Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Making Friends with Sadness

I'm stealing my title tonight from an article in the January 2010 issue of Shambhala Sun. Susan Piver wrote a piece called Making Friends with Heartbreak, talking about recovering from a breakup with her longtime boyfriend.

Heartbreak isn't my issue; it's sadness. I have a long history of clinical depression, which has been kept in check in recent years, for the most part, through a combination of helpful medications, hard work in therapy, meditation, and lots of personal soul searching. In July, my mood imbalances resurfaced in a big way, and I went through a med adjustment. I felt great for about six weeks, then crashed again. Another dosage change, another leveling out of emotion. But now the pendulum has swung down one more time, and I am beginning to feel scared and hopeless.

Part of what makes this so frightening for me is its familiarity - my "sadness," for lack of a better word, has led me to some very dark, very lonely places. Because I have spent the better part of the last six years in a more positive space, reentering that world of gloom is terrifying. It is difficult for me to think, "This is just one bad day; it will change." Instead, I go to that thought: "Here it is again. I'm in the pit, and this time I might not be able to climb back out."

Piver suggests offering the hand of friendship to the negative emotion, whether it is grief or sadness. Instead of trying to fix it, or make it go away, she encourages us to really sit with the emotion, feel it fully, and learn more about it.

She cautions: "This process is really, really hard, so you need to appreciate yourself and what you are going through."

Further on, she urges us to be gentle with ourselves, saying, "Gentleness means simply that you acknowledge and embrace your own experience from moment to moment, without judgment. Without trying to fix it. Without feeling ashamed of it...gentleness is actually an advanced form of bravery. You aren't afraid to take on your own suffering, even though you don't know how or when it will end; still, you agree to feel it. Somehow, this acceptance beings to calm things down. On its own timetable, gentleness begins to pacify even the most raging emotions. Gentleness is the spiritual warrior's most powerful weapon."

Agreeing to feel it - that's a tall order. But I like the allusion to gentleness being "the spiritual warrior's most powerful weapon." I like the idea of fighting, even if that fighting is actually a surrender. Because this surrender is active, not passive. It is a moving toward, not a stepping away.


  1. Susan Piver makes very, very good points! Real points, not touchy feely stuff. And seeing that there is 'space' around depression (suffering) is helpful. It's not bottomless. And praise the Lord for SSRIs!

    xo zt

  2. Surrender. Not so many years ago, I learned to surrender; to step into the river of life and surrender rather than always fighting to go upstream. Very hard work you are taking on. Above all relax ( giving it all space it needs) and be kind to yourself.