Sit in it, feel what you need to feel

I am in a bit of an emotional slump; January is typically a rough month for me. January represents a new year and new beginnings for most people but frankly it is a reminder of all that I have lost in my life. January was the beginning of the end when my mother was sick, it was the moment when the light bulb went off and it suddenly dawned on me that she might really be dying. My birthday also falls in January and for so many years; my birthdays were simply not joyous occasions.

The reason I am sharing this is because I was inspired by a friend’s Facebook status, where she admitted she was feeling down but that it was hard to talk about it because everyone expects her to be upbeat. Obviously a slew of us replied offering good cheer as well as our ears and shoulders if need be. But my friend is right; overall we do live in a culture that has a problem with anything less than positive, happy and upbeat feelings. In fact we even give bad moments their own label, first world problems. Barbara Ehrenreich did a great job several years ago in Bright Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America of touching upon this very issue. The business of staying positive and upbeat is a growth industry; there are tons of individuals and books out there to help you stay positive, hell at times the happy people start to feel like a damn cult.

The downside of all this good cheer is that sometimes life and circumstances aren’t happy, no matter how positive our thinking. Sometimes bad shit happens, sometimes people disappoint us, sometimes people do lose their homes, kids go hungry, and people even die. But things don’t have to measure on the tragedy scale to be worthy of a bad moment. Sometimes you go Starbucks to treat yourself to a  grande decaf soy vanilla spice latte at 180 degrees, only to realize 15 minutes later, that they didn’t give you soy milk and actually it’s not decaf either. Sure in the grand scheme of things an extra bowel movement and a few hours of discomfort might not kill you, but damn it, the barista fucked up and now you are mad. Many will easily dismiss your irritation about the botched drink as a first world problem, after all you had the $5 to buy that drink which most of us can agree is one of the extras in life.  To that I say so what? You are entitled to your feelings and to be allowed to feel them, no matter what. Just because you are bothered or feeling down about a relatively minor situation doesn’t make it any less worthy of being allowed to feel it than if you had just discovered you had six months or less to live.

Several years ago, I read Michael Singer’s The Untethered Soul and it’s the type of book that frankly screams New Age woo-woo, but if you can get past any New Age bias, it offers some nuggets of wisdom.  It was a life changing book for me. One of the biggest takeaways was learning that when we hold on to our feelings and bottle them up rather than allowing ourselves to feel them and let them go, we create additional stress in our lives. In other words it’s okay to feel bad, whether it’s for a large life changing reason or a minor hurt. Too often hanging onto our emotions and not allowing them the space they need creates bigger issues than if we had just said, screw it, I am simply in a bad headspace and giving ourselves the time we need to work through whatever it is we are feeling.

I have come to be a big believer in not only allowing myself but those around me the space they need to feel their emotions. My seven year old occasionally has these moments when she says she just needs to cry, I admit as a parent, I don’t want to see her crying. Clearly if she is crying, we must fix whatever it is that is bothering her? Not so fast anymore, crying is a release and after thinking about it, I realized what am I teaching her if crying is seen as taboo? To say you need a reason to cry is to deny her the right to feel what she feels and from there we head down a slippery slope.

Sometimes, we need to just sit in our feelings and allow them to work through us so that we can let them go and move on and not keep going back to them. It’s okay to not be upbeat and cheerful, hell sometimes you need a day when you acknowledge I am just in a shitty and down mood and that’s okay.

Disclaimer: What I am discussing is not clinical depression, having dealt with clinical depression that is an entirely different beast. In that case, seek professional help.