Reflection on Sadness
Last night I was having dinner with a friend and talking about sadness. I was telling her how sad I often feel in our society which is obsessed with the notion of happiness. It was a lovely experience to sit with her, talk about my sadness and not experience any pressure from her to be different. I am not depressed; I told her, I just feel grief and sadness many times over. I feel sad in response to many things, to my disappointments in life, to others struggling with difficulties, to world events. I don’t think I am overly melancholic. I am an extrovert, a social kind of person and my sadness is not so evident to others who do not know me well I believe. I am curious whether other people feel as sad as I do? I think it is like a secret part of my life that I need to come out of the closet about. Own up to the fact that sadness dances in my soul a lot!
Take Facebook for example. A post came out today that said, “May your life be as awesome as you pretend it is on Facebook”. I don’t think it is so much that people pretend; it’s more that people generally don’t put on FB the struggles they have in life. This is understandable. Research in Denmark showed recently that following FB contributed to high rates of feelings of loneliness and depression. At my work in a private psychiatric hospital, many tell me they stop looking at FB, as it seems everyone else is having a great time and they are not. In a culture that affirms happy feelings, materialistic success, career achievements, academic qualifications, beauty and youth it is hard to find any space to feel ok about talking about struggle, emotional pain, loneliness, growing older and feeling sad sometimes. Thus our mental health services are inundated with those desperate to find a voice for such experiences and to be affirmed in them.
Today on a ride into the city on the tram, the sole of my boot was touching the plastic of the seat opposite me. An older man came towards me. I moved my foot for him to sit down. He very deliberately took out a tissue and wiped the plastic where the sole of my shoe had been. “I’m sorry,” I said. He muttered very sternly, “and so you should be!” and not a smile flickered upon his face. Feeling duly told off, I imagined the crust that covered over his sadness of spirit — the crust of bitterness, cynicism and anger.
I would rather be in touch with my sadness, painful as it is to feel, lest when I am old, I become like him. For sadness keeps my heart soft.