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May 28, 2021

Making Space for Your Sadness When Everyone Wants You Strong

I’m seeing a trend of general sadness with my clients as the world opens up. And if they’re feeling it, my guess is that you may be too.

It seems we should be celebrating, but many are telling me that they feel there was nothing to celebrate. So much is uncertain and people are feeling a general funk.

So how can a strong woman create space for your sadness when everyone wants you strong?

I used to have periods in my life where I just felt bad. I wouldn’t call it clinical depression, but my mood tanked. I could usually trace it back to something and sometimes not, but I would sulk and feel somber. I would lay on the couch or the bed all day and retreat inside and reflect or process until the wave crashed and I felt like normal again. I never thought much about it until I had my first son.

He was about a year old and something was bothering me in my life. I felt that familiar desire to sink low. It was such a jarring experience because, for the first time in my life, I couldn’t curl up in a ball and wait for the wave to pass. I had a little boy who was looking up at me excitedly to do all the routine things I did every day to care for him. I felt so cheated, lost, and angry.

I remember thinking, I don’t even have the space to be sad because I have to care for him. Of course I still felt sad, but I could no longer make the space I used to for my sadness. I had to be sad in between the cracks. I couldn’t easily sit with it and work it out because he needed me present and strong. He needed me to smile and sing the nursery rhymes and read the books, when I really wanted to curl up and go inside for a while.

Maybe you are feeling that way now. Maybe it’s not one child, maybe it’s a couple of children or maybe it’s your work or your family or any other person or obligation that you have to be strong and present for, whether you feel like it or not. Sometimes you need to feel sad in the cracks.

I want to make this clear, I’m not here today to tell you how to not feel sad. There are no 7 ways to make it all better today. None of us have a magic wand to erase COVID, bring back lost jobs, relationships, our children’s childhood or even the carefree days of our youth.

I’m here to hold your hand for a minute and show you how to hold your own.

First, my dear friend, keep walking— one of the greatest gifts my son gave me when he was little was that he taught me the act of walking through. When life’s demands don’t allow you to sit with your sadness, you have to walk through it in a different way. When you stop trying to get the sadness to go away and allow yourself to just feel it, the burden of fixing it goes away. Did you even realize that trying to fix your sadness is an unnecessary burden you put on yourself?

From birth, we are taught that we should avoid sad feelings. We want to make the babies stop crying, we are sometimes outrightly told, “ don’t be sad, stop crying. You’re okay.” But you’re not okay. That’s why you’re crying.

Robert Firestone, Author and Psychologist pointed out that “When we feel sadness, it centers us.” When you name the feeling, acknowledge it, and take another step forward. No skips, no jubilant runs, but just one foot in front of the other, knowing that the way you feel is okay, it actually allows you to feel healthy, centered and build resilience. When you cut it off, push it down or try to get it to go away pre-maturely, you could be at risk for creating a dangerous depression.

When you’re busy and there are high demands on your time, it’s actually easier sometimes to ignore your sadness and just power through- sometimes it’s your only option. But there are always cracks- even in the busiest of schedules where you can focus on your emotions.

Maybe there’s no time to curl up in bed for a day, but you can find five minutes to lie on your bed and simply let yourself feel. No judgment. Sometimes this can be sped up by using your voice. When you are lying down let out a deep sigh, with maybe some sound or a moan attached. The sound of your moan can access deep feelings buried a little more quickly. Once again there is nothing to do with it. Just feel and let the tears flow if they must. They are healing.

Loss triggers loss and when we are sad, there is often a deeper well of pain that we can easily tap into. It can feel overwhelming. When you are feeling overwhelmed, remind yourself that it’s usually not about the present. It’s about what you fear will happen in the future as a result of your feelings or your actions in response to a feeling. If you take a status check around you, in this moment, you are okay.

Ask, what is my sadness telling me? Anger tells us something is wrong, joy tells us something is very right, sadness tells us you’ve lost something. What have you lost?

Once you have acknowledged some loss, I think it’s important to differentiate self-pity from sadness. It may feel over-indulgent for you to give yourself compassion for your sadness. You may feel that you will just wallow in self-pity. So, let’s look at that. Self-pity is essentially a useless mood state. Self-pity is a state of stuckness. It’s an attitude of “it’s always going to be this and there is nothing I can do about it.”

Although we do need to pause and feel the feelings, we serve ourselves best by walking through them, not soaking in them.

Your sadness does not define you and it doesn’t even have to define the moment. It is entirely possible to see the beauty in sadness, to feel sadness and joy at the same time and know that nothing stays the same ever and so this too shall pass.

So, the way you walk through your sadness is by self-compassion. It’s okay to look at it like a canoe in the water, it may lean to one side and then lean over to the other. You could ride a hard line between self-compassion and self-pity for a minute, but you will right yourself. Trust the process and know that your intentions are not to stay stuck, but rather to move through. Your mind will follow suit.

Last, I encourage you to find a piece of God in your sadness- Melissa Maimone wrote an excellent book called Radiant Midnight, where she talks about finding the gifts in a dark place. I encourage you to read it if you find yourself feeling stuck in sadness. In her other book, Gathering Dandelions, Melissa says: Hold onto the hope that in the midst of this ordinary, fractured life, you are deeply cared for, intricately known and immensely loved by God.

I think those words are beautiful and they give me comfort. They don’t fix everything, that’s for sure, but by giving yourself self-compassion. By allowing yourself to feel sad in the cracks of a busy life, you are caring and connecting deeper with yourself and when joy comes, it will feel that much more intense, for having walked through the darkness.

I want to leave you with words of hope.

May this year be filled with a deeper connection to yourself, in your relationships and to God.

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