heading into the helping professions is the right move, even when it’s challenging.
  • A flashlight to remind me to look for the light in all situations.
  • Sunflower because one of my nicknames is Little Miss Sunshine, and my sunniness is something that I love about myself. I can’t always make it happen, but it reminds me to look on the bright side, if at all possible. And, plus, if I can find ways to shine when much around me would tell me to darken, that is when I know the power of my own strength.

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

So, my friend, what are you facing? What would be in your bag? How would it help get you up and out? Head to the dollar store and find things that matter to you and will remind you where you’re heading.

This post is republished with permission from Illness to Wellness: A Journey.


Emmie Arnold

Emmie Arnold (she/her/hers) is a hospital chaplain in New York; a Reverend in the PC(USA); avid cook; traveler (on hiatus); friend and family member to many; writer; and musician.


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