“When you’re depressed, nothing matters. When you’re sad, everything does.” ~ Gloria Steinem
I guess its a fine line, because sadness doesn’t explain itself along the way. Its only after a bout of sadness, when the fog lifts, that you gain the perspective that everything matters. When you’re sad, you’re just sad. Maybe the distinction between depression and sadness is in the intensity and how long it lasts. You still function while you’re sad, go about your day as best you can. Sadness is a weight, but depression is crushing and paralyzing.
Danielle Laporte put it like this,
Sadness hurts but it signals that you are very, very much alive. Depression may be the cousin of sadness, sometimes the defended response to unyielding sadness, but it makes you feel anything but alive. It dulls, weighs, and messes with your memory of your true essential nature — which is that of joy.
Its important to seek to understand the difference, because the cure is likely different. For depression, professional help may be necessary, maybe even medication. For sadness, the only cure is to stay with it, feel it deeply and see where it takes you.
Recently I spent a week on retreat where I had lots of time and space to be on my own and very little to do. I carried an intense sadness with me most of the week. There are lots of ways to analyze it, but only after the fact, during the time it just feels heavy and hard.
My kids always say that they hardly ever see me cry. Truth be known, if I didn’t fill my life up with so much busyness, I would cry a lot more. Who has time to cry when you’re busy avoiding it.
Life can be sad. Feelings can be confusing. If you take the time to just be, chances are sadness is one of the feelings that will come up. And we don’t do ourselves any favors by suppressing it. Singer John Mayer said it well,
The saddest kind of sad is the sad that tries not to be sad. You know, when Sad tries to bite its lip and not cry and smile and go, “No, I’m happy for you? That’s when it is really sad.
We don’t allow ourselves to be sad. We need more sadness. Its honest and therapeutic. But we suppress our sadness with things (food, drugs, work, phones, whatever) because sadness scares us.
I came across this short video clip from comedian Louis C K that is SO profound. Its funny, but its even more profound than it is funny. He seems to be channeling some of the great wisdom of the centuries. Watch the video and then compare his wisdom to that of some great sages.
Isn’t that powerful? Sadness is poetic. That’s why the sages all describe sadness with poetry.
Kahlil Gibran wrote “On Joy and Sorrow”
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater thar sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.
Gibran was likely influenced by Romantic, nature poets like John Keats,
Ode on Melancholy
In the very temple of Delight
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine.
Sadness is poetic and beautiful if you let it be what it is, not less, suppressed and not more, fed with permanent stories. Just let yourself be real.
I love unmade beds. I love when people are drunk and crying and cannot be anything but honest in that moment. I love the look in people’s eyes when they realize they’re in love. I love the way people look when they first wake up and they’ve forgotten their surroundings. I love the gasp people take when their favorite character dies. I love when people close their eyes and drift to somewhere in the clouds. I fall in love with people and their honest moments all the time. I fall in love with their breakdowns and their smeared makeup and their daydreams. Honesty is just too beautiful to ever put into words.
Honesty inspires me; people who have been touched by the harshest parts of life and its left them real but not bitter, compassionate, wise, brave, shaken but not stirred. There is an incredible alchemy in grief. Burned in the fire of sadness, strength is born. In the crucible of chaos, character is born. From wounds, wisdom. From grief, growth.
After sadness you will never be the same person again, because now you are a stronger, more aware, more compassionate version of yourself.