Sometimes, I feel sad.
A few months back, a friend of mine started broadcasting an alarming amount of mental strain, hardship, and pain on Instagram. This is a friend from high school. We aren’t particularly close, but we share mutual friends and have always been kind to one another. I’ve hung out with her and conversed with her a hand-full of times over the last ten years. But, the world of social media has kept us connected without much direct communication. She’s a successful artist in NYC, and her Instagram has become relatively popular over the last few years. She’s more intriguing than me in numerous ways, and I’ve accepted the fact that she’s a much more interesting person than I. She’s like the Bill Murray of people one knew from high school. I’ll always be interested in her endeavors, because she’s funny, inspiring, talented, and not to mention stunningly beautiful. She’s incredibly active on Instagram with a story filled daily with humor and art, and a feed that shows the progression of her works. She’s generally a source of joy for her followers, myself included.
Then, one day seemingly out of the blue, her demeanor changed. Yet, her level of engagement with the Instagram platform remained the same. In what I regard as one of the bravest modern day SOS signals; her story was filled with a stream of photos and videos that contained text boxes of questions regarding pain and depression layered over faces of despair, longing, and emptiness. Her posts of her artwork now had long captions talking through how her art never felt good enough. She questioned whether her love was worth anything. She was sad. Instead of shutting out her audience of 4,000 plus followers, she exposed her unfiltered truths in those moments. I immediately reached out to her. I feared she might be on the verge of hurting herself. I was wrong. She was and is more brave than I, and she isn’t afraid to let her network see the full range of her humanity
After I gave her some unsolicited words of encouragement she told me, “I’m just devastated. That’s all lol. It’ll be okay in time. I just really loved this one. And I’m hoping it’ll all work out.”
I replied, “Time will either heal or lead ya back. It’s okay if you don’t figure it all out today. Give tomorrow a chance.”
She thanked me.
I was in awe of her.
I fear that as a society we’re losing the ability to acknowledge negative emotions. My friend’s raw expression had awoken me. It felt like a head first dive into a river of realness. A cascade of water cleansing me and my tainted palette of what I deemed socially acceptable or shareable on this platform of false positives. My Instagram is a constant barrage of beautiful people, beautiful places, moments of bliss, and inspirational quotes. Well, other than the memes. The constant happiness-apex of the entire network I choose to engage with appears to represent an unstoppable force of happy without a blemish of occasional sadness. But, this is far from an accurate representation of how we humans experience reality. We doubt ourselves, we experience melancholy, we feel alone, and we cry. These are perfectly normal and acceptable states of being. Without the ability to share these emotions on the platforms we engage with daily, we lose the ability to cope within our current cultural constructs. This has grave consequences for the future of mental health.
A few questions that come to mind. How many people dealing with depression are hiding in isolation because the mediums they interact with do not have a place for them? How do children and teens dealing with mental illness carve out a space for themselves to even start the process of healing while being preyed upon by the leaders of today’s attention economy? Because I’m generally regarded by my peers as an optimistic stress-free presence, will I be rejected for showing moments of weakness and feelings of loneliness?
I imagine I’m not the only person to struggle with these questions.
This past weekend, I felt sad. I’m honestly not sure why. It wasn’t a feeling of overwhelming pain, but it was a lingering feeling of despondency. One would think that I have all the reasons in the world to be happy. I have a new job with a shiny new title that I worked hard for, and I’m proud of. I have a network of friends that care for me. I have parents that love me unconditionally, who will always pick up the phone. Still, I felt lonely this weekend. I questioned certain decisions dating back years that impacted those around me. I mentally berated myself for mistakes I’ve made over the past few months. Part of me knows that I simply don’t do that well when I’m alone. But, I’m working on it, because solitude reveals a path towards one’s boundaries, ambitions, and dreams. Ultimately, I was sad. And that’s okay.
I reached out to my friend this weekend to let her know how brave she was for sharing her pain. I told her that the pain from months ago was in a strange way consoling me in my current state of gloom. It reminded me I wasn’t alone. It reminded me it wouldn’t last forever. It reminded me that it was okay to be unhappy sometimes, or even more than sometimes. She thanked me for sharing with her, told me to embrace all aspects of my humanity, and offered me words of encouragement. I immediately felt less secluded.
It’s absolutely incredible how connected we are to those around us. At any moment one can share their thoughts with someone else across the world via multiple mediums and receive immediate feedback. I’m finished being afraid to share my spectrum of emotion. I embrace all the colors of my existence. My friend’s broadcast helped lift me up, and I hope my experience and my words pass the baton of courage along to another. Local Natives have a line in their song World News that has helped me understand sadness in a way only music can reveal. “The bad feeling so bad makes the good so good.”
Sometimes we feel sad, and that’s okay.