I want to preface this article by saying I am really writing these words for myself. I need to hear and heed my own advice. I need this spoonful of my own medicine.
Last night I was preparing for my annual Tuesday dance class. I knew that I needed to go. I can just tell. My mind is going 1000 miles a minute, I’m easily frustrated and angered by the world around me (last night it was the standstill traffic along Milwaukee) and I don’t want to dance I need to dance. So I made up my mind against the 60 mph wind, the winter cold and the loss of my coveted parking space to go. As I was putting on my last layer of tights I turned on Obama’s address to the nation and all of a sudden it just hit me. A collection of feelings I had blocked suddenly pummeled me into despair. It was like someone put ankle weights on me and covered my apartment in thick mud. I had been stopped.I didn’t want to leave the comfort of my warm apartment. I didn’t want to face the world outside with any type of vigor or stamina.
I proceeded to put on my favorite blue shirt that was my dad’s. Its long and baggy and says “Life is Good” on the front. I poured my second glass of wine to the near top of the glass. I boiled some water and cut open the bag of tortellini I just bought at Jewel. The anger from the $20 I just spent at Jewel came boiling to the surface as I tore open the bag. How much did each little shell of pasta cost, I wondered as it hit the now simmering water. Great, now I have to be careful next week with my grocery budget, I continued in my thinking. I then put on my hello kitty slipper socks, began to take another gulp of wine and realized I needed Liz Lemon to guide me. I looked at the TV and underneath were all my DVD’s I still own. Three of them are Beyonce related (shocker) and I thought about putting one on.
This is the tricky part. I wanted to be inspired, I wanted to feel empowered against all odds, I wanted to hear Beyonce speak to me through her quiet and loud confidence of living the life of her dreams but I couldn’t be strong. I didn’t…want to be after all.
This is the second tricky/complicated part of sadness (and also depression) because you know what you should do, you know exactly what you should do. I should have bucked up and gone to dance class. Exercise would have given me endorphins, I might of met some new dance buddy friends and I would have taken my much needed rage pill. But now I found myself, once again, underneath a pile of blankets in my comfy sweater and socks, sipping my wine and eating a bucket of carbs. The sensation I get, that feels so good, after my belly is full and the wine relaxes me eventually leaves and then I start to feel…guilty.
Anger. Apathy. Guilt. Shame. (Repeat)
This cycle is nothing new to me. I’ve been through it a million times after a year of deep grieving after my dad died and before with my grandparents. At first when something traumatic happens to me, I am called to be vigilant. Something in my survival mind goes off and I know that the only way to get through it is to just keep going. I send all the right emails. I make all the right calls. I even manage to laugh, eat and drink plenty of water. I shower regularly and I am ready to face the day. I feel better knowing that people see me as a strong person whose capable of anything. I am comfortable there.
And then the third wave of grief hits me. It comes in little shock waves of sudden anger related to minor things. I lose my standard amount of patience and trade it in for “dear-god-just-get-me-home-and-away-from-people”. I lose my ferret like ability to bounce out of bed in the morning ready to face the day and the problems ahead. I look in the mirror and see dark circles and greasy hair. Its all too real.
The next to last phase of grief is the worst part. Rather than apathy and carbs, sadness somehow manages to find me which is what happened last night. The sadness factor is the last thing any warrior wants to feel. Did Joan of Arc have time to put down her sword? Does Oprah take time to cry after a hard meeting? Does Michelle Obama stay in her pajamas all day and say, “Go AWAY WORLD!”? My guess is no. Sadness makes me feel weak, almost as if I’am wasting my time. Its just uncomfortable and full of edges. I look at my to-do list, and what I want to accomplish, and I feel as though none of its getting done when I allow myself to be sad.
There is this funny secret though that I think I’ve come to share with everyone who identifies with this story and it is this: Sadness if you just sit with it for a minute, or two, eventually goes away. Sadness is really just your body telling your heart you need a moment, a cleanse..a touch of warmth and if you let it in, after you will feel a sensation that is hard to describe. It’s the hot tomato soup and grilled cheese feeling, the grandma who snuggles you, the perfect Saturday book or cup of hot chocolate, the first time you actually fell in love, or traveled to a new city, or the way ice cream tastes when you buy it yourself: its exactly where you are suppose to be. You can’t live there but its not a bad place to be and you didn’t mess up royally because you found yourself there.
All I know is that when I skip this step, of allowing myself to feel sadness, or when I am “not allowed” to be a guest in this house of temporary sadness, I am not my truest self. I am faking it.
The world doesn’t want us to be there at all. We have found a million distractions, places, and boxes of wine to alleviate us out of this feeling because we are so afraid of stopping. We are so afraid of what is waiting for us on the other side. And sometimes yes, its ok to avoid the feeling for a little while. Its ok to work out, eat something rich and tasty or watch re-runs of Liz Lemon and her escapades but what is not ok is the world telling you what you are feeling is wrong and unnecessary. That if you are going to be strong and tough in this world you don’t have a moment to lose. It looks better on a plaque to win but I don’t think sadness is losing. I think sadness is really only for the brave and courageous. Its for the people who believe in its healing powers in a world that doesn’t allow you to feel it. The grieving, the ones who enter this house, are really magical people because they’ve made the choice that only a few ever make which is: to face themselves for who they truly are.
I believe these people live deeper, laugh harder, and know when to tell the world, “No you’re wrong. I have the right to be here, in this moment.”
I’ll leave you with this:
I was working at a non profit and about to send an email to this woman, whose job it is to manage every little detail. I think that’s literally in her job description. I was about to hit send when my boss told me that she wasn’t at work and she may not be coming back anytime soon because her mother had unexpectedly, sadly passed away. I looked at my boss and he went on with his daily calendar tasks. Pointing me in the next direction of the day. He was avoiding it. I wasn’t ready to be pointed though. My mind literally stopped and I felt it. Instead of sending another email to her, along with her already thousands adding up, I deleted my email because I know how that feels to live in a world as a person grieving and to watch as everyone else moves along. Their bodies like a photograph that pushes their movement into a steady block of color. So I pressed paused. I know that when she comes back its going to be hard to ask for what she needs. I know she is going to have to sit through meetings as she watches a bunch of happy people carry on about what seems meaningless. And you know what, I don’t know exactly what she is going to need but I know I can help. I can help remind her that she’s not alone and she deserves what the world doesn’t want to give her: time and space.
So what can the Obama’s teach us about our deep levels of sadness? That the strong and the brave are really just people who decided their tears were priceless agents leading them to their sacred destinations. So journey on President Obama and First Lady Michelle, I hope that wherever you are headed is full of time and space.
Visit my page Code Blue for more articles about loss & grief. Don’t forget your crowns.