Author’s note: Houston Augusts always drag me down in a kind of reverse SAD, humidity and heat trapping me indoors for weeks on end. This year has been especially rough with Hurricane Harvey, professional stress, and personal struggles that made me a very very sad panda for the past six weeks or so.
There is an isolation to sadness, a perception of distance between everyone else in the world who is doing fine when you’re struggling. Ironically, reading about others’ sadness when I’m sad doesn’t make me more sad. It helps me feel that I’m not alone. This post is intended to help others feel that they’re not alone when they’re sad. I’ve been where you are. And I got through it.
Please take care of yourself. The world is better for having you in it, even if you don’t think so today. Just take my word for it.
I don’t like using the word depressed when describing myself. “Depression” is simultaneously clinical and over-used, and in my own biased view it sometimes tastes of melodrama and sounds like a cry for help. It begs for medication. And I don’t want melodrama or medication. I don’t want to take attention from others who actually do need help, who do need medication. I just want to feel like myself.
I’ve had people describe me as the happiest person they know, and maybe that is true generally. Maybe the ability to experience the highest of highs goes hand-in-hand with the ability to experience the lowest of lows. But it’s hard to imagine ever reaching those highs again when you’re in the lows.
When I get sad, people say, “But your life is so much better than some people’s” or “At least you have your health.” My inference is they think I’m ungrateful. While I always appreciate others’ perspective, ultimately these seem like solutions to problems I don’t have. (The fish are dead, in the words of Allie Brosh.) Conventional wisdom like this just scares me; if I’m sad when I have it “good,” how much sadder will I be when I actually have it “bad”?
I once read that the worst part of a bad acid trip is the accompanying fear that you’ve gone crazy and will never emerge from the mental downward spiral. Melancholy is like that. When you’re sad, the world feels flat and bland, and your entire future lays before you like a landscape barren of all that is pleasant, forever. What if this is it–every day–for years–until you die?
I’m told I should take it easy on myself, though in the moment I don’t know what that means. I’m told to lighten up. I’m told I’m loved. I’m told to look on the bright side. And I don’t know how to reply, how to explain that, in this moment, I don’t know what any of that means or how it’s supposed to help.
And so I find myself withdrawing when melancholy hits, not wanting to be the one to dim others’ shiny smiles. There’s a guilt to being the one downer in a group of happy people, especially if the happy people know you’re sad and are trying (unsuccessfully) to help you get back to being yourself. Rebuffing their efforts takes energy you don’t have to spare and brings guilt you don’t want.
Even worse are those people who take your sadness personally–as though your feelings reflect on them in some way, and they need you to cheer up in order to be okay themselves. They’re worried about you, yes, but they’re also worried about what your sadness means about them. You find yourself trying to comfort them, though you don’t have much comfort to offer. All you can say is, It’s not you, it’s me.
It just seems so much easier to be on your own when you’re sad.
But just know, even when you’re on your own, you’re not alone in your sadness. There are literally millions of people feeling exactly how you’re feeling right now. They too are pasting on shiny smiles and going through the motions and dreading the future. But they’re also pushing through. They’re doing their best, and they’re waiting for their good days to come back, even if they don’t have the ability to feel hope that it will actually happen.
I can’t promise it will get better. But I can promise that you’re not alone.
For me, the heat of summer has finally broken and the various pressures in my life have eased. I’m feeling better than I have in weeks, back to being my happy self, although it’s an older and more tired version of my happy self. The fog has lifted, true, and there’s a giddiness in the relief, but I still feel a kind of bone-deep weariness and certainty that low days still lie before me.
In the words of Jenny Lawson in Furiously Happy (an amazing book that you should read right now):
When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. […] We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker … but as survivors. […] Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand.
If you’re feeling sad, be gentle with yourself. When you come out of the sadness, be gentle with yourself.
Somewhat related, I read this poem several times this week and it helped me so much. Much love.