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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: Sad, The Upside of Down vs. Emotional Suffering

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sad, The Upside of Down vs. Emotional Suffering

I am already feeling sad writing this post. Truth is, I have been thinking about it for some time now, trying to figure out to what extent I agree with defending sadness. And wondering as always about the slippery slope from sadness to depression....where is the line? When does it get crossed. Is sadness really painful? Does it count as emotional pain? How much emotional suffering can one bear? And how?

In the medical arena, society subscribes to doing whatever is clinically possible to control physical suffering. Though religions differ in philosophy, especially with end of life and terminal illness issues, extreme comfort measures are usually the standard course.

But what of mental illness? And what of extreme sadness? What of emotional pain that brings thoughts of death? Some would say that emotional pain rivals physical pain, is worse, even. Betrayal, abandonment, neglect, trauma, shame, fear, anger. Powerful stuff. Life altering stuff.

We don't hesitate, usually, to medicate physical pain. And of course, we medicate emotional pain in many ways. The nuances are many. What is a mood disorder? What is biological, hormonal, genetic? Organic? The debate is particularly intense when it comes to emotional pain that manifests into physical pain. And vise verse.

We are relief seeking. Most of the time. Even the folks I work with who take razors to their own skin, or drive with their eyes closed, or vomit, starve, burn their bodies with hot match tips. They are seeking relief from pain by out-paining it with another. That's only a piece of the puzzle of course, but it fits.
But what about sadness? What about extreme sadness? How do we know when we are just deeply, humanly, unchangeably, peacefully, even, profoundly, sad. When is the feeling something we have to learn to live with. Live around. Endure. Enjoy even. In a life embracing sort of way. Some think this is the way to go, to defend sadness. To employ it even. To help us be in our own skin, to recognize the deeper more poignant, spiritual side of life. To get in touch with Gd, with ourselves, with a higher wisdom, a higher faith. To hang on to the idea that if we let sadness wash over us, it will not wash us out, but fortify us, fill us, and help us to experience our ourselves in whole new ways. And it will pass. It will not always linger and darken into depression.

For some sadness is welcome, connective and appropriate. Its not something to treat, but rather something to tend to. To feel, to talk about, to give permission to. Out of it comes all the things that its defenders suggest, contrast, meaning, connection to others, to G-d, to our own sense of self.

So how much is enough sad? How much is enough grief? When should we hope, pray, talk, walk out of the feeling, and when should we just give it grace to live on until it dissipates at its own initiation. When do we put it in the attic of our mind for another day, and when do we move about with it wrapped around us like a blanket?

The answer is: it depends. We are influenced by so many things. Our thoughts, of course. Hormones, chemistry, sunlight. Our past, our belief systems, our religion, spirituality, environment.

It never ceases to amaze me how much words can effect moods and feelings. Someone's unasked for advice, or analysis. Someone's criticism or abruptness. How words can be the seeds of resentment or self pity. Or fear. And sadness.

In my office, where all feelings are invited, all words welcome, all ideas and thoughts allowed to step out of the psyche and into the room, sadness often hedges. But sadness is often one the greatest gifts. Not only because it can be sign of life, but because we don't have to rush to cure it, and we don't have to subscribe to the notion that we can have only one feeling at a time.

We can be sad and be relieved, hopeful, interested, happy, even, about other events, people, parts of our lives. We can be grateful even. And we can both sit with the sadness, and use it. I think that when we impulsively, or compulsively, rush to eliminate it, we are missing out. Of course, when it begins to cloud everything, for too long (and how long is too long?), then we may have to take a look at why. But to go slow with sadness, not to fear it. To allow ourselves to feel it freely, to know why we are sad, and then perhaps to see if there is something to be done or not, that's better I think, than ducking it.


authenticallyme said...

I agree.

But what about a poignant, stifling sadness as a result of withdrawal from an addiction? LIke, a person walking out of your life? And when they do, you are consumed with a sadness that there is no hope for awhile. That your children see you sad, and being neglectful of other duties. It still isnt depression, because it is a stage of the withdrawal, no? I have a love/sex addiction, and I experience this everytime a man removes his affections from me, and the loss of not ever seeing him again in life, saddens me to the extent i cant operate in life. I appreicate any thoughts.

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

authentically: people leaving our lives causes not just sadness, but grief, and grief can be consuming. You are welcome to check out a few of the posts on grief. Withdrawl is part of grief...and everyone grieves differently, and different situations bring on different griefs, I believe....some grief is complicated and multilayered. I think 12 step can be a great help with the kind of grief you are describing...and with how to function with it, esp. how to parent through it. I am glad to have your thoughts.