A month ago my nearly two-year-long relationship came to an unexpectedly abrupt end. It crumbled beneath us in under 48 hours. Though it was mutual, it has not been easy. I've written about being broken up with before, and hard though that was at the time, I actually preferred how that happened. At the time I believed I was sad about it, but in retrospect I know I was just supremely disappointed. Disappointment, unpleasant though it is, is easy enough to embrace and resolve. We grow up experiencing disappointment and are taught how to handle it. The same cannot be said for sadness.
And that's how I've felt for the greater portion of the past month. I am sad. I can put on a face and still have a good time, but the sadness always returns. Every day is a roller coaster of extreme and sometimes misleading highs, but every night is a crippling low. Profound sadness is so difficult to overcome because we ignore it.
Happiness is a feeling tightly woven into the very fabric of our culture. We pursue it. But perpetual happiness is an impossibility. Indeed, without experiencing sadness would we even recognize happiness?
We are so quick to rid ourselves of anything other than joy or contentment. The result is a poor processing of events that cause times of pain. We've learned to merely push unpleasantness aside. While that may make us feel better, it's a lie. It leads to a false happiness; a constant unsettled feeling in the pits of our stomachs or the backs of our minds. The negative emotions slip in and out of our days in every spare moment. We push them aside again and again, never allowing ourselves to just be sad.
Acknowledging unpleasant feelings is difficult. We try to ignore them, hoping they'll simply disappear. No one wants to be sad. But in doing so we do ourselves an incredible disservice. Perhaps worst of all is that we do it to each other. Our immediate response to a sad person is to cheer them up. We look for "silver linings" that are supposed to somehow discount the sad things a person is experiencing. We are so against sadness we don't want to deal with it in others. All we want is for it to go away.
When we cheer someone up we reward ourselves. We tell ourselves what good people we are for helping someone. But cheering up is often not what sad people need. What they need is closure. Their sadness needs to be resolved. People who are sad for a long time know this, but after having so many people merely try to cheer you up we are forced to wear a mask. When others are unable to embrace our sadness with us we are forced to deal with alone, in the late hours of the night as we struggle to get some sleep. We work to resolve it but it's hard.
Unresolved sadness will always return. It may abate for a time, but it will return. It will nag, and nag, and nag you until it consumes you or at least diminishes the level of happiness you can experience. Embracing the full range of human emotion is a ride. It's exhausting. We are capable of experiencing exceptional highs and unbearable lows; so much so that some of us never recover. And that is the saddest thing in the world. But embracing every emotion we experience is the path to recovery.
This isn't something that can be done alone. It requires all of us. But we all must start with ourselves. Learning to ride that rollercoaster every damn day is the only way to recover. We all must learn to embrace our every emotion, no matter how difficult. Only then can we extend that courtesy to others. Only then can we truly feel with them. Only then can we understand.