Over the last few weeks, since my previous blog post, I’ve felt a lot of sadness. The tears have been flowing with a frequency I haven’t experienced in quite a while. I always find this worrying. Is there something seriously wrong with me? Am I depressed? Do I need medication? Will I always feel like this? And where does all that water come from anyway?
But once the panic dies down and I stop the catastrophising, I realise that it’s probably just another layer of the proverbial onion being peeled off and that the tears, most likely, are a good thing.
Emotional pain, going on previous experience, is a harbinger of change. The phrase ‘no pain, no gain’ comes to mind but that doesn’t quite cover it. Yes, there’s a lot to be gained from change but ‘gain’ suggests a short-term goal or a specific target whereas I’m talking about a much more fundamental shift.
It seems I’m being challenged to reassess my relationship to my work and to money, perhaps even to my identity – because my work is so bound up in my sense of self and has been since I was very young. I’m being asked to replace worry with trust, constant striving with letting go and the interminable drive to achieve with a sense of fulfilment, irrespective of results. I’m being prodded to follow my heart instead of my head or the next pay cheque.
It’s not going to be a simple task, which is why this particular layer of the onion isn’t peeling easily and why the process is accompanied by a fair amount of tears. This time, it might end up coming off in shreds rather than in one clean sweep.
Of course, these tears have probably been wanting to leak out for quite a while but it’s only when I give myself some space to feel – some space for sadness – that they’re able to surface. I found this space at the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond on Hampstead Heath last week during a sunny spell that, as I look out at the rain and feel the cool air through the open window of my studio, seems a very long time ago.
As is probably evident from my writing on this blog, I very rarely stop. If I’m not working then I’m pursuing some form of self-improvement activity, letting off steam playing team sports or tidying up after myself. There’s little time for pondering life, relaxing or lying down (other than sleep).
But just like my Mum, whose deep tan suggests she lives on the Costa del Sol rather than in Wales, I’ve never been able to resist a bit of sunshine so I spent one glorious afternoon and an even more glorious evening at the pond – and felt moved to blog about it for the Huffington Post: Swimming With the Ducks – Finding Peace at Kenwood Ladies’ Pond. It was that time of stillness and quiet, that opportunity to lie motionless, soak up the sun and feel close to Nature, that opened the floodgates to the tears.
My choice of reading material no doubt also contributed to my mood and prompted the tears to flow. I was reading Sally Brampton‘s extraordinarily honest memoir of her depression, Shoot the Damn Dog, and couldn’t help but be moved by her account of her breakdown, her relationship with her daughter and her mother and her battle with addictive behaviours. It triggered a lot of feelings about my own family relationships, my history and my struggle with self-harm, particularly around food. It put me in touch with my own sadness.
And that sadness has stayed with me, despite my best efforts to join in with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee festivities. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun watching the flotilla down the Thames from a friend’s house boat or singing along with Tom Jones, Paul McCartney and Jessie J at the Diamond Jubilee concert – watching on a big screen in Hyde Park with lots of other flag-wavers. The concert, along with a gig I went to on Friday night, reminded me that music and dancing really do revive me and shift my mood and that I’d like more music – particularly the live version – in my life.
But the sadness has been ever present and I’ve sometimes felt I’ve been some sort of passive observer of my life, having a kind of out of body experience, looking down at myself and asking, ‘Are you really having fun?’ or ‘How come you’re not having as much fun as everyone else?’ Yes, I agree, I think too much.
The good thing is, though, that I know today it’s OK to be sad and the sadness will pass. I don’t have to push myself to have fun or change the way I feel. I don’t have to eat on it, drink on it, over-work on it, or obsess about men to get rid of it.
The sadness can stay. And when it’s ready to go, it’ll go.
I wonder if what you are feeling is part of the “existential angst” of the human condition? A feeling of disconnection from life, of wondering where you fit in, of questioning what it’s all about? I do believe that the more we allow ourselves the space in our life to just ‘feel’ (as you so rightly point out) the greater the chance that we will connect with this feeling of sadness sooner or later. And I use the word ‘sadness’ because I believe that life at its core, when truly felt, contains a great deal of sadness: death, ageing, loss, illness, pain. Issues that create a deep insecurity and anxiety in us, issues that we are forever trying to ‘fix’, as you have so well documented previously. However, it is through the transendence of these feelings of insecurity and anxiety that we come to realise that life just “IS”. That the issues we are so fearful of are part of the great cycle of life, and we are just here for a very short time, cogs in the great wheel. Some of us have happier, more fulfilled lives, than others; some of us have very difficult and painful existences, however we are all here for the human experience, and for trying to make the best of what we have, and to try and live as honourably, gratefully and humbly as possible. I too have experienced the tears you describe – and continue to experience them – but because of them I also seem to be developing a greater capacity for joy too, for appreciating the beauty and the upside of life, and for just accepting the ‘is-ness’ of my existence. I continually strive to make my life more meaningful, more purposeful, and more beautiful, and usually take one step forward and two steps back in this regard, but it is the striving and the growing as well as the accepting and the serenity, that make our time here so worthwhile. Thank you for an honest and touching post.
Thanks, London Girl, for your lovely comment and for the issues your raise so eloquently. I’ve definitely had that feeling of ‘existential angst’ before and have asked what it’s all about. I’d thought I’d passed through that stage, and maybe I have, but I’m left with the feelings of sadness at times. I like what you wrote about experiencing the sadness but also having a greater capacity for joy and can also relate to the one step forward, two steps back. I’m seeing a lot of my sadness comes from frustration, frustration at my own self-defeating behaviours and the fact I make too little time for pleasure and fun, despite being aware that I feel so much better when I do. I’ll keep on doing my best to change that, whilst also trying to accept myself and life as it is – if that doesn’t sound like too much of a contradiction! Thanks again for reading and writing.
Best wishes, Katherine
I’ve not commented for a while Katherine, not because I haven’t read your posts, but rather that trying to manage my own sadness has been at the forefront of my mind. Like you I have asked myself and others if it will ever end and if there’s something seriously wrong with me,am I in fact ill, should I see the doctor etc. in the end, again like yourself, I’ve decided to let the sadness and tears just “be”. I know what I’m sad about – the difference between how I hoped my life would look pushing 40 compared to how it is but simply feeling sad about it isn’t going to change it. The first step is real true acceptance of where I am and how life has turned out, whether that’s by my own hand or the hand of (mis) fortune actually matters less. And for that acceptance to happen, the tears have to be allowed to surface as and when they need to, remembering that it is simply one moment in life, and it, like all the others, shall too pass.
In the meantime though, am sending you love and blessings. xx
Thank you! Sorry to hear you’ve had your own sadness to deal with but I do find it really touching that other women write to me via my blog and can relate to what I’m describing. Sometimes, when you look around or at photos on Facebook, everyone is all smiles (including me!) and very rarely we learn what’s really going on underneath. It’s nice to know we’re not alone. Best wishes for your own journey of acceptance. As you say, this too shall pass.
there’s plenty of sun down under to soak up, please come soon x
I’d love to! I could do with a good dose of sunshine. We had three days and we’re back to wet and windy. I was just saying yesterday that I’m moving away to the sun – to Australia! Must come and visit. Lots of love, Jan. x