I was sad the other day. Not aching grief, just sad. Low. At first I wanted to reach for grief as an explanation. But I know how grief feels. I can feel it’s distinct pull. This was apathy and malaise and exhaustion and not being bothered. I desperately wanted to feel something else – I had things to do and words to write but it all felt impossible with the weight of this sadness. I tried to bully myself out of it. I am convinced that I can think myself out of any situation. That if I tell myself to snap out of it, I will. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. It didn’t work the other day. I tried counting my blessings. It just made me feel more miserable that I was sad in the face of blessing. Sadness feels like failure. We are not meant to sit with sadness, we are meant to strive for happiness. It has become the default expected emotion.
But maybe it’s okay to sit with sadness sometimes. In the darkness of my grief I sat with sadness as a constant companion. It was not possible to think myself out of it. I could not shake it off like a skin, it had permeated my being. And I was given permission to be sad. The saddest thing I could imagine, a baby dying, had happened and it happened to our family. There was no pressure to be happy – to count my blessings and put away the tears. Sadness was to be expected and it was okay. This permission to be sad taught me something. I don’t think it’s fair to expect our emotional lives to ride on a constant high. Constant happiness sounds like a great idea, but expecting it and panicking when it’s not our reality, seems to cause more angst that happiness. There is a lot of guilt associated with being sad. Immediately my mind asks “What right have you to be unhappy?” When I had a very good answer to that question, I could let the pressure go.
There are times when sadness feels like sitting in a great big hole. People pass you, shout down and invite you to come back up. Someone might throw down a ladder or the tools they think you need to build one. And then, once in a little while, someone might come down and join you. Say “I know you won’t be down here forever, but for just a little while, I will stay with you and keep you company.” And with that kindness, the hole doesn’t seem so deep anymore.
I don’t want to feel miserable. I would prefer happiness. But pushing myself to be happy when I feel blue isn’t the answer either. I can’t tell myself to be happy. I can do things that make me happy – and that’s generally where the magic is – to find those things that bring me joy and immerse myself in them. To write, or to create, to dance, to laugh or to read. Sadness is a part of our human experience – it’s not a sign of failure, it’s a sign of humanity.