Monday, July 30, 2018

me, myself, and Sadness

You may not cry very much in front of your kids if...

...your toddler pops into your bedroom, freezes in her tracks, then slams the door and runs back to her bedroom where the other sisters are playing.

"Girls. Girls. Listen. Mom CWYING," she tells them.

The 5-year-old audibly scoffs. "Pfhh. Yeah right."

"No. True. PWOMISE."

* * *

In Disney's Inside Out, the five predominant emotions at the console of Riley's brain are Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness. Although Joy is usually at the helm, she sometimes lets Anger, Fear, or Disgust take over. Joy is perplexed by Sadness, however. Why is she here? What place does she have? Why is she morbidly obese? The storyline arcs with the theme of Sadness having a value and learning to appreciate it, and understanding that many times our memories and experiences are flooded with a blend of emotions. 

There is one scene in particular that resonates deeply with me.

On Riley's first day of school, Joy bounds happily down the brainstairs and gives out orders. Fear is to think of everything that could go wrong, Anger is in charge of daydreams, Disgust is to make sure Riley feels awkward as well as invisible.

Sadness awaits her directive from Joy. And then this:

The Circle of Sadness. You just stay contained there. 

Yes. I get this.

* * *
I've heard a theory that men tend to go to anger before sadness, while women tend to access to sadness before anger. Broad brush strokes, here. When we're down to the fine tuning, I can't identify with it.

If we all have one - or two - predominant emotions at the helm in our brain, mine is usually Joy, with compadre Anger yanking the controls every now and then. I'm comfortable with that arrangement. It works for me. But in recent purposeful opportunities to articulate anger, I realized I was crying each time I said something I was angry about. I gave that some more reflection, and I wondered if I was also sad about each of those things. I've never understood a link between anger and sadness, nor the possibility that angry tears might also be sad tears. It was a huge, terrifying, lightbulb moment for me. I am comfortable articulating anger. But I am repulsed by the idea of being sad.

Sadness has felt worthless to me for as long as I can remember. I don't understand it. I don't get the value of it. I don't know why it lingers or what place it has in my life. I understand on a cerebral level that it can lead to compassion, but one reason I find a deep friend in anger is that I'm a mover and a shaker - I get things done - I spring to action. Anger is intensely valuable and productive to me. It feels like it's actually accomplishing something purposeful. It can be an intense motivator, and as long as I'm keeping it tethered - responding vs reacting, for instance - it's a good thing. I really, really like anger, in a sense. I'm not scared of it. I don't find value in shushing it. 

Yet, sadness is the one emotion I've never been able to process out loud. I'm extremely articulate, but from my earliest years I've always processed sadness internally. You know, if someone died, my mom would be the one to sit there and want to talk for fourteen hours about all the wonderful memories we had with so & so --- I'd be sitting there thinking, "Please shut uuuuuup...I just need to think."  I am still like this. I don't talk about my sadness. I can barely process it internally; out loud is right out of the question. I tend to mute or back burner it because I don't even know what to do with it. Even with the closest people in my life, I may be willing to say, "I'm sad about something...but I don't want to discuss it." And that's as far as it goes. It's not an emotion worthy of my time to deal with. 

Where anger feels productive, sadness feels lazy to me. I don't know what I'm supposed to do with it. Just sit there and feel? Incredibly unproductive. 

My response to the word "unproductive," when a friend asked me, is that it disgusts me. I absolutely recoil from and disdain sadness. I feel the same about unproductive. If there's something to be done, I don't sit down. I avoid being sedentary like the plague. 

* * *

I have helped carry carpet rolls that weigh about 200 pounds. You need a good three people carrying them - one on each end and one in the middle. But to use that as imagery for sadness, I feel as though sometimes I'm standing with a carpet roll on my shoulders all by myself and I could go on indefinitely. That's how it always has been. I'm strong. I've always been strong. I don't ask for help. This is just what I do. If someone looks weak, of course you ask them if they need help, you ask them if they're struggling. But if someone looks capable and strong, you're less likely to ask if they need help because they obviously look like they're handling it just fine. 

All alone. Carrying a heavy weight.
Oh. That's why Sadness is morbidly obese.

It's because sadness is heavy. Really heavy. 

* * *

If I stand there without asking for help, it leads to pain and exhaustion. Because my focus is to simply hold up under the weight, I don't give time to being taught by grief. 

But this is my recent observation. There is a cost to standing there holding the weight alone. The cost is isolation.

Sharing sadness and pain leads to compassion.
Compassion leads to trust.
Trust leads to relationship: the opposite of isolation.

Maybe sadness is less about doing and more about being. 
Which leads me to question: can sadness perhaps be the most productive emotion after all?

I've been defining productive as a flurry of activity, rather than accepting that it may be slow and intentional. But if it's only a matter of speed, then I can't look at any field around here growing a wealth of wheat or corn and call it productive. I can't look at any gorgeous, perfect spider web and call that work productive. I can't think back on the months of my life my body gave to growing children inside me so slowly and think of it as productive.

 I oughtn't let my view of productive be defined by its speed.

Sadness is slow and heavy. But relationships take trust and trust takes time and time takes effort and effort isn't always fast.

Sadness can bring depth and build bridges.
Sadness can either isolate or unfurl into relationship and healing.
Sadness says - "Hey. Me, too."

That whole thing about not sitting down if there's something to be done?

Maybe sometimes I need to just sit down and be. And sit down and feel. The feeling is the doing, and it's long, hard work, but I don't have to shoulder a carpet roll on my own. 


  1. Replies
    1. I don't know why it didn't publish my name, lol! Judith Roberts from Author School, ha!