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Los Angeles: How To Sit With Your Emotions (Or Learn To Recognize Sadness)

I planned to write this blog post about something other than my feelings, for once.

Wednesdays are saved for whatever is going on in real life, and that includes the two posts that I had planned to fill in tomorrow, a plan A and plan B, if you prefer.

And then I sat here staring at the blank Pages document for a half hour, just thinking about how sad I feel.

It doesn’t happen often, and I know that I’m lucky for that. I don’t suffer from chronic depression, or even a general melancholy. In truth, I am truly a happy person, a positive person, that is able to be optimistic when I need to be, and cynical when it’s appropriate.

Sadness, though, is not a feeling I am unaccustomed to either. No one truly is, as there’s a difference between moments of sadness and true, diagnosable depression. And knowing friends and family that have suffered actual depression, something that requires more than just a bit of reflection, some water, exercise, sunshine, I would never dare to compare my momentary sadness to that struggle.

That is not to say that I cannot admit when I am actually sad, though. Like the moment of writing this post. It’s a tool, and a skill that is difficult for some, especially living in a society that values “positivity” and “good vibes only” a lot of times.

Sometimes there are things to be sad about, and sometimes there aren’t. Sometimes it is a heavy wave that drags you down immediately, a weighted blanket thrown over your head and your heart. Sometimes it is creeping, reaching out from the edges of your mental space, vines twisting and taking hold before you even realize it.

Where do I even start with reasons to be sad? Should I list them, in order of seriousness? The Astros (whom I have a conflicted relationship with right now) are losing the ALCS, summer has yet to end in Los Angeles as it was 100 degrees again today and I just want to wear fall clothes because it’s October. Or do I go deeper, and admit that the weight of the pandemic lies heavily on me, that the election cycle has beaten me down to butter scraped over too much bread, that I desperately miss my family and friends and don’t see myself being comfortable traveling very far any time soon. Am I really sad for all the people we’ve lost, 218k people I don’t know, the feminist icon that is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the wars and trauma going on around the country and the world that people are still protesting, the Armenians in the streets of my city gathering to bring some kind of light to the atrocities their people are facing to this day on the other side of the world?

It is all of these things, and maybe none of them. If I’m being honest, there is not one particular reason, one detail that rises above the rest, if only because there is so much to be sad about. There is so much going on in the world, in the city, in life itself.

The last time I felt this way, suddenly very sad and unable to get find a plan to process it, I was lucky to have therapy that day. I was able to admit to him that I was sad, that it had happened like a gut punch, sudden and unexpected. We talked about what might have been causing me to feel that way, was it grief — as we had been working on earlier this year after the passing of my previous therapist — or was it something else?

Sadness, though, sometimes just is. It is sometimes just there, and all you can do is let it move through you (as my old therapist would tell me in our previous sessions). You have to feel your feelings, and though distractions are nice and helpful in some ways, dedicating time to allow yourself to feel sad or angry or overwhelmed, or even your joy or peace, is the only way to get through them. And it’s so easy, to distract ourselves from our feelings, from whatever emotions come up that we aren’t prepared to deal with, because there are so many distractions in the world. From social media, television or movies or video games, work, social commitments — so many different places to put our attention other than ourselves.

I’ve probably let myself be a little more distracted lately than I should’ve. Between filling as much time as I can with work, or keeping myself busy in general, I haven’t given myself the chance to sit in my feelings. Even as I started to write this post, I probably went on social media more times than I should’ve — looking for something else to distract my thoughts from this sadness that's sitting in my chest.

There’s the stigma to it too, isn’t there? That we live in such a world, with the universe at our fingertips, a lifetime’s worth of information and art to be consumed, that we shouldn’t have reasons to be sad or emotional. When you can simply look for silly videos, uplifting articles, photographic proof of how gorgeous our Earth is, how can someone be sad when that is all so accessible (if you have a smartphone or even internet access)? If you’re sad or emotional, you’re not working hard enough, you’re not doing enough to help others, to enrich yourself, because there are people out there that have it much worse than you.

None of that is a valid enough reason to not let ourselves feel our emotions. To not sit, maybe with your favorite blanket as I am while writing this, and recognize your feelings. Feelings make us human, they make us real. Be them sadness, exhaustion, peace, anxiety, joy… whatever they are. They are so important to who we are as people, and there is no way to truly shut them off. We are made to feel these things, especially with how hard it is to let yourself acknowledge that sometimes.

Even after 6 years of therapy, I still struggle with it — allowing myself the time and space to let these emotions move through me. I need the reminders from those people that have helped me — my family, my friends, my therapists — recognize that it is okay to feel this way whenever it happens, and to give myself the space to let them move through me.

This is my reminder to you, too. There’s probably many of you out there that could use the reminder. Give yourself time, space, comfort, when you need it. Space for those emotions to move through you.

It’s okay to be sad, sometimes. One of the greatest champions of emotions said in 1969, "If we, in public television, could only make it clear that feelings, are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health." Though he was speaking in service of saving public television at the time, it's still true to this day. If we make sure our feelings are mentionable, and manageable, then we will all be better for it.

If you don't want to take it from me, at least take it from Mr. Rogers.

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