I used to think sadness was not acceptable. That feeling down was not okay.
From the time I can remember my mother, I remember her as sad. She cried a lot. Never saw ‘the bright side’. Was always fearful and afraid.
Mostly, I thought it was my fault. In my childish ways, it seemed that there was little I did that made her happy. Everything made her sad.
I made it my job to make her happy. I got ‘real happy” all the time in the belief that I could turn her frown upside down and she would be happy too.
I was not that powerful.
Especially as no one realized that her sadness was actually a massive untreated depression. My mother was in her 80s when she finally got the help she needed.
I am grateful. She is more peaceful, more relaxed and less critical. Her inherent kindness shines through always and now, she laughs at silly jokes and takes great joy in videos of her great-grandson.
I didn’t want to wait that long to figure out what ailed me. In my twenties, when I first entered therapy, I couldn’t understand why my emotions were such a mess. I remember a therapist telling me that if you can’t name your emotions, you’re blocking them.
I was kind of irate. I can name happy, I said. I can name joyful.
Can you name sadness, they asked me.
I laughed. I don’t get sad, I replied.
It took me many years to learn the lesson. Everyone feels sadness. It is an emotion and we are emotional beings. The trick is to not damn our emotions up by pretending the ones we deem negative don’t exist. Emotions are transient things. We need to let them flow instead of damning them up until they can’t find any safe expression and instead blow up.
Fact is, none of us are powerful enough to erase our emotions from our existence. We are powerful enough to express them in healthy ways and determine how they affect our lives.
Last night, I painted.
For me, it is a surefire way to work through things that lay heavy on my heart. Pull out a bunch of paints, turn on some music and splash around in colour, lines and texture. In the sacred space of creative expression for the pure joy of creative expression, I find myself once again soft of heart, light of being. Present in the now, any big scary issues, along with the ones that just create fissuers of discord in my mind, dissipate as clarity rises above the mists of my confusion.
It can be easy in this world of big scary seemingly intractable issues to feel like we have lost control of our own lives. That we have no agency.
But we do. Always. No matter how deep the hole we feel we’ve fallen into or how high the walls before us look, we have the power to breathe into our fears, our sadness, our heavy hearts to give our emotions space to flow with ease and grace.
Too often, in our efforts to push away what we deem ‘negative’ emotions, we become numb to the pure, radiant joy of life lived in all its colours. Like me struggling to be a woman of constant happiness, I lost touch with my true self because I was too afraid to feel the things I didn’t want to name. Sadness, sorrow, grief. And, becuase I wouldn’t name them, I couldn’t give myself permission to be ‘real’, authentic, whole.
It took a lot of therapy and hard digging into myself work to realize the harm in my sunny ways. Like a bird with a broken wing constantly singing a happy song but never able to fly, I was tethered to the grief o the sadness I refused to feel or acknowledge, and thus, unable to soar.
That sadness was related far back to those childhood days of fearing I was the reason my mother cried, and desperately wanting to make her laugh, even when I felt sad and confused. Being sad became unacceptable for me, so I just got busy being happy. Challenge is, in my perpetually happy state, I never acknowledged the things that hurt me and instead tried to bury them beneath my smile. Not being able to name the pains I felt, I was unable to heal my heart when it felt heavy.
Last night I painted. This morning, I feel the sun rising within me, the warmth of its rays feeding my soul with lightness of being. Doesn’t change what’s going on in the world around me, but it sure does make it easier to stay present in the now and cherish the beauty of this brand new day as it awakens.
What do you do when you feel life’s issues crowding out the joy of every day living? Do you give yourself permission to feel and heal the things that pain you?
PLEASE NOTE: Sadness and depression are very different. Medical guidance is important.