Most of the time, I am a happy person. Downright bubbly in fact. I often give away bright smiles and overly expressive facial movements. My eyes are wide like a ridiculous painted clown. My mouth wide open like a barn door. I’m a person who delights in most things, most of the time and I am, overall - a happy person.
Except when I’m not.
I never seem to pay attention to the warning signs. The internal flashing light that I’m slipping away from my normal state of contentment into the murkier realm of unhappiness. Happy is so easy, bright and simple. Nothing much bothers happy. Happy in itself is untroubled. But, like most people, I never heed the warning signs.
WARNING signs that sound like the prickly edges of shorter words and snappier decisions and create a deeper set of frowns. I pay no attention when my back gets tighter, my shoulders are wrenched up three notches and the most ordinary noise or action causes me irritation. I ignore the extra sip of wine at dinner may be numbing a bigger issue. I don’t have to feel the bad parts if I’m believing myself into the happy parts.
I keep barreling through life. I go through the motions, working through the lists, getting crap done because I don’t want to *FEEL* what I’m actually FEELING. I’d much rather bury it underneath piles of self-important work. This life stuff needs doing. I don’t have time for the stuff that needs feeling. I’ll make time for the happy which seems to beget more happy.
But I’m not making time for the sad or uncomfortable because I don’t want more of it. The thinking goes that if I ignore it, IT will go away. Typically, happy people treat the word “depression” like an infectious, insidious disease.
Avoid it. It’s contagious.
I come from a long line of under-the-rug sweepers. I’m not casting blame, I’m acknowledging my heritage a few generations removed. We are rug-sweeper people. We are a proud group who refuse to analyze or discuss uncomfortable feelings unless backed into a fire, then we release unto you our fireworks - hot and testy. Better to sweep all that negative emotional sh*! and all those painful feelings under the rug with the dust. But since MY personality is so emotive, I don’t really clean that way.
What I do, instead, is decide that I don’t have time to sit and think about why I’m feeling sad, so I shove everything I don’t want to deal with in the refrigerator. That way when I start dinner, the troubled feeling gets slammed into a pot on the stove. Or if I’m in the car, I pile up all that sad crap in the trunk and show other drivers my aggression. My family knows when I’m upset if I start cleaning like the Queen is coming for a visit. I can clean the hell out of not dealing with feelings.
The realization about how sad I was seeped in a few nights ago, as my husband drove us home. We had been Christmas shopping and for reasons unknown, I felt deflated and low. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I also couldn’t bear to analyze my feelings. It was easier to stare out the window past my reflection into the landscape and scenery zipping past us. My reflection wanted to talk. I ignored her.
The night’s darkness had settled in and street lamps cast a dull, amber glow. I wondered if counting them would block the rising of my unhappiness. Our car slipped past homes of all sizes. Driveways with garages. Others with gravel and an awning. All of them appearing peaceful and snug. In their own way, comfortable and safe. The chill of December tucking everyone in for the evening. Warmth lit from within. The windows reveal nothing. Is the family inside spread out on recliners and sofas watching television together? Are they baking? Are they wrapping gifts? Or is there a disturbance inside their walls? A harsh word? Is there a pot banging on the stove. Is there a door slamming shut as an angry final answer? I don’t know. I can’t guess which home is happy and which one is not.
The heat from the car vent blew on a tear sliding off my cheek. My face feels the cold stream it made and my hand reflexively wipes it away. I focus harder on the white line on the road. A fast moving serpent chasing the tires. My hand movement catches my husband’s eye. He turns to me and asks if there’s too much heat? I shake my head, so little I wonder if he can see it move in the dark. I don’t answer audibly but we’ve been married so long I don’t have to respond with words. He cuts the air back. My eyes dart from side to side, trying to focus on the still frames on the other side of the window turning into a filmstrip as we drive past.
I’m sad. ‘I’m tired’ is my first answer when I decide to ask myself why I’m sad. Overwhelmed by all that’s left to do and realizing life is pushing me further away from what I want to do. I don’t regret the work because it helps provide for the family. I don’t regret the chores, like laundry or dinner because it’s the small acts of service that make our house a home. But I do regret the nonsense. All the busyness that catches in people’s schedules and turn options into deadlines. We create lists out of society pressures. The ones that make us stand in line at the post office to buy holiday stamps or at the liquor store for reasons we invent. We listen to songs crooning about dreams of white Christmas and packages tied up with string but we’re not still enough to daydream and our packages are wrapped in designer paper. Then we count how many packages there are and ask ourselves if we did enough - or too much. Why the shame in not enough? Why the shame in too much? Why is there shame at all? Why do we have all of this self doubt, vicious criticism about ourselves?
I have a friend, someone I love and respect tell me that I need to be gentle with myself. Forgive myself for not being happy all the time. She gave me permission to let go of the facade. So that’s what I want to give you this Christmas. I give you permission to be sad, melancholy or a little down. You can be bluesy, withdrawn, and sit alone. You can slip out a few tears or several dozen and spend more time in the closet getting ready for holiday festivities. I give you permission to be okay that you’re not okay. To be sad when everyone else is happy. To be down and not know why. I give you permission to feel the feels, even when they’re sad. You have permission to take your time and examine the real reason your soul has settled into that milky, gray space, tucked safely away from anger and no where near the color merry.
It’s okay to be sad even when we know we have so much to be thankful for. It’s okay to be sad even if we have food in our belly, a roof over our head and presents around the tree. It’s okay to have these things and still be sad. I give you permission to feel every bit of your sadness. To sit in the loneliness of it. To cover yourself in the emptiness of it. If you spend time with heartache and ask it why it’s there, then it has the opportunity to tell you, then you both can move on. Ignoring sadness, just like every other emotion, eventually seeps through and stains the other parts of your life. A spill of gravy on the antique white Christmas tablecloth. A splash of red wine on the carpet you just had installed.
Sit with sadness. Hang out with her for awhile. Don’t shove her in a closet or point to the rug for her to crawl under. Tell her it’s okay for her to be there. Allow her the space to help you acknowledge your feelings. Then it’ll be easier to thank the discomfort for it’s service and then let it all go. I give you permission to be down and give sadness a chance to visit. Soak in all of the blue. Feel all of the gray. Let the lonely, cold sink inside of your mind spirit and body. Succumb to her presence and receive the message she is giving you. Once you’ve received it, accept it, then release it so sadness can let go more easily. After she’s gone, you can make up the bed for happiness to stay awhile.
I give you permission to be sad, because I can’t wait for you to be happy again.
Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays.
And warm, cozy blessings lit from within.