on sadness

Friday, June 6, 2008

really big love

I sit at my big new teak topped desk every day and draw while listening to the radio. I listen to CBC, talk radio (the Canadian equivalent to NPR) and it's my lifeline. Last week I heard an excellent piece on sadness and our society's current intolerance of that particular emotion. I'm quite sure the interview was on Q with Gian Ghomeshi.

The point made by the two guest authors being - sadness is normal - even big deep sadness. Sorrow is a natural human emotion. In no way were either authors discounting the existence of serious clinical depression they're simply making the case that too often sadness, feeling blue or melancholy, is treated as if it were depression.

And trust me, as someone who has had a blanket of sadness wrapped around me my whole life (mind you, for the most part, an invisible and secret blanket) I have pondered this sadness vs depression question endlessly. Sadness just isn't tolerated or welcomed in our day to day life and even when it is allowed it's expected to be rushed through. Growing up one of my most vivid childhood memories is being told Oh crocodile tears again Susan - I do know now that there isn't any such thing as a crocodile tear. Tears have a purpose. I've had this tendency toward sadness my whole life, but with everything around you telling you that it's bad or not normal you do begin to question yourself. People don't want you with your sadness. It's a stiff upper lip world, and pull those darn socks up. ... So you learn, in my case very early on, to pretend to be happy when you're really feeling sad.

As I listened to Eric G. Wilson author of Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy (you can listen to him here) describe his life long tendency to be pensive & brooding I felt like thumping my fist on my desk and cheering ... Right On ! Eric I thought to myself.

"it is inauthentic and shallow, to relentlessly seek happiness in a world full of tragedy"

and I would add ... perhaps ... steeped in denial. And that's OK . I do believe ignorance is truly bliss and probably most of the time - I just can't seem to get the hang of it myself. Sometimes I even admire a person's ability to push things out of their minds .. to choose to just not think about things ... but that just doesn't feel natural to me. But hey, if that's how one chooses to go through life, that's totally fine by me. But just let me and my sadness be ...

Another book recently published is written by Allen V. Horwitz and Jerome C. Wakefield The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Order (and these two guys are well respected academics in the mental health profession) ... more table thumping and yee heeing (in my head) and told you so's on my part. After years and years of having it suggested to me, from time to time, that perhaps I was depressed (and me all the while feeling quite sure that I wasn't) I feel very relieved by the mere existence of these books and I guess I also feel somewhat vindicated (I haven't read them yet, but have them both on order).

Two more articles on the subject if you're interested here & here

Why I am so sad, why do I think and feel things that often others around me seem oblivious to? Maybe I finally have the answer ... smile

Lulu update - Miss Lulu's teeth, it turns out, are in excellent condition (the grinding could be from arthritic pain or possibly from feeling nauseous -symptoms of her CRF) - our vet thought overall that she was amazingly healthy for her ripe old age of nearly 18. No extractions and no anesthesia which I was thrilled about. We came home with some Meticam (an anti-inflammatory) and some special low protein food - easier for her kidneys to process. She's once again ensconced on her pillow in her white wicker chair on our front porch waiting to terrorize the Toms.


  1. Susan,

    Sadness IS a part of our journey while we are here, or at least I believe so. What is important is what one does with it. The Buddha says suffering is inevitable but its end is attainable. Much of what Eckhart Tolle speaks of resonates with the practice of Buddhism.
    As I grow older (and hopefully wiser) I do find my compassion for the world is deepening, but with it so is my sadness (or my attachment…I’m not sure). My family and friends do not know the depth of my sadness, as I am considered the strong one in my family and with that I take on a responsibility for being the "rock" in our family. The consequence of this is that I stand alone much of the time, as I do not have "a shoulder to cry on", so needless to say I do my crying in private, which is kind of sad in itself, because I can’t remember the last time anyone held me and comforted me. I was probably a young child. I think it's because of this that I've spent the last 4 or more years trying to learn about different spiritual paths, and take what I can glean from the knowledge I gather, to help sooth my discomfort in this world.
    So many people try to run from their sadness by buying more "things" and having more "stuff" to keep them busy and remove that “yucky” feeling that pain and sadness bring us. And how many times has one ever heard: "Oh, you just need to get out more" or when there's a break-up between 2 people, others around him or her think the best medicine is to go out and party or meet someone new. A diagnosis of “depression” means that it can be “treated” or “cured” and to most, that’s better than having no control over such a “icky” thing as sadness. So many of us don’t know how to handle the sadness of another, so we continue to do all of those “same old things”. Sometimes sadness doesn’t need to be handled. It needs to be endured.
    I do believe if Jake had been a long-time “human” companion, you may have found more understanding in the grieving you are experiencing with his leaving. Where is it I read or heard one time that 2 years is an expected mourning time for a widow(er) here in the Western world? I can’t understand why some think that can only apply to the “human” element.
    I once saw a Jane Goodall documentary about a young chimp whose mother was killed by a river. The youngster stayed by the river for days, and eventually he died there, of a broken heart.
    Sadness is a quality that is natural in us. The unnatural response is as humans, we actually think we can outrun it.

  2. V. thank you ! I've just returned to my desk from my amazing long early morning walk at the beach, a place where it's safe to be sad and a place where my red boy lives on. My gal pal Winnie Dixon as always by my side. And oh how nice to find such a lovely, long comment here waiting for me and from such a kindred spirit.

    Tears stream down my cheeks as I read your words ... and they're only good tears ... I know that for sure.

    thank you again. xo S.

  3. Susan,

    You just described my childhood. My parents were of the variety that you didn't cry unless you had something to cry about. Little did they know, I did have something to cry about...or at least I thought or felt so. I'm 47years old and I still marvel at someone who seems to be always so happy or "up". Quite frankly I don't have that much energy!

    Oh, and V I have been quilty of buying more "things" and having more "stuff" to try and run from sadness. Still working on that one.

    I know now, of course, that this is a common thing to feel this way, but as a child I often felt very alone.

  4. Some of the best art and poetry has come from sadness, and I think there are personalities that are just naturally melancholy. I do think Western civilization has a problem with uncomfortable emotions, and has a tendency to want to fix everything.
    To quote Stephen Moffat, from one of my favorite Dr. Who episodes, "Sad is happy for deep people."

  5. Right on J. ! that's absolutely perfect ... just as I have always loved and very much related to a line in a Billy Bragg song "and there you are, a little black cloud in a dress ..." I've always felt like a little black cloud ... but I've never, ever seen that as a bad thing. You must send me your postal address ... swapping looms. xo, S.


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