It’s been a little quiet here at Headcase for the last couple of weeks. This Screen Silence, for which I apologise with the greatest of Humble, is because the person who runs it (that would be me…) and helps others talk about their mental health and feel better, has been feeling Very Not Good Indeed.
(This is possibly not the correct psychological term, but roll with it. It also means I win the ‘Oh The Irony!’ Award for best, umm…irony. Hurrah.)
Yes, for the last month or so I’ve looked a bit like the helpful illustration above, but a little less yellow. And with more hair.
I get this from time to time. I just cannot stop feeling enormously, overwhelmingly, debilitatingly SAD. This sadness is combined with feeling really ill, aching all over, being fevered and having no energy, and needing so much sleep I make hibernating dormice look hyperactive.
Oh, and I cry. A LOT.
The crying comes without warning, and in the kind of floods that merit their own TV documentary.
It can start within minutes of waking up. And again in the middle of the morning. At lunchtime. And at night. And most times in-between.
I can still go out, talk to people, laugh and smile and drink coffee and do my job and be generally extremely jolly…but the second I walk away the face-tidal-wave starts again. I have to wear mascara that’s so waterproof penguins order it in bulk.
I can even cry when I’m out running, which is pretty bloody difficult because my throat closes up and I can’t breathe. I’m pretty sure Mo Farah doesn’t use this as a Top Training Technique.
And it also looks really flippin’ weird.
When I’m sad, my face looks like this. Really, I should charge tourists to come and have a look at it, and offer little boat trips to the ends of my nostrils.
It feels as if my body is desperately trying to empty itself of that little-known UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Bottomless Lake of Sadness…but never gets any emptier. (If only there were a clue in the title…)
It’s just fabulous.
And at these times it feels impossible to imagine a time when I won’t cry any more. There just IS no state of not crying, or wanting to cry, available to me.
Eventually, thank goodness, it stops. And then I feel un-sad again, and I can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to cry.
I mean….was THAT all about?? The sun is out. Coffee exists. You have the entire new series of The Big Bang Theory on your TiVo box, and your children don’t hate you enough to have run away from home yet – WHY were you crying??
Well….because I JUST WAS. My body and head are very sad, and they are allowed to be.
You see, one useful thing I’ve learned about this occasional outpouring of Epic Sadness – in no way related to ‘feeling a bit sad sometimes’ – which I share with you here in case it helps you, is that sadness is a THING, and it’s sometimes much better to accept that state, than fight it. To realise what it is, let it exist, and BE SAD for a while. Just allow it to be, give it its time, and let it happen.
This is the first few bars of ‘Let It Be’. It’s sort of unsubtly symbolic, here. And also quite fun to play on a xylophone, if you have a spare hour or five.
We’re not very good at dealing with sadness, in our culture. It is always seen as a ‘bad’ emotion. Something to try to stop immediately, and get rid of.
But actually sadness is a natural state of being, just like happiness, anger, fear, excitement, desire and so on.
It’s a sign of something happening inside – perhaps worries or stresses or even things of which we’re not aware – and this is the way it shows itself. And it’s important not to fear it, or deny it, but to know what it is, learn to spot and understand the triggers, and give it its moment.
(Though after a few weeks, like any visitor, I tend to try and show it the door. Nice to see you, thank you for coming, but please move along now….)
Mid pit-of-gloom, I asked our resident psychologist, Wendy Dignan, what she thought about sadness from a professional perspective, and if she had any tips for understanding it better.
Here are her thoughts:
It’s incredible to witness the change in the public’s perception of mental health over the last few years. In the UK we are slowly absorbing the mental health mind-set that we see portrayed by the multitude of American media we all encounter on a daily basis. Gone is the good old British ‘stiff upper lip’ and although I’m not sure we will ever be as welcoming to therapy as the American public seem to be, we are as a culture becoming much more open about seeking help with our mental wellbeing.
I’m beginning to see a bit of a trend emerging that I feel is based on our new heightened awareness of mental wellbeing, that is being reinforced by media and celebrity; its unfashionable to be sad. Whilst we British are much better at expressing our emotions, the emotion that I see people sweeping aside as if it’s not allowed is that of sadness. I’m wondering if all this focus and spotlight on emotions means that people feel that embracing mental wellbeing means that they have to be happy all the time?
At the risk of using the word ‘normal’ ……its ‘normal’ for all of us to cycle through a huge range of emotions on a daily basis including negative ones. If you imagine an axis plotting your mood level with positive numbers being positive emotion and negative numbers being ‘less happy’ emotions, when you join the points up the line will loop up and down. It may be ‘unfashionable’ to feel sad but it is a very ‘normal’ mood state that all of us should feel from time to time.
If you have a think about what your ‘mood chart’ might look like and feel that your line goes below the horizontal axis too often, more often than when you are feeling positive and happy, then treat this as important information.
Try to think about WHAT makes you sad, what are the triggers and what can you do about the triggers to change them?
Emotions are there for a reason, use them wisely.