Sunday, September 04, 2016

My Old Friend...

Sometimes I get sad.  All of a sudden I just get this feeling like there's a hole inside me and it'll never be filled up.  It feels like the colors are turned inside out and that I'm walking on a deserted street.  The lamplight distorts the shadows and transforms a tree limb into a scary creature.  I know in my brain that it's just a tree limb, but my heart starts to race and my palms get sweaty.  It rarely makes sense.  Even when things are going really well, this vacancy overcomes me.  I'm usually pretty even-keeled, living life on a frequency dialed down low and close to the ground.  Sometimes it's disturbing to others how unfazed and unaffected I can seem.  Tragedy can strike and I can go about my business without batting an eyelash.  Someone I used to know would admiringly say, "You're stone cold, my friend.  The place could be on fire and you'd walk out like you were going to pick up ice cream."  But then something stupid will happen and that gapping feeling opens up, like some kind of dark flower waiting to bloom.  Something silly and trivial and inconsequential could happen, like misplacing a ring, and all of a sudden, my eyes are leaking and the cats are freaking out, because they can sense something is up.  The tree limb monster stands on the edge of the shadows, ominous and menacing.

I've never been really good with emotions.  We were raised not to be expressive with our feelings.  If we acted up in public, (getting upset or laughing too loudly) we'd be told to stop shaming ourselves.  If my mom would see any signs of PDA (Public Displays of Affection) in strangers, she'd mumble under her breath that they were "dirty" and "bad".  We were raised to believe that excessive touching caused trouble, the kind of trouble that could ruin your life.  And most of all, that if you talked about your feelings, you were opening a door to those feelings.  It was like summoning up a demon by saying its name.  I can understand why.  My dad was raised on a farm and went into the military; any extra feelings were seen as not particularly useful or needed for the sheer act of living.  Survival was paramount and feelings weren't essential to that survival.  My mom had grown up with very little and she had witnessed far too many people who had lost everything, because of bad decisions.  Both of them were deeply affected when my brother left and tensions were high.  Our household was charged with unspoken emotions, crackling beneath the surface.  It was like living on top of a volcano.  Any wrong word or action could set off an eruption of this dirty, bad, yucky, inessential excess.  So we just didn't.  We bottled it up and pressed it down deep.  We'd swallow down sorrow or anger like too sweet strawberry milk with cartons decorated with cartoon rabbits; feeling at first good – the act of showing restraint, governing what threatened to be uncontrollable.  But it'd coat our tongues with cordiality and then moments later sour quietly in the backs of our mouths.  Maybe that's why all the kids ended up being artists, trying to work out their inner landscapes without openly having to say anything.  All that hurt would be made beautiful if we put a frame around it or wore it around our necks.

Over the years, finding my own way, I've worked to be more at peace with the ebb and flow of my emotions.  It hasn't been easy.  And it still is something that I work on.  I have to remind myself not to flinch away from contact and that it's okay to hug and to cry and to smile with your teeth showing.  

Sometimes I get sad.  And while there are those in my life who are horrified by this declaration (and part of me that is too), there is also a part of me that is okay that I'm sad and that I'm getting better at expressing myself.  There's part of me that welcomes my old friend, the dark bloom that springs up randomly and without pattern.  I know there are those who might read this and that their first reaction will be to interpret my words as a cry for help and try to make me happy.  They'll offer suggestions on St. John's Wort or getting sleep or taking Vitamin D.  They'll say that I need to take a break from work or that I need to do something fun to break me out of my funk.  They want to be useful and helpful when really there isn't anything they can actually do.  They see sadness as a dangerous and unpredictable presence.  And to them, I say... I will be all right.  Sadness can be a gift.  It's not the gift you always want, but it is a gift nonetheless.  To ignore it, to repress it, to hold it in, just builds up the pressure... until one day it explodes.  If, however, you treat it as though it were an old friend, and you acknowledge it and listen to it and let it say what it needs to say, you'll walk away from the exchange better for having put forth the effort and the time.

8 comments:

Ann Schroeder said...

This is a great post. Your milk analogy is perfection. This makes me think about my family dynamics. The great gift one can have is being able to see him or herself so clearly as you do. Knowing that the sadness comes on you and knowing that it will get better. I used to be ridiculously happy about 99% of the time for no reason, and I loved that. For some reason, that has tempered with age or whatever. Not that I'm sad, just more average. But I remember those days fondly. Maybe they will come back.

susan wyatt said...

This post strikes home on many levels for me. My family dynamics were somewhat similar. This year has been momentous for me, with many life changes including the needless loss of a loved one. I've always been good at suppressing my emotions when they pop up, but now sadness flows when I least expect it. Instead of pushing it back down I've learned to let it to run it's course. It's been a hard lesson. Your post is a reminder that it's OK to have these feelings, they are our friends, and they will not last forever. Thanks Andrew, for sharing.

Seven Wild Winds by Jeryl said...

I think that even your sad words are beautiful and it will probably help you and others have more understanding of many things. Perhaps you should consider adding author to extensive credentials.

Joan Tucker said...

sadness my old friend, come to visit you again...

Debbie Rogers said...

Wonderful post, you have given me something to consider when that sadness settles in for a little visit.

kathyd said...

great post .. speaking from the heart always helps others and helps ourselves.
i found the more i talk about these things it dilutes them . i only know
from my own experience .i always find your writings help me too.
thank you andrew (:
xxoo
kathy dorfer

windbent said...

People need to work out their own emotions. When you care about someone, it is in our nature to try and help or cheer them up but I agree that sometimes listening is better. I hear you.

Sharon Driscoll said...

It's been a long time since I've checked in. This is a beautifully expressed post. There are those who cry on the outside - and others where the tears run down on the inside. It's so awful for people to have to feel like they are drowning in that inner ocean. After all of these years of mine I've learned to go with the flow...if it's a sad moment, so be it. I let myself go ahead, be indulgent in it, analyze it, wallow in it if need be. And then, tomorrow I pick myself up stare into the sun and say, "You Go Girl, you go!"