I have a friend who’s always bluntly honest when I ask her how she’s doing.
We always ask and get asked the question “How are you?” as something of a greeting, and the answer is usually something dismissive alone the lines of:
The likes. And I get it—“How are you?” is more of a hello than anything. We say it to be polite and start conversations, a little tidbit so they know that we care about them before the real conversation starts. When we ask it, we sort of want to know how they’re doing, but not really.
Anyway, back to the friend. She always answers this question honestly, and it’s refreshing. She admits when she’s not doing well or if she’s feel down that particular day. And I’ve been thinking about that for a long time now before I write this. Responses like that take anyone by surprise, but why?
Why is it so weird to hear and talk about emotions that aren’t positive?
(That’s a rhetoric question—I know why, but I don’t like the answer.)
I really don’t like talking about my own emotions and feelings. At least, not to everyone I know, I can be bluntly honest to maybe one or two people. But I’m not comfortable talking to my own friends—and certainly not the entire Internet—about sadness. (And I’m not the only one!) But things need to be said, you know?
Throughout my life, I’ve spent a lot of time suppressing my emotions and putting on a “brave face”. (Ugh, I hate that phrase.) And, if you ever google the phrase “I’m fine” you find people who do the exact same stuff.
Urban Dictionary has the phrase “I’m Fine” defined as:
One of the biggest (white) lies anyone could say.
Something you say to someone when you are not, in fact, fine at all, but you don’t want to worry them.
And taking a look at google images shows you a bunch of black-and-white images revolving around the I’m-fine-but-not-really theme.
Instead of talking about our sadness, we suppress it and refuse to acknowledge it with a support system. It festers inside of us and can lead to self-destructive behaviors. I remember I refused to talk to my own feelings of depression and suicidal ideation in high school until I literally (jk figuratively) imploded from the weight of it all and started engaging is self-destructive behaviors. I wasn’t eating anymore, I stopped doing all the things I loved and shirked my responsibilities, and I isolated myself from everyone.
That’s the ugly side of sadness. It’s what happens when you lock yourself inside and refuse to let anyone in. That’s not healthy.
But being sad and feeling sadness is.
Being sad is human. It’s the most human thing you could do.
It reminds us that we are living and breathing and, most of all, feeling.
And it’s such a beautiful and vulnerable emotion too. It shows a lot of strength to accept it; I don’t think it’s strong of someone to want to suppress something, but suppressing is such a common response to sadness. It’s almost cowardly, in a way: we’ve been so ingrained to fear and hate sadness that when it surfaces (which it always will), we don’t know what to do except want it to go away as fast as possible.
That’s awful. And so backwards.
If someone faces a physical setback, we don’t tell them they’re strong for refusing to see a doctor or ignoring their broken arm. They’re strong for overcoming something. And it should be the same way for mental health—you’re not strong because you hide your feelings away. You’re strong for accepting them.
It took me so long to see my own sadness as something more than a little ugly monster lurking in my head. For those of you that don’t know, I’ve started working at my local Crisis Center on the phone lines (it’s such a rewarding experience!) recently and it’s helping me see that there’s no way to cope if you’re refusing to deal with something. The only way to properly heal is to accept your sadness and confront it.
But, like I said, it’s a hard journey. It’s hard. Like, really really hard.
You’re not only dealing with your own issues, but you’re going against societal norm. Like I said before, this was a long time coming. I’ve built so many walls around myself to keep the sadness at bay. Instead of talking about my emotions, I’ve hidden them away and resorted to crying at night by myself as a release.
And the worst part of it all is that’s considered normal in society. There are so many stories floating around about individuals who feel like they have no one to talk to, or they’re only release is when they’re alone. And it’s always the same story too: someone is hurting and has such a deep sadness in their lives that no one hears about.
“I had no idea. They seemed like such a happy person, this is so shocking!”
You can’t blame anyone either. Sadness makes people uncomfortable and it’s hard to work around that.
It’s icky. And gross.
No one wants to have to deal with that. It’s important to surround yourself with good vibes, so why be sad?
Instead, they try and make it go away. It’s their only natural reaction and it’s awful, even if it comes from a place of love and care. They want you to feel better and the only way they know how is to get rid of the sadness. And, as the sad person, it’s devastating to experience that because it feels like they’re just dismissing your feelings.
(It’s a vicious cycle too. You feel like they’re dismissing you so you stop talking to them. And then you have all this pent-up sadness until you explode. Then they dismiss you again.)
Sadness is a weird thing to deal with because the only way to truly deal with it is to let yourself just be sad for a little while, but being happy is obviously so much better.
And it’s been stigmatized as something inherently bad—something we need to fix. When we feel sad, we don’t want to keep feeling it, so we look for ways to fix it. We look for things to numb the pain or to distract us until we can push it down and forget about it.
There’s no way around this until we start accepting sadness as a normal emotion to feel. Not something to get rid of—something to embrace. And that’s a whole mountain right there. It’s really hard to shake the perspective of sadness = bad. Even if you try to empathize more than sympathize (watch this amazing video to learn the difference!) we all slip up and try to fix someone’s sadness.
But, it’s all one step at a time. Before society’s perspective on it changes, you should change first.
Stop suppressing your sadness and let yourself feel it wholeheartedly.
What to do when you’re sad:
Sit down. Let yourself process your sadness and reflect on it. Don’t try to judge it or try to reason with it, just acknowledge your sadness and let yourself feel.
Cry, if you need to. To me, crying is so therapeutic. It feels like a physical release, almost. I used to be so afraid to cry because I thought it showed weakness, that I was pathetic if I did. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Let yourself cry and don’t try to swallow anything in.
Let yourself be alone, if you want. Sometimes, it’s hard to talk to people. It’s difficult to let them see you at such a vulnerable state, especially if you’re not used to it yourself. It’s okay to need some time alone, but try not to isolate yourself forever. Understand the balance between taking a break from the world and shutting it out completely.
Make peace with your sadness. Stop trying to push it away. Don’t drown it out. Just let it wash over you and go back to crying if you need. Accept that sadness is so human and natural and let yourself be sad.
Talk to someone safe, if you’re comfortable with doing so and if you’re ready to do so. I haven’t been comfortable with sharing my emotions with anyone but my sister and my boyfriend. But, when I do, it’s so relieving. It’s so freeing to be able to lift some off the sadness and let someone carry some of that weight. I’m working on being able to tell more people and be transparent about my sadness, but it’s a struggle. Sadness has been so negatively stigmatized that I fear the judgement, even though I know it won’t come. Talk to someone who won’t judge you, and let yourself feel with them.
Know you’re not a burden. You’ll never be a burden. Your sadness is not a burden. Something so natural and so human isn’t a burden.