I think the sadness started with my first awareness that my mother was sick. It meant that everything safe and beautiful was also tragic and temporary. All of my life has been about coping with that.
Sadness lives underneath my skin. It sits in my stomach and my throat and right behind my eyes. It is one of my favorite things to write about, but I don’t talk about it much because I find that most people aren’t comfortable with the topic. We are all coping with something. I actually think it feels good to talk about it. Sadness is one of those intimate and inevitable things like sexuality. I mean, I don’t care who you are, you get sad sometimes, but you might be shy about openly talking about it. I’m not. I think we should talk about it more. It’s an important part of a vivid life.
Sadness is not the same thing as depression.
Sadness is sharp and alluring. It draws you in and makes you pay attention to its colors. It can spark your imagination and force you to turn off to the outside world. We spend so much of our lives worried about how we look and how we perform. Sadness, when we allow ourselves to revel in it, pulls our walls down so we can explore our softest places.
When you don’t acknowledge sadness, depression can grow and wrap itself around you. Numbness spreads from your mind to your heart to your whole body. The heaviness is unyielding and you can’t imagine ever being happy again. Inspiration is nowhere to be found. From there it can morph into anger, resentment, anxiety, hate. Feelings that are so buried and reflexive that you’re in complete denial of the sadness that started it all.
But maybe if we just own it, sadness can be a gateway to creativity instead of depression and destruction. Maybe it can become something that is talked about more freely, without the stigma and embarrassment. Aren’t we all tired of pretending? It feels good to be honest about what hurts.
I’ve come to treat sadness like fear. I make room for it, I let myself feel it, but I don’t let it make the decisions. I don’t give up on life and hope because of it. I don’t think it makes me unworthy or incapable. I know it’s okay not to be okay for awhile.
And then there is joy, where happiness and sadness meet.
If happiness is a positive attitude in spite of my problems, then joy is the unconditional gratitude I feel for being alive to have problems at all. Joy is seeing all the pain and mess, getting it all over me and still smiling through with hope . I can’t know my joy without sadness, without sacrifice. Whether I’m walking in the light or in the dark, I’m committed to see what’s there and fully experience it.
I know it can be hard to talk about sadness without feeling vulnerable and dramatic, but it matters. Ask for help. Offer help. When you say how are you, mean it. Don’t tear down those who healthily express their emotions. Give a voice to what aches inside of you before you can’t feel anything at all anymore. You’re not the only one walking around with a heavy heart. But you may be the only one brave enough to be honest about it.