Got the Blues Real Good: The Case for Being Sad (Sometimes)

From Edward Gorey's "Gashlycrumb Tinies"

Something that has really been getting my goat lately is the increasingly prevalent notion that we shouldn’t ever be sad, that sadness is somehow not a natural and normal state for people to be in sometimes. Whether it’s groups pushing for “the blues” to be classified as some kind of medical disorder (that we can therefore buy pharmaceuticals to correct, hooray!), to Always commercials instructing me to “have a happy period”, it seems like nowadays it is just not okay to feel what you feel about something if that feeling is crappy. Which it sometimes will be. Because life is sometimes super crappy.

Being sad sucks. I know. It’s truly awful. If I could keep the things that make me and the people I love sad from happening, I would. But if something does happen to make me sad, I don’t really have any choice but to roll with the punches and resign myself to being sad for awhile.

This is hard to do. I not-so-long-ago experienced an episode of Being Sad (i.e. my “Pit of Crankypants Behaviour”, first-ever post). I hated feeling that way to the point of being physically ill. I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I thought, “If only there was something I could do, some pill I could take, to make me not feel this, to make me not mind the things that are going on in my life.” But drinking or drugging myself happy was not the road I wanted to go down.

Perishing of fits - more Edward Gorey

To clarify: nothing truly horrible happened to me (no abuse, no death), but I wasn’t enjoying myself or having a hilarious time. My Sad was real and it hurt. But even though I didn’t want to wallow, I decided not to ignore my Big Bad Blues.

I’m not judging people who want to go on an all-out bender and pretend to have a fabulous time, or who give themselves Daily Affirmations that “everything is fine” when their heart is broken or they’ve lost their job. I get it. I’ve done it. I just don’t think it would help me in the long run. Sure, when I’m flying high I’ll be feeling fine but when I sober up the Sad will be there waiting for me and the more I Daily Affirm away my feelings the longer I’ll put off having to deal with the reality of the thing that made me sad in the first place. If I don’t deal with my shit now, accept it and move on, I know it will come back and bite me in the ass later.

Which brings me to my Case for Being Sad: my belief is that regular, run-of-the-mill Being Sad is not only an inescapable part of being alive, it is also incredibly useful. Though I have hated every single moment of every single time I have been “capital S” Sad, I can’t deny that I have made some great changes in my life because of them. In the past these changes have included: not accepting anything less than the excellent treatment I deserve from a partner, eating like a responsible adult, knuckling down in uni, learning that I can fall in love more than once, not taking things for granted, and trying new things like aerial silks (3 years on the silks and still going strong!).

My recent time in the Pit of Gloom and Crankypants Behaviour has given me an opportunity to continue to build on these foundations. I know more about myself now, some of it great, some of it not so great. One of the things I’ve realized is that I am fearful. I used to think that my static behaviour was laziness but it turns out that I am simply afraid of a lot of things: I am afraid of big change (though I am also afraid to get stuck in a rut), I am afraid of the unpredictability that life brings, I am afraid to be in social situations where I don’t know anyone, I am afraid of failure.

"The Blue Guitar" - Picasso

And what am I really afraid of? Well, of being sad I guess. A change that didn’t work out would make me sad. A social situation where no one liked me would make me sad. Failure would make me sad. So I lived in fear of all these things, and guess what? I got sad anyways. At this point, there is nothing else to be afraid of. So I’m blogging even though I might fail miserably and be the Worst Blogger To Ever Make Herself Look Stupid. I’m volunteering as a mentor even though making commitments that change my life’s routine is scary. I’m making travel plans. I have attended events, and will continue attending events, where I don’t know anybody because I might have fun, and hell, most people are nice if you take the trouble to meet them.

Before my latest Sad, I hadn’t realized how little I had made my life, and how afraid I was of things. Until the Blues hit me and I really needed my friends, I didn’t realize how very amazing and supportive they are. I hadn’t realized what was positive about the way I was living my life, and what was not.

Is it hard to look at myself so closely? Yeah. It is. And it’s embarrassing to talk about it in a blog. But now that I’ve started making these changes and heading in this fearless new direction, I don’t want to stop. I don’t want to be sad, no one does, but I don’t want to live my life in fear of being sad. I’ve been sad, I’m still here. I thought I couldn’t bear it, and then it turned out that I could.

If you are unlucky and the Big Bad Blues come your way, be gentle but honest with yourself. Cry your tears, go out with your best drinking buddies, throw yourself into work or school for awhile. Affirm yourself if you need some affirmation. Fight it if you have to. Just don’t deny the crappiness. Look it in the face. Learn something. Deal with your shit. Move on.

You may as well. Because whether you like it or not, no full life is lived without some “capital S” Sadness. Why not meet it head on, live with it, see what you discover? There are all kinds of bravery in the world. I think acknowledging the inevitable Sadness and refusing to live in fear of encountering it is very brave indeed.