Just Let People Be Sad
For those of you who feel confused: yes, this is a professional photo of me crying.
During a recent, impromptu photo shoot with Nancy Hauck, I started to feel an oncoming visit from The Sads. This has been happening a lot lately. I have stopped fighting it. It’s more work for me to pretend that I’m happy than to just own that I’m sad, right now. So I told Nancy that I was about to start crying and to keep shooting because I’m tired of hiding my pain.
This might be considered “edgy” or “refreshing” to some. Others will call it a “cry for attention” or “too much.” This is only because we, as a society, put a premium on happiness and all other emotions are relegated to small doses in safe places with explicit explanations. And that’s why I posted this photo and wrote this rant:
Since this is my sadness, not yours, I’ll tell you what this actually is:
This is loneliness. This is heartbreak. This is exhaustion and depression. This is also what happens when you quit drinking after 10+ years of using alcohol to numb out the intensities of life. This is a backlog of repressed and numbed pain leaking out of my eyes. As my friend Nikki said, it’s the emotional version of clearing out your smoker’s lungs when you quit cigarettes. Instead of hacking up black phlegm, I’m weeping often and sometimes so hard that I almost barf.
This is part of the detox process they don’t advertise. I mean, would you quit drinking if someone said, “You’ll have a few months where you cry every day and you kind of wish you were never born. It’s awful and makes you acutely aware of how useful drinking had been for all those years.”
Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have. This sucks. But it’s also very real.
The reasons I cry vary. I’m told my reasons don’t have to make sense to you and that I don’t need to justify them to anyone. But is that really true?
Let’s think about it:
If I had posted this photo of myself crying without any explanation, what would the comment section have looked like?
Cheer up, you’re beautiful!
Essentially, everyone would have either needed to know the reason I was crying or encouraged me to not be sad. Because sad is bad. (Incorrect).
This suggests that sadness needs to be explained. It also implies that sadness isn’t socially acceptable and grieving is something people should keep to themselves. Why? Am I unique in thinking that this is kind of fucked? When we’re in our sadness, most of us need the non-judging help, support and love of others to navigate that painful place.
When our friends come to us when they’re sad, why don’t we feel honored that they trust us with such a vulnerable emotion? Why don’t we hold space for them to be whatever they are for as long as they need to be? Why do we think we need to fix them? Does their sadness harm us or put us in danger in any way?
No. The answer is no.
Someone else’s sadness has nothing to do with you unless they explicitly name you as the reason for their pain. In which case, you have the opportunity to engage in the gut-wrenchingly powerful, humanizing experience of introspection, talking shit out, owning your part and apologizing.
Side rant: I don’t know how it happened, but our society is obsessed with being right all the time and sees apologies as a weakness. You know what’s weak? Denying other people’s experiences because you are too much of a child to see outside of your own little world. It takes massive amounts of strength to put down your heavy armor and admit when you’ve been a dick to someone. And you know what’s usually on the other side of that? Forgiveness. Sweet, kind, loving forgiveness.
Okay /apologies rant. Let’s get back to this sadness crap.
I don’t mean to be so bossy but don’t tell your sad friend that she’s too sad. Don’t tell her that she needs to snap out of it. Don’t tell her that she’s too negative or that she just needs to flip her perspective (I’m looking at you, Entire Yoga Community). She needs to get to that place on her own. She needs to know that you’re there for her because you care. Period.
If happiness doesn’t need to be timed out, then why does sadness? If someone else’s sadness is making you uncomfortable, set boundaries and take a break, but don’t disappear. Maybe even look into why you’re uncomfortable? Is there something you’re not dealing with that might need a little bit of your attention, right meow? You can disagree with some one else’s sadness, but keep that to yourself. You don’t get to decide what justifies pain in another person’s life. When you can, be there for your friends by listening to them, hearing them and seeing them for what they are: human beings with a vibrant range of completely acceptable emotions. They are ultimately responsible for themselves and they will figure it out someday, but it’s not going to be because you told them to cheer up or gave them some “at least” hypothetical.
Remember: no one is trying to ruin your day with their sadness. They are reaching out. They are asking for help. They are being vulnerable, which, again, is actually a huge strength. When people come to us in pain, we have an opportunity to hold space for their sadness and our own (if this concept confuses you, read a Brené Brown book immediately). This is an opportunity for deep, real connection. This is trust-building, bear-hug-inducing, best-friend-cultivating shit. By seeing yourself and your friend in the complexity that is her pain, you will be able to better enjoy and revel in the beauty of her laughter when that comes back around. Because it will.
Just let people be sad. Sad isn’t wrong or bad. It hurts like hell, but you wouldn’t know pleasure if it weren’t for pain. Okay? Okay.
To anyone who is feeling sad right now: I see you. I’m sorry it hurts. You’re still good and wonderful and great. Your sadness doesn’t and won’t ever change that. If you need someone to talk to, email me at email@example.com and I’ll read it with an open heart.
Thank you to Nancy Hauck for the photo and for holding space for me. Thank you to Melissa for letting me talk to you about all The Sads after not seeing you for 5 years. Thank you to Nikki who never makes me feel bad for being sad because she knows I’m still hilarious and fun and caring. Thank you to my new friend Matt who knows what this feels like and inspires me to keep at it.