Growing up in my family, sadness never seemed to be an option. It was relegated to the same category as self-pity and wearing pajamas when it wasn’t bedtime. Something We Just Don’t Do. This isn’t to say I wasn’t sad as a kid…I was just as emotional then as I am now. I cried all the time. Books, movies, bad days, perceived injustices…you name it, it made me cry.
But any and all of my sadness was confined to my private life. My room. My overwrought, melodramatic journal. It wasn’t something I shared with people because it seemed shameful, like some sort of off-the-wall fetish you’d better keep secret or else people will think you’re weird. What’s more, sadness seemed weak. Lazy. Bad.
Fast forward a few years and my positive attitude is the personal quality I’m most proud of. Mostly that’s because it isn’t my natural state. Maintaining a positive attitude is a lot of work for me–I often think that my true self just wants to eat pancakes in bed while being depressed. I know not everyone needs a positive attitude to be productive, but I do. So, personally, I’ve always equated my attitude with my accomplishments. Getting up early, being happy, being grateful, looking for the silver lining, being productive, working hard…these things were all entwined together in one big bundle. Being sad was what I did when I wasn’t doing anything with my life except for watching American Idol while falling asleep on my futon. Being sad had no place at all in my current life.
But over the past few months, I’ve figured out that it’s okay to be sad. What’s more, it’s unavoidable. That might sound like a basic revelation, but if we’ve learned anything at all here at Welcome to Ladyville, it’s that I’m a late-bloomer and also terrible at learning lessons. Sometimes you can’t have a positive attitude. Sometimes things happen that aren’t career setbacks or mere frustrations. Sometimes things happen that aren’t going to get better.
Although I focus on the positive here on WTLV, the truth is that there’ve been a lot of bad things this year. A lot of very, very good things, too, but bad things all the same. Death, divorce, disease…basically, name a shitty word that starts with D. I don’t talk a ton about my personal life here because I like to think of WTLV as less about me and more about all of us, but sometimes when you write about the things that make you uncomfortable, you reach the most people. And what I’m writing about today does make me uncomfortable; it makes me feel squirmy and exposed and gross. But we’re all friends here, and I’m sure some of you have been in the same place, so we can talk about this, right? I’m imagining you said “Right,” because this is a computer and you’re far away and I can’t hear you, not even a little bit, so I’m just going to keep going.
In August my grandpa died. Don’t feel like you need to offer your condolences; we weren’t close. Of course, that fact alone brings about it’s own set of problems. His was the first funeral I remember going to, and the first time I thought, “Something bad happened, and it’s not going to get better.”
I didn’t talk about his death with more than a handful of people, because, honestly, I didn’t imagine anyone would care. A death is so personal that it’s hard to understand it unless you’re near it. Also, there were so many facts and events surrounding his death that were just bad, bad, bad. This wasn’t some peaceful death followed by a celebration of life that brought everyone together to share memories. This was a painful death that highlighted big problems. This was a funeral that was cold and isolated. This was a death that still makes me feel sick to my stomach when I think about it too long, from the injustice and the cruelty and the just plain meanness involved in it. This was a ceremony that made me feel (please bear with me, I know this will sound ridiculously dramatic) that life was essentially meaningless. This was, in short, not a good death.
About a month ago, my family’s dog died. We’d had Patch since I was 14, so he was old. It still feels, even as I write this, silly to be upset about an animal who lived a long life and was cared for. But this was another Bad Death. It was also painful and not fair and not the way you want things to happen.
They were two different experiences, but I handled them both the same way…by feeling guilty for being sad. Sadness, after all, means laziness and weakness, so I didn’t want to be sad. I couldn’t (can’t) wrap my head around the fact that they were here and now they’re not. But that didn’t stop me from thinking about it constantly, to the point of despair! They were corporeal beings and now they’re not. Now their bodies are in the ground, under dirt, and I wasn’t there to see either of them be buried. I didn’t have a particularly close relationship with either, not my grandpa or my family’s dog, and I never will. They’re never coming back. I do not get another chance. I do not get a do-over.
Instead of just being sad, I spent a lot of time berating myself for feeling bad. I wanted to see my friends and have fun. I wanted to take weekend trips and laugh a lot. And I did those things, and sometimes it worked. Sometimes I found myself laughing, half-drunk off one glass of wine, feeling like life couldn’t possibly get any better, and then I would remember it. Dirt. Ground. And then I wondered, why did I feel so bad when I just wanted to feel good? When all I wanted to do was appreciate my life? Why was I wasting these experiences with my friends, who I never get to see enough, by just wanting to be back in bed, covered in blanket after blanket after blanket?
I’ve only just realized that it’s okay to feel this bad. In our perpetual quest for happiness and enlightenment, our books about maximizing our lives and those O magazine articles I love about the secrets of happy people, sometimes we forget that no one can be happy all the time. You (I) have to be sad sometimes.
It doesn’t feel good. It certainly doesn’t for me. I’ve been in what I can only describe as a very un-me mood for a few weeks. I want to spend more time in bed, I don’t want to go anywhere, I don’t want to make plans. I just want to have dinner with my boyfriend and read books. It feels stupid, offensive even, for me to be sad over these things when there are massive tragedies happening everywhere, when so many good things are in my life. I’m surrounded by goodness, and I really hate that I’m not appreciating it right now. But you just can’t feel good all the time. And that’s okay. I’m sad, but it doesn’t make me weak. Or lazy. Or unproductive. It just makes me human, like all of us.
Right now I’m thinking back to someone the pastor who didn’t know my grandpa said at that terrible funeral. He said that life was pain and suffering. At the time, I felt that sentence settle in my stomach like a cold, heavy stone. A part of me, the part that was light and easy and happy, shriveled up into nothing in the August heat. Pain and suffering. It seemed like it. Surrounded by people I didn’t understand and whom I didn’t belong to, I understood it.
But it’s a few months later now, and you know what? I don’t believe that. I might be sad now, but I know that the real me doesn’t believe that, not even for one second. How dare he say that, and how dare he believe it? Life isn’t pain and suffering. That’s a notion I reject, an idea that I push away from me, hard, with both hands, even now in my weakened state. I might have this sadness in me forever, this small, lonely feeling that won’t go away ever, but that doesn’t mean I have to give in to it.
It’s okay to be sad. It won’t become your life, and it won’t swallow you up whole like you’re so afraid it will. I’m, of course, just talking to myself here, but maybe you need to hear it, too. Since these things happened, I’ve felt sad a lot, but I’ve also had some really great times. Some long conversations with my best friends that made me appreciate them so much. Some nights at my family’s house where I felt so warm and full and just happy, happy, happy to be there and nowhere else. Some times where I sat next to my boyfriend and remembered how lucky I am to be able to spend the rest of my life with him. So I know those good times are there. They’re just mixed in with the bad stuff, which is just life, I guess. And it’s something we all have to deal with, even when we feel like we can’t.