What if it was okay to feel sad?

Today I wanted to write to you about sadness, about feeling down or depressed or lost.

I’ll be totally honest with you: I don’t remember feeling sad much until I was in my twenties. I had moments of sadness — someone I loved died, or a relationship ended, or I felt homesick. But somehow this sadness was always relatively confined. I would feel sad, I would cry (for 10 minutes or two hours), and then it would pass.

I never feared my sadness.

I will also say that I am very lucky — I had a childhood with a nice family and good health and few “real” problems. I am absolutely aware that not everyone gets to be so lucky.

But starting in my twenties, I started to feel a totally new kind of sadness.

A sadness that would stick with me, when I might just feel “down,” for no particular reason. Of course, there were always things in life to worry or feel nervous about, but my sadness wasn’t always directly “related” to something. Sometimes I just felt sad, for no particular, immediately identifiable reason.  

And also, it wasn’t just sadness. I seemed to feel everything more deeply. I felt more scared, more anxious, more hurt. I also, for the record, felt happier and more joyful and more curious, but that’s not what this post is about :)

But this sadness? It was freaking me out. It wasn’t there every day, or even every week, but it was present in a deeper and longer way than I had ever experienced.

I didn’t quite know what to do about it.

One day, when I was moping on the couch, my boyfriend pointed something out to me that totally changed my perspective.

He said:

“What if you didn’t need for it to go away? What if you were okay being sad forever?”

At first, I felt my brow furrow and anger coming on: I can’t possibly be like this forever! I will explode!

But he kept going: “So often, our feelings linger on because we are resisting them. But when we really let them stay, it just stops being a problem.”

“What if you knew that you were going to be sad and depressed and down every day for the rest of your life? How would feel?”

When he first said it, it was a very scary thought. Feeling like this? Feeling scared and sad and down, forever?

I think that’s really normal — we don’t want to look at our sadness too deeply because we’re afraid we’ll make it worse.

But then I thought about it. I really thought about going to sleep and waking up and brushing my teeth and making dinner every single day, feeling like this.

And suddenly, confusingly, I felt like a weight was lifted.

When I thought about spending my entire day, and tomorrow, and the next day, feeling sad, it felt…okay. It didn’t feel great. Far from it. But it did feel like I could do it. It felt like I would be tender and a little delicate and like I’d need to be very, very gentle with myself.

It felt like I wouldn’t force myself to do a million things or lift weights or change the world. But it was also very clear to me, in that moment, that i would still love the things I loved: Tea. New soft socks. Reading novels. Eating baked goods and getting brunch with people I cared about. Taking walks and calling my mom. Writing + helping people with food issues.

I think that that was almost the most interesting realization: 

I would still love what I loved.
I would still want to help people who are struggling and frustrated with their eating.
I would still be me.

I would just do it a little more gently.

And then, once it was totally okay for me to feel sad forever, I oddly stopped feeling sad at all.

There was a little bit of sadness there, like when you are getting over a cold and a tiny bit of congestion is with you. But it didn’t really bother me anymore, and I got up and continued with my day.

Look, I can see you reading and thinking oh, whatever, I don’t need this feelings stuff.

If so, great. You might not struggle with your feelings too much. You might be like I was for the first part of my life. If so, file this away in case you ever do find yourself face-to-face with overwhelming emotions. I can basically guarantee that if you face this food stuff head-on, you’ll face them soon enough — I’ve never had a client who didn’t.

But also, if you have ever struggled with feeling “down” in a way that you couldn’t quite resolve, my challenge for you this week is to try this:

  • The next time you feel down, be really gentle with yourself. Sit on your couch, make a cup of tea, wrap yourself in a soft blanket. And then ask yourself, “What would it be like if I felt this way forever?”
  • At first, that feeling might bring up panic. That’s okay. But really sit with it. Ask what it would be like to make dinner, to take a bath, to do your work and cuddle with a loved one, all while feeling this way. It might not feel great, but could it feel okay?
  • Notice how your feelings change and evolve. They might not immediately go away — they might spike and go up and down before ebbing away. What does it feel like to notice their progression? Stay with it as much as you can.

And, of course, please let me know in the comments how this goes for you, or if you are freakin’ terrified to even contemplate it. I’d love to support you, and it would be a great support to others who feel the same way.

And one more thing, from my heart to yours:

Everyone experiences feeling “down” or depressed in different ways, and if you are afraid that you might be struggling with clinical depression, get set up with a therapist. And if you find yourself contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK