When I launched this blog, I had every intention of writing a post once a month for the whole year. I love writing, but sometimes I feel like it’s best for me to listen and think first. Actually, those are probably best for me at all times, but here we are. Twenty-twenty has been one hell of a ride. Tensions are higher than ever on every topic under the sun. I didn’t want this medium to be a place for my thoughts on the latest political, environmental, social, medical, or religious topic that is blowing up the timelines and headlines already. So I took a break from writing. Even until tonight, I didn’t even really plan on writing for awhile. You never plan to do these things until it hits you.
Recently I was criticized by someone that used to be very close to me that, to summarize, I am a sad person; that I never seem truly happy. Nobody likes criticism, even if they appear to on the surface, and I was no exception. However it got me thinking deeper into why someone would say that, and to me of all people. This is someone I haven’t been around in about 5 years now, and much of that last year was the hardest year of my life, so I take it with a tiny grain of salt already, but all criticism should be considered, no matter the circumstances.
Am I a sad person?
Is that a label that can be fairly given to someone indefinitely? Circumstances can bring someone down to a level where it could seem that way, I think. I don’t believe that’s a permanent state that you can’t get out of though. Sadness is a feeling, one that everyone feels, or should feel, quite often. We all should know this in 2020 especially. The cause for someone’s sadness may not always reach the “threshold” or “criteria” for other another’s. Something I have experienced myself is that so many people have this gauge for how people should feel. If they don’t think it’s a big deal, then nobody should, therefore they should “get over it” or better yet “move on and live your life.”
Dismissing is not helpful
The heart behind those statements can be good and perfectly valid; sometimes even encouraging, depending on the wording. They all go back to being dismissive and misunderstanding, however. Here are some more that I like to classify as B.S. “get over it” statements:
- You just need time.
- God is testing you.
- You need to keep yourself busy.
- God won’t put you through more than you can handle.
- It could be worse.
- Just pray about it.
- You're not praying enough.
Now, some of these are valid, and some are grossly invalid and wrong. I'm not here to get all exegetical on some of those, because I can spent the rest of this post on that. They are all incredibly dismissive, though, and miss the point. If someone is sad, that means something in their life has gone wrong, in some way or another. Isn’t it our job as human beings to help those around us that are struggling, especially those close to us?
Feelings are a stigma
This goes way beyond just sadness. That was just the keyword I chose to focus on here, because it's what was used against me. This goes for anger, frustration, stress, or even the flip side of those: happiness or joy. It blows my mind how some people can be annoyed with someone else’s happiness. The big one that all of those negative emotions can feed into, though, is depression. I’ve never been officially diagnosed with depression, however, nor have I seen any sort of therapist as of this writing. I’d like to think of myself as pretty keen on what the symptoms of depression are, and if I see them in myself, it’s pretty evident that it’s there. There are different levels of depression of course, and I’d say mine is mild, however, my point is that what if it wasn’t mild? What if I was really struggling, to the point where a comment about how I’m feeling is not right and I needed to just “be more happy” in my life?
Emotional hurt is simply not allowed in today's Western culture. People that have a hard time compartmentalizing their emotions properly end up being marginalized, cast aside. Either they get labeled as having "mental problems" or simply need to grow up and be mature about their issues. In some cases, those can be true reasons. In a lot of cases, people just don't know how to deal with people that feel anything but happy. Perhaps it's their own insecurity, where they have their compartmentalized emotional issues that they don't want to deal with or be reminded of, so being around anything but happiness is not acceptable to them.
What if the source of someone’s sadness or anger was a serious traumatic event in their past? I’m no expert, but I’d wager that trauma is probably the #1 contender in mental health related situations like this. That’s not something some people can just turn off easily, if at all. Although some people are extremely good at it; sometimes too good. The compartmentalizing skill that a lot of people have to control when and how they feel is a bit concerning. However, those feelings are still there and shape how they are, despite them trying everything in the book to prevent it from doing so. Sidenote: I can’t even imagine going through anything like what some people have, and I’m not trying to compare myself here, in any way.
I have met or heard of many people that have such extreme trauma in their past that it affects their every day life. Some have coped well enough to fall in line with what society wants: emotional compartmentalization. It breaks my heart when I see it taken too far. Too much of anything is bad, and I see some people completely become robots to normal every day emotion because of the immense hurt and emotion they have had to deal with in the past. At that point, you have to "unlearn what you have learned," to quote the wise Jedi Master Yoda. That's almost harder than learning something in the first place. People need emotion, and people need people. If emotion isn't there, a person isn't there.
To further clarify, sometimes the trauma is too great, and putting up walls is the only way to even get through it. That's not what is being criticized here. It's that it has to happen that way at all. Typically that is a result of burying it deep instead of being able to talk about it, because of fear. Fear from the person that has the problem, and fear from the people around them about knowing the truth and dealing with the emotion. It's disgusting, to put it bluntly. We are raising robots, and encouraging an emotionless lifestyle.
One of my favorite public figures today is Jamie Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love On Her Arms, a non-profit that gives a voice to people like this. The marginalized, the broken. He released a book a few years ago titled If You Feel Too Much, which is such a humble and eye-opening read. He tells the story that inspired his company, and this excerpt moved me to tears:
“I might be simple, but more and more, I believe God works in love, speaks in love, is revealed in our love. I have seen that this week and honestly, it has been simple: Take a broken girl, treat her like a famous princess, give her the best seats in the house. Buy her coffee and cigarettes for the coming down, books and bathroom things for the days ahead. Tell her something true when all she’s known are lies. Tell her God loves her. Tell her about forgiveness, the possibility of freedom; tell her she was made to dance in white dresses. All these things are true. We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless. We don’t get to choose all the endings, but we are asked to play the rescuers. We won’t solve all mysteries and our hearts will certainly break in such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way. We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home.”
Excerpt From: Jamie Tworkowski. “If You Feel Too Much.”
The negligence in our society about mental health should disturb you. Of course, it’s great to work towards not having those things define you and your life, but it’s also important not to ignore them. If someone opens up to you about a struggle or a feeling: Listen. Be present. Those two simple things are the most important ones you can give. Don’t try to solve it. Don’t try to fix them. They are broken, but need an ear and a presence, not a tool or a manual. Let them feel. It’s okay to feel.