Random thoughts from an animal-loving French prof / mom of three on things she finds beautiful, funny, sad, or strange.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

It's okay to be sad

I can imagine some of the responses to the title of this post:
  • "Well, duh! Of course you can be sad. Just like you can feel happy or mad or anything else."
  • "You mean there are people who aren't sad?"
  • "Maybe. But don't wallow in it." 
  • A variation of the following: "Look for the silver lining." "God always sends the rainbow after the rain." "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade."
I could keep going, but I won't. All of these responses come from a place that is probably...hopefully...well-intentioned. At the same time, each in its way falls short. 

The first is probably the closest to a healthy response, but it doesn't go far enough. Our emotions are more than just "okay," more than just something to take for granted. If we are to be fully human, we need to make a nurturing space for them.

Too much sadness, as in the second response, is like too much of anything else. Excess never works to the good.

The final responses might be worst of all. Life is sometimes devastating, and denying that only compounds the sense of loss. Please note that I don't mean this in the sense of clinical depression – that is a different thing entirely, also deserving of our care and respect, but not the topic of this post. I just mean that painful things happen, sometimes to the point of creating seasons of sorrow. I'm in one of those spells right now. Here are just a few of the reasons why, in no particular order: 

Norbert in healthier...and heftier...days
  • As those of you who have read the last couple posts know, our giant OC (orange cat) lost his battle with cancer and crossed the Rainbow Bridge. There is a cat-shaped hole in our house and in our hearts.
  • My son, the one with the alphabet soup of mental and behavioral diagnoses, has struggled since starting middle school, and finding the right help seems all but impossible short of winning the lottery or inheriting millions. 
  • Someone dear to me needs surgery and can't afford to get it. The Affordable Care Act gave millions access to health care... but millions apparently doesn't include everyone.
  • Another cherished friend is coming up on the one-year anniversary of the death of her son. Yes, you calculated correctly. That will happen right as everyone around them celebrates the holidays. 
  • Yet another friend, one who has saved my life and sanity (whatever remains of the latter...) more times than I can count, is having to stand by helplessly as her daughter makes decisions that will surely change her life for the worse. 
  • The recent attacks on Paris are more than any person or country should have to bear. My heartache is compounded by the fact that France feels like my second home.
Lights out at the Eiffel Tower

And know what? All of that SHOULD make me sad. Not to the point that I can't laugh at a Melissa McCarthy movie or feel satisfaction at a student's success. But I am still sad. Who wouldn't be? The world can be a very sad place, with no discernible silver linings (maybe the silver linings exist, but that are not yet visible to the ones in pain). So all I can do is make room for it and sit quietly with my wounded heart until I am ready to move forward again. Sometimes that takes a while, but it is the middle ground I have found between the extremes of wallowing and denial. The sad things, like all the rest, are now part of me. That is as it should be.

Some people feel sadness for a season, others habitually brood in the opalescent light of the moon. Laren Stover writes eloquently about the latter in her New York Times piece, "The Case for Melancholy." I encourage you to read it. Your blue side will, paradoxically, be glad you did.

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