Sad People

“Eeyore, the old grey Donkey, stood by the side of the stream, and looked at himself in the water.
‘Pathetic,’ he said. ‘That’s what it is. Pathetic.’
He turned and walked slowly down the stream for twenty yards, splashed across it, and walked slowly back on the other side. Then he looked at himself in the water again.
‘As I thought,’ he said. ‘No better from THIS side. But nobody minds. Nobody cares. Pathetic, that’s what it is.’
There was a crackling noise in the bracken behind him, and out came Pooh.
‘Good morning, Eeyore,’ said Pooh.
‘Good morning, Pooh Bear,’ said Eeyore gloomily. ‘If it IS a good morning,’ he said. ‘Which I doubt,’ said he.
‘Why, what’s the matter?’
‘Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.’
‘Can’t all WHAT?’ said Pooh, rubbing his nose.
‘Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush. …I’m not complaining, but There It Is.'”
~ A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I don’t know if I’m a “sad” person. I’m figuring that out. I think I have been sad a lot. But I don’t know if I’m a Sad Person.

I have had stretches in my life full of everyday giddiness, high on life, can’t-stop-smiling, can’t-stop-laughing. Like life was one constant summer evening drive with the windows down. In fact, “happy” used to be the word I’d always, always use to describe myself. It was my identity.

I definitely am not always a Happy Person, though. At least not these days.

Do you think you HAVE to be a Happy Person? SHOULDN’T be a Sad Person? Maybe you’re a both. (That sounds pretty human.) What is YOUR relationship with sadness?

There is something to be said, to be acknowledged and understood, about sadness and sad people. They’re there, they’re real. I don’t know why some are mostly sadder and some are mostly happier. And like I said, I don’t know which one I am or if I’m right in the middle. Maybe that will change every year. Maybe one day it will stay one or the other. But I think the world is a better place when we acknowledge and see and accept that some people are Sad People.

I stumbled upon this little moment in a Ray Bradbury story this year, and it spoke to me, a little too directly:

“Some people turn sad awfully young. No special reason, it seems, but they seem almost to be born that way. They bruise easier, tire faster, cry quicker, remember longer and, as I say, get sadder younger than anyone else in the world. I know, for I’m one of them.”
~ Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

I’d like to share a little bit of my story with sadness, because I want to tell you a few things I know about sad people.

My journey with sadness must have started very young. Maybe, like Ray Bradbury said, “no special reason.” I just remember hearing when I was growing up that I had always been a very anxious little kid. Always afraid, crying lots. Having deep, sad thoughts.

I remember as a 7-year-old having very real fears that my siblings and I must not be real Christians because we were always fighting and being mean. I tried to have a sort of one-kid intervention about it, where I made a big pronouncement of doom and despair with my 7-year-old voice, trying to be heard over all the kids-fighting-because-they’re-kids noise in the back of the station wagon, but it didn’t make me feel any better.

I sucked my thumb and slept with stuffed animals for a lot longer than was normal “for a boy” (which is a dangerous phrase). I always felt afraid and I always felt a desperate need for safety, for assurance, for comfort. I still have my tigers Jack and Dakota and Sebastian, and when I find them once in a while on my closet shelf I feel a “better” type feeling, like when I hugged them close as a kid. I hugged them a lot because I needed love and I needed safety. I had this nightmare when I was only several years old that spoke so strongly of my day-to-day fears that I can still replay the nightmare to this day: Out on a family walk in Chattanooga, I’d fall behind, my family would round a bend, and gypsies would jump out of the woods and steal me away to be their own child. (I don’t know where I learned about gypsies.)

We moved to Florida. A lot of times I couldn’t sleep. My mom found me sitting on the stairs. I explained, when she asked what was wrong, that I was just so worried about getting spinal meningitis or small pox and dying. I shared a room with a brother and two sisters, and we would stay awake planning how we could protect ourselves if a bad person broke into the house while dad and mom were away. I knew where my granddad’s Japanese WWII sword was. Swords were my thing. At first I would draw swords and then eventually I’d make swords out of old broom handles and duct tape and then one day a deacon at church said he had a jigsaw and would love to help me carve the swords so I dreamed them up and drew the outlines on old bed slats and I brought them to him and it was a good day but he also was a little rough around the edges and said some unkind words to me and it scared me and it made me sad but when I got home I had my swords. My favorite sword was a beautiful little one. Duct tape wrapped around two pencils gave the handle a handle-shape and I think I painted a red jewel on the bottom. One time I was “fooling around” with it while the family read out loud for school, so my mom told me to bring it to her, and I asked her to please, please, please not spank me with it, because I was afraid it would break, and it was my favorite sword, but she spanked me with it, and my sword broke. And I was a kind of sad-in-every-way that lasted a long, long time.

As a teenager I got sad about deeper things. Things like my imperfections. I thought it was good to beat myself up over my mistakes and my weaknesses, so I did, a lot. I felt lots of shame and stress and struggle. I worried so much about God. That wasn’t a new thing. When I was about 9 I had asked my dad how we could have gotten to the present if eternity stretched for all eternity into the past. We couldn’t have gotten to now, so it all must have started sometime, but how could God be God if he hadn’t stretched to eternity past? And who got God started? This was a deep, aching, upset-stomach kind of problem to me. But my dad explained that God is outside time, so I felt better and went back to worrying about getting kidnapped instead. In my teen years, the God fears got more complicated. How could I know that I had the right kind of faith? Not the “Lord, didn’t I know you?” only to hear God say “Depart from me, I never knew you!” kind of faith. I would lie awake night after night crying in bed, afraid of going to hell, imagining it, hoping against it, wondering, sick to my stomach. That fear never went all the way away. (“Perfect love drives out fear.” – 1 John 4:18)

If I had been my own parent and had believed in things like therapists and psychology, there was one year in particular that I would have brought kid-me to a professional. I had this awful thought where maybe God wasn’t real–and it all went downhill fast from there. For months and months and months, I could hardly eat, I could hardly sleep, I could hardly get out of bed. I couldn’t look people in the face, especially not the eyes. I truly could not smile and people commented on it. I couldn’t enjoy anything. I couldn’t be happy. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t see straight, sometimes. I felt like I was walking in a tunnel. I felt like I was floating away on the outside, looking in at all the peopleish people who knew how to be people, while I was dying in my heart, desperately waiting for the world to make sense again, waiting for a thing to hold onto. I was lost and scared. All of the happy and fun things were not happy and not fun anymore. At all. Every day was awful. Every single day. For the better part of a year. It was so dark. I would shut myself in my bedroom and cry for most of every day. Think, worry, and cry. That was my life for quite a while. I was a Sad Person in a big needs-help kind of way.

In my late teen years, my sadness turned mostly toward love-stuff. Cute-girl love but also family love and friendship love and world peace love and all the feel-good stuff that we celebrate on a day like Christmas, the day I find myself writing this. I felt deeply lonely and sad about not having a lot of friends, about never really learning to have friends or to be around other people who were different from me. I felt stuck in a place where I couldn’t feel much love, and every day it felt heavy and lonely and yucky and sad. As an 18-year-old I would covertly bypass our burglar alarm so that I could sneak out of my window to take walks alone in the dark. It felt like a little bit of freedom, getting to just be me. There were really rough times where I felt like I had lost so much love and support and friendship. Where I felt like I had been rejected by almost everyone, left completely alone, broken, to navigate life by myself. I needed love, but I couldn’t trust.

Eventually I claimed the freedom to go do my life the way I wanted. Unfortunately, that freedom coincided with an unrequited-love time, and juggling that and an 18-year-long scar of sadness got really, really dark.

But then, fairly randomly I think, I learned how to be happy.

I found real, huge, giddy, outrageously GOOD happiness! And honestly, I had experienced lots of happy things or happy corners-of-life in my childhood. Playing baseball in my backyard, feeling like a world traveler as I caught a plane and the MARTA to escape to my loving friends in Atlanta, and playing all the happy songs on the piano, like Linus and Lucy. But lots, I’d play the sad songs, too. Finally, as a young adult, the sad songs started slipping into memory and every day started bursting with happiness. A beautiful girl named Lyssi. Cheese and other yummy foods not as worthy of mention as cheese. Epic movies to see. Sketch pads. A fresh, cool breeze rushing by as I ran for miles and miles. My own car to adventure in. People who were there for me and the chance to be there for people. Kind words. Hugs. Purpose, excitement, confidence, and giddy, giddy, giddy happiness.

And then more weird life things happened that shook me pretty deep and brought me back to the pretty constant hum of worry and stress and fear and doubt and sadness. Several years swung back and forth pretty regularly–actually probably pretty healthily–between being generally stressed and generally happy. I wasn’t a Sad Person, but I wasn’t the Happy Person I had been, either.

Then one summer, over a year ago now, two things happened that shook a lot of Sad loose from deep inside my heart. First, I took a trip and saw some people whom it should have been wonderful to see, and saw a bunch more people who were once my tribe. And it was not good. It was not good at all. It was hard and sad and heavy and frustrating and a little bit gross. After that trip I came back to the happy-home I had found the freedom to make, but I couldn’t shake the hurt. For months after that trip I would wake up almost every night sweating, shaking, panting, having nightmares about the sad stuff I thought I had left safely behind in my childhood. Trust started becoming hard again. I started feeling sensitive and oh-so-protective. Second that summer (and I’ve written lots about this before) I bonked my head way too hard hiking in the Colorado Rockies and I knocked even more feelings loose. If you’ve ever had a concussion or known someone who has, you might know a frequent effect is intense anxiety and emotional lows. Like “I’m crying and I don’t know why” twenty times a day. This time around for me, the emotional lows were there again, but the anxiety was so present and so forceful, I could hardly make it through the day. I became weirdly mistrusting of everything and everyone, and I constantly felt that at the next moment my whole world might come crashing down. The concussion effect on my brain lasted a surprisingly long time, especially the anxiety. But by the time I felt probably-back-to-normal, so much Sad had been shaken loose that I felt like a significantly different person than I’d been before the ordeal.

Since then, I’ve dealt with a weird and tough stretch. Over a year feeling the loss of a lot of things I had, feeling the loss of a lot of things I thought I had, figuring out stuff that many people get to figure out as a kid, like how to be angry or how to be mad or how to love someone and yourself at the same time. Thank god for therapy. When my wife asked me a few days ago who had made the biggest impact on me this year, without a second thought I knew it was the therapist I’ve been seeing. I think it’s all going to be okay. Turns out, people get anxious. Some people get anxious a lot, like to the point where you could say they “have” it. And it turns out I’m some people.

And as someone who understands the anxiety and the sadness stuff a little better now than I used to, I’ve gotten to look back and read a bunch of journals and letters from when I was a teenager and a young adult. And oh my goodness, they are DARK. Just heart-breaking. I was a deeply, deeply sad and anxious person.

And then I was a super happy-go-lucky person.

And now I’ve had a pretty sad year or two.

But I’m still so happy a lot. It’s just I’m also so sad a lot. These days, probably more sad. That’s okay right now.

And honestly, knowing all this history, I still don’t really “get” exactly how my sadness works. It’s still confusing. It’s still weird. It still acts in unexpected ways. It’s still “emotional” and acts like it. And then when I think I’ve made sense of it and suddenly it doesn’t make sense again, I keep coming back to Ray Bradbury’s words: “No special reason. . . .”

As someone who’s been a Happy Person and a Sad Person, I want to share a few things, things that I hope will make you feel some mix of not-alone-in-your-sadness and inspired-to-be-a-good-friend-to-sad-people.

First, I understand why my therapist teased that I’d be thankful for my concussion that shook loose the sadness and anxiety deep in my heart. Life is actually better when I see and accept and work with those feelings.

Second, again my therapist, he told me he doesn’t wish people lives of abundant happiness, just abundance. Abundant everything. Some days that means deep happiness. Some days it means deep love. Some days it means deep excitement. And some days–some days it means deep sadness.

Third, go see a therapist. From the bits and pieces of psychology I’ve learned, I know Ray Bradbury’s not wrong: Some people are just sad without a clear cause that therapy can fix. And it’s good for your mix of emotions to include sadness. But, there is a lot of deep, constant, unnecessary sadness that a therapist might be able to help you with. You never know till you try. For me, it’s been life saving.

Fourth, you probably should not always be happy. (Not like “please stop being happy,” but just a warning from my personal experience that, I think, if you think you’re always happy, you might need to check on yourself a bit more, a bit deeper.) You should be happy and sad and mad and scared sometimes. There are good reasons to feel all of those and all of those are normal feelings. It is a lot of pressure to tell yourself (or to tell others, or to let others tell you) that you should always be happy.

Fifth, sad people aren’t bad people who are causing problems by being sad. Many sad people learn to take care of their feelings without taking them out on other people. Mr. Rogers–Fred Rogers–said in an interview that he learned to express his angry and sad feelings through his fingers on the piano.

Sixth, and closely related, if you’re the sad one, you really can learn how to be sad in a healthy way. I’ve learned that it is okay to be sad. Sometimes the things that made you sad aren’t okay, like when you’ve been abused or bullied. And some outlets you might find for your sad feelings aren’t okay, like abusing or bullying others. But you can have healthy sadness.

Seventh, please don’t judge sad people as somehow worse, defective, rain-clouds, melodramatic, silly, not-good-enough, their-own-fault, all the blamey and rejecty labels. Each person has a story you don’t know. People have such long, complex stories! If we’re being honest, we probably don’t really know our own stories all the way. When you see someone–someone who looks sad, who looks like their life is a hard one–please find some compassion. And if you’re a sad person, same goes–please don’t judge yourself for it.

Eighth, please don’t decide for people who they are. Don’t label them as officially happy or officially sad in your book. People are people and life gets weird. When you decide for someone that they’re a Sad Person, you only make it harder. Harder for them to freely express the happy moments, harder for them to ask for support, harder for them to feel appreciated and loved, and honestly harder for them to move towards more happiness. Just as importantly, please don’t decide for someone that they’re a Happy Person. When someone knows that they are, to you, dependably happy, positive, always encouraging and inspiring and energetic and enthusiastic, it becomes an unrealistic burden. Such a burden that when sad times do come, they can’t talk about it. They can’t share. Because too many people are counting on them to not be sad. So please just don’t treat people like they’re a “Sad Person” or a “Happy Person.” Don’t set those expectations. Don’t put that pressure. Don’t plant that guilt. Just let people be people and meet them where they are, every day. One of my most deeply held beliefs is that people can’t be summed up in a nutshell, pre-determined, dependably defined by a set of 4 letters, because humans can change, suddenly and drastically, and they can grow, and they will surprise you. “Every human being has the freedom to change at any instant. . . . Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.” ~ Viktor Frankl

Ninth, let people be sad. Let yourself be sad. Sad is okay.

And tenth, love sad people. Instead of trying to fix them (god knows if they can’t, you can’t), love them. Instead of pressuring or guilting them or trying to change their minds, love them. Instead of tiptoeing around them on eggshells, get in the messy feelings world with them and LOVE THEM. If anything, anything, anything will ever help a Sad Person find a little more happy, it will be love. But honestly? Don’t let changing or helping them be your goal. Just love them for them, period. And if you’re sad? Love others and get love. Ask for it. Talk about it. Accept it. Trust it. Feel it. And love yourself. You are sad, but you are beautiful.

P.S. Please remember that there are more Sad People than you think. Many people–maybe most people–have learned not to talk about their sadness. Not to cry. Not to share. Some not even to think about their sadness, when they can help it. Many have learned to smile, to be excited, to have fun, to be energetic, and still, just under the surface, there is an ache. Sometimes the biggest smiles hide the deepest aches. So remember that there are many more than you think there are. And remember that they’ve learned, a lot of them, that they’re not allowed to tell you they’re sad.

P.P.S. Also, let’s all do our part in making honesty and vulnerability okay, even when that means tears. You with me? We’re all in this together.

P.P.P.S. I love putting an inspiring quote on a picture and placing it in my blog posts. And I was thinking, what could be a good, inspiring, positive message about sad people? And then I thought, why should it be positive and inspiring? Sad people are sad people. They’re there. They exist. They’re right next to us. They are us. And sometimes that, itself, just needs to be acknowledged and understood and accepted and made peace with. It should be okay.

Ray Bradbury - some people get sad young

Sometimes you’ve gotta feel

Sometimes you’ve gotta feel, gotta get emotional.

At a seminar I attended last week, the speaker reminded us of a very real, very important fact of life, one that I know at least I forget a lot: You have to find inspiration. Like, inspiration with a capital I. Like deep emotional connection and feeling.

He explained that’s why we listen to music, among other things. Or read and share sweet stories. Watch inspiring movies. That’s why people in spiritual gatherings sing together and make moving music.

Every single day, I know that it would be healthy to get some exercise, to eat healthy, to slow down and take some time to recharge. But KNOWING this every single day doesn’t mean I DO it every single day. If we all did the things that we “knew” we “should” do, the world would be a very different place. Sometimes being aware of what’s good and positive to do, or being aware of what we want–having that knowledge isn’t enough.

I’ve learned a lot this year about the weirdness and randomness and arbitrariness and unstableness and just doesn’t-quite-make-sense-ness of feelings. They come and go, they feel massive and then they don’t feel at all, they motivate and then they disappear.

The “head” and the “heart,” as we speak of them, are two very different things. I grew up thinking that they weren’t. That what you need is to “get it.” To “understand.” But I’ve discovered, as I’m sure you have, that knowing your want/should doesn’t mean you follow through. Motivation to actually follow what we know, what we know we want–motivation doesn’t happen in the same way that understanding happens. Motivation is when you feel about it.

I’m one of those people that cries like a baby at movies and at music and at songs and at poetry and at beautiful landscapes and at an adorable thing that someone said or at like seeing a couple walk down the sidewalk holding hands. In other words I get feelings a lot. And I sometimes have seen that as a weird thing, a weakness, or something to be a little embarrassed about. Or at least something others will think is weak or weird.

But I also have noticed that the more of those feelings I have, the more I be who I want to be.

I can “think”/”understand”/”make sense of” myself and the world all the way down to a quiet, bland acceptance of the status quo with no drive to change, to act, to search. Or instead. I can let inspiration take hold.

Sometimes you’ve gotta feel. You’ve gotta get emotional. Gotta remember the butterflies you felt when you met her. Feel the giddy that you felt when you got that comic book as a kid. Feel the heart-wrenching pain of watching helpless, hopeless people, sick and suffering, needing the world to remember them. Hug yourself and the people around you and feel the word “support.” Sometimes you’ve gotta FEEL love, FEEL friendship, FEEL sadness, FEEL needs, FEEL purpose.

I don’t know if all this makes a lot of sense to you or helps you. Maybe it will resonate with a few people like me. If it does, go get inspired. Go find stuff that will FEEL you into ACTION.

All the good you want to do in the world, find the emotional stuff that will actually make you DO it. Put that stuff in front of your eyes every day. Stop scrolling Facebook for a minute, and go find the stuff that touches you deep down. Cry, laugh, hurt, dream, burn with desire.

I made a Spotify playlist called “All the feels,” because as silly as this is, I’m a better person when I listen to those tracks.

What makes you come alive? What connects you to the people you love? What connects you to your purpose? What makes you feel not-quite-there-yet, and sets you back on the road to your dreams? What forces you into the reality of the people around you who need your help? What INSPIRES you?

Look at that stuff. Get emotional. Be epic. People need you, you need you. We’re all in this together.

Happy adventuring! <3

Goethe - be inspired every day

Happy Thanksgiving 2019!

Happy Thanksgiving 2019! Last year I wrote that I thought that year was the oddest year of my life. I was wrong. This year. 100%. Odd isn’t bad, though.

I have a lot to be thankful for. There’s all the usual, but there are some things I’m especially, newly thankful for this year. An odd year makes an odd list, I guess.

Starting with this will probably help the rest of my list make sense: I’m thankful for therapy. Life is weird. Different ones of us have more weird, less weird, different weird, fun weird, scary weird, exhausting weird, scarring weird, confusing weird, or just plain weird weird. I should probably have started seeing a therapist way back when I was an unusually anxious little kid. I should probably have started seeing a therapist as a young adult when I felt so much loneliness and hurt that I hated and hurt myself. I should probably have started seeing a therapist as a little-less-young adult who finally learned to keep my balance surfing the waves of life by pretending like I didn’t need anything. But I didn’t. I waited until I had a concussion last year that knocked all the “okay” out of me and I could hardly make it through each day because everyone and everything scared and hurt me. Shortly after starting with him, my therapist teased me (a little bit honestly, though) that hitting my head was probably going to turn out to be one of the best things to happen to me, because it shook my feelings back into view. Turned out I still had lots of feelings. Like . . . think a long, confusing, lonely, depressing childhood’s worth of feelings, but with ten additional years for the mess to simmer while I added more hurt to my life by using the crutches I learned to get through said childhood. Moral of the story, I needed a therapist. Thank goodness that I have one, and thank goodness for the one I found. Therapy has ended up being absolutely the healthiest thing in my life. It has changed so much in this last year. It has helped with so much healing. It has given me so much more hope and freedom. It has made so much more sense of the world. It has made life safer. It has made me more confident. It has given me permission to be myself. It has explained so many scary things. It has helped me know myself, finally. And it has helped me to take care of myself, in a way I never thought I was allowed.

Hey, you, person-reading-this: If you are having a tough time deep down inside, feeling depressed or anxious, or even if you’re “totally fine” but know that actually something’s not quite right and you’re a year or two away from having to stop playing strong . . . please know that talking about it is okay. There is nothing weak about seeing a therapist. Actually, I hate that sentence. It doesn’t matter if there is anything weak or strong about seeing a therapist. “Weak” isn’t bad. “Strong” isn’t good. You have a real heart. Your heart is the same exact heart you had as an emotional little 3-year-old, an adventurous little 7-year-old, a confused little 12-year-old, an angst little 16-year-old, and as a lost little 21-year-old. It doesn’t matter if you’re a female or a male. It doesn’t matter if you grew up poor or wealthy. It doesn’t matter if you have a cushy life or scrape by week to week. It doesn’t matter if your big feelings and scars come from getting physically abused, bullied, emotionally neglected, molested or assaulted, or from going through a terrible experience that left you with PTSD. Or from none of the above, so you feel like you have no right to be struggling. Please know that you are not silly or dramatic for having feelings. Sure, some of your feelings may have a little silliness or a lot of drama-ness, but hurting, being scared, feeling weak, feeling helpless or hopeless, confused, sad, angry–all those big feelings are okay to have. And if you need help with how to navigate them and how to take care of yourself at this point in your life, therapy is just a really good idea. It’s like a doctor or a personal trainer but for your feelings. You have those. That’s good! Please don’t feel any shame in taking care of them. Therapy is GOOD.

Being open with your people is good, too. Being real about your humanness. We’re all in this together. A lot of us think we’re alone, but if we talked about all this weird stuff more, we’d all discover that we’re very much not alone. It’s amazing what it does for your heart and for your life to allow yourself to stop being alone about who you are and what you think and how you feel.

So I’m thankful for therapy. And thanks to therapy I’m thankful for . . .

Myself. Weird, right?

Tears. Healing. Even though tears don’t feel like healing. Healing apparently doesn’t feel like healing either. Nobody warned me on that one, what the heck. But for real, tears are good. No matter how strong or adult or male you think you are. You’re just a person. People need to cry sometimes. Sometimes a lot.

Imperfection. I’m thankful for imperfection. I guess the okayness of imperfection or the freedom to be imperfect.

Guilt-free pleasure. I grew up feeling guilty about fun. Guilty about anything that felt good for me. Hobby stuff, social stuff, body stuff, braggy stuff, self-care stuff, freedom stuff, me stuff. Everything had to be “worthwhile” or “productive,” and I existed to serve others. I’m thankful for the freedom I’ve found as an adult to just love and enjoy stuff, without having to wonder if it’s “selfish” or if I’m “wasting time” or if it’s “too indulgent.” Life has good stuff. Have it!

Weirdness. My weirdness, your weirdness, people’s weirdness. Weirdness is something I’ve really come to appreciate this year. Weirdness is like cooking with salt and pepper and thyme and rosemary and cilantro and chili powder and maybe a dash of ketchup for those weird-people who put ketchup on everything because it makes them happy. Being normal, doing everything the “right” way, is bland if it’s not you. So embrace the spice of weird in your life. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as confident or thankful for my weirdness as I do this year.

Freedom. Freedom. Just freedom. Freedom to choose, freedom to be, freedom to talk, freedom to be silent, freedom to feel, freedom to be angry, freedom to be happy, freedom to be sad, freedom to be tired, freedom to be bored, freedom to not feel a thing. Freedom to be who I want to be. Or just freedom to be who I am sometimes without having to want to be something else. Freedom from things that I used to think I had to serve or protect or acknowledge or care for or fix. Just freedom to do life and not look back and not spend every day handing out band-aids to everyone and everything that might not like me.

Friendships. Thank you to my friends. I have never realized the value of friendships as I have this year. Friends are good. Friends are needed.

And emotions. One of the most helpful of all my sessions with a therapist was when he taught me the little chart-of-emotions that little kids learn: Happy, Sad, Angry, Fearful. These are normal. These feelings are okay. You should have them. I should have them. I didn’t know that. Especially, especially, especially anger. I didn’t think I was supposed to have anger. I thought that if I felt any anger I had to real quick stop it, put it away, take responsibility for it, solve it, protect everyone else from it. I thought that anger meant that I wasn’t being a good enough person. I learned how to be angry this year. I learned that it is okay. Like, I won’t be an ass hole about anger. But I can actually say when I’m upset now. I can express anger. That’s a new thing and boy is it life-changing. Do you know that it’s okay to be angry? To be sad? To be happy? Or to be afraid? Or even to have multiple emotions at the same time, like being happy AND mad? You can do those emotion-things without recklessly and viciously taking them all out on the people around you, but you absolutely can do those emotions. You have to have emotions. You do have emotions. Let yourself be you. So this year, for the first time in my life, I’m really thankful for all the emotions.

Therapy has done so much for me this year. I recently wrote a letter to my younger self, an experiment I highly recommend, and I’ll link to it here because I hope that you can find a little encouragement and hope in a few of the words and if they resonate a lot with you, I hope you’ll take care of yourself and see a therapist, too, if you also have weird stuff you need help with and if you don’t already see one.

If I could send a message to 18-year-old me

Thank you therapy.

I’m so thankful for all the good things in my life. I’m thankful for evenings laughing with friends. I’m thankful for interesting things to learn about the world. I’m thankful for languages. I’m thankful for cheese. I’m thankful for piano. I’m thankful for music. I’m thankful for an absolutely amazing SYML concert. I’m thankful for travel. I’m thankful for for a body that can move. I’m thankful for people like chiropractors and massage therapists who can help when your body’s not moving quite right. I’m thankful for the Canadian Rockies and road trips. I’m thankful for poetry that says what other things can’t. I’m thankful for books to read, especially books by Neil Gaiman and Ray Bradbury. I’m thankful for Iron Man, which is a painful subject. I’m thankful for adventures. I’m so thankful for cooking and food and especially food. I’m thankful that I got to go to my first Yankees game and then book tickets for the next night which turned out to be a past-midnight nail-biter with the wildest ending. I’m still thankful for cheese and just want you to know that hasn’t changed since the beginning of this paragraph. I’m thankful for really good movies to watch and really great buddies to go see movies with. I’m thankful for quiet time. I’m thankful for Toastmasters, a place where I have felt myself come alive and felt connected and engaged and passionate, learning to help people through words, and helping people find their own words. I’m thankful for Santa Barbara, even though Psych wasn’t actually filmed there, for its waves to play in, its nearby winding mountain-top-roads, and for its little taquerias. I’m thankful for coffee, which is weird because I never was before. And, as always, I’m thankful for The Office.

I’m thankful for this blog. At the beginning of the year, I committed to write five blog posts every month, because blogging, writing, and helping and inspiring people is a dream I’ve had for a long, long time. And my experience blogging this year has taught me that consistent action builds good stuff. I’ve been so honored that some of the things I have written have deeply resonated with lots of people, helping them feel understood and like they’re not alone, helping them find the right words for their own experiences they want to share, helping inspire them with big life stuff or the little day to day odds and ends. Thank you all for being with me on this journey. If one little thing I write helps you with one little thing, that is all the motivation I need to keep writing.

I’m thankful for my friend Lyssi. I’m thankful to have a person who really likes me and wants to be my friend and is on my team and supports me so much.

I’m thankful for a life of adventures.

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope your life is weird and full of zest!

Love

Love is not a finite resource. There isn’t a limited number of love things to pass around. Which means holding on tightly to the love inside you, instead of giving it away, isn’t the way to get love.

 

At times I have felt like it is safest to not express all of the big love I feel–for my most special person, my special people, or just random people I see who are also special because they’re people. I have this worry that the more strongly I express love, the less other people will need to express love to me.

Maybe that’s what happens when you’ve had important people in your life who lay the love on thickest when you aren’t on good terms with them, people who are nice-as-can-be when it comes to winning you back, but once they have you back can be a little (or a lot) meaner. Maybe that’s how some of us learn that we’ll get the most love if we play harder to get, emotionally, or if we keep our love-feelings to ourselves.

Or maybe it’s what happens when you’ve expressed lots and lots of love to important people in your life who can’t seem to express much love to begin with, so all your big love and kindness stuff goes unanswered. Unrequited. From the people you should have been able to count on. You’ve been starved of affection, and it stings less to stop giving affection away. Maybe if you don’t express stuff, it’ll make more sense and feel better if people don’t express stuff to you.

Guys, therapy is f***ing great. One of the biggest concepts I’ve learned from it is that closeness and love happens only when you are open and honest and express stuff. Whether that stuff is good or bad. If I am mad at you and I keep that to myself, we grow apart. If I am mad at you and I’m really vulnerably honest with you about the yucky feelings, only then can we get closer. But it works with the good feelings, too. If I love you to death, but I keep it under wraps, as if somehow it’s safer not to tell you I love you, not to tell you I think you’re amazing, not to tell you I am proud of you–if I don’t express the good feelings, we will also grow apart.

 

It seems like a simple and obvious concept, that you shouldn’t be afraid to express love and affection, and be kind and generous–especially toward the really special people in your lives. But at least for me, it doesn’t always come naturally. I still have these times where for some reason it feels unsafe.

Like if I express this big love feeling, or do a really nice thing for you, you won’t need to love me back anymore.

Or that maybe you were never going to show me as much love and kindness as I would show you, so it’ll feel best to not give away more love than I’ll get back.

Guys, the love-stuff you hold onto as if to protect it–it doesn’t feel good to keep. In no world does keeping your positive feelings bottled up, your affection and friendliness under wraps–in no world does this make you feel happier and more fulfilled.

In fact, I bet that the kind of people in your life who would be good to share love with, the kind of people you want to be close with–I bet those people will respond positively to you being your true, kind, generous, loving self. If anything, their love will feed off of yours, and your love will feed off of theirs.

I think when love goes out, more love will come in. When love meets love, two plus two might actually equal seven or eight or nine.

On the flip side, I think when love sits there, immobile, unexpressed, stagnant, the two that it was slowly burns out and feels more like a zero.

Trying to keep all the good feelings for yourself doesn’t work. Let yourself love.

Rumi - love

To a little kid, little hurts are big and real

I want to speak up for a group of people that can’t really speak up for themselves. A group of little people. People who don’t get taken too seriously when they speak up. Because they’re “just” little kids.

(Hey you, if you saw this title and clicked on this post because you were excited to shame someone you know, to make them feel bad for not having “parenting” figured out, or excited to attack anyone, really, please just skip to the P. S. at the very bottom.)

I’ve looked for the words for this for a long time, sat on a draft for over a year, because I actually think this subject matters a lot, but I probably don’t know enough about it and definitely won’t do it justice. But I guess it matters enough to say it anyway–at least this morning it does.

 

Bradford was a sensitive little guy, maybe 6 years old. He had the cutest little dimples and the sweetest laugh. I remember Bradford’s face when someone poured water over his head one time. It didn’t seem like a big deal to the adult who poured water over his head, but it was a big deal to Bradford, and he cried. A lot. I don’t think that makes what the adult did bad. But I think when Bradford starts crying, that matters. I think when Bradford starts crying, it’s time to hear Bradford’s feelings, to care, to see him as a human with valid experiences and needs.

The problem is I think we very frequently discount all those experiences and needs, because Bradford is “just a kid.” So we laugh awkwardly about it when Bradford is crying–silly Bradford. He’s just not emotionally tough yet. He’s overreacting. He’ll get over it. It was pretty funny.

Grace is the youngest in her family, still young enough that her little big feelings aren’t too consequential for the grown ups in her life. So when Grace gets to orders onion rings, and saves them for last, and then begs her dad not to eat her onion rings, and then cries when he eats them anyway–this is all pretty insignificant. Grace, after all, is just a kid. She will get over it. Onion rings aren’t something to cry over.

There’s a little girl I know who has such a big heart and big smile, and those come along with big feelings. She is cute as can be, and like any toddler, she is learning how life works. A while ago I was watching and listening to her do and say something just outrageously adorable. Like, she doesn’t even know. And it made the grown ups around her proud. Made us laugh a beaming-affectionate type of laugh. But the little girl saw us laughing, and she suddenly got quiet. She looked very worried. It wasn’t fun anymore. Why were we laughing at her?

 

Trying to predict the feelings and reactions of a little kid is about as difficult as it is to predict the feelings and reactions of “grown ups” like the ones you work with. (Let’s be honest.) So I don’t fault anyone who unintentionally makes a little kid feel sad, scared, embarrassed, or picked on. It’s going to happen.

I do, though, care a lot about what happens when the little kid starts feeling sad, scared, embarrassed, or picked on. When their smile fades and their eyes start filling up.

 

When Bradford is an adult, I don’t think he’ll care as much about water getting dumped on his head. When Grace is an adult, she’d probably just buy herself her own onion rings and not let people steal them. And when that little girl watches videos someday of her adorable two-year-old self, I bet she’ll smile and laugh, too, self-consciousness gone.

But the fact that they’ll grow up not to care as much about that little thing doesn’t make their feelings now unimportant.

Really, what is the difference between a child feeling hurt and an adult feeling hurt? Why do we have to be considerate of the feelings of an adult, but not of a kid? Why do we have to be kind and respectful to an adult, but not really a kid? Time? Age? Do those change the value of the hurting person? No, I think when we think really honestly and carefully about this, the really big difference is that the little people can’t stick up for themselves. It’s okay for adults to tease and laugh at little kids for being weak and vulnerable. It’s okay for adults to be thoughtless or unkind to little kids. It’s okay because the kids will grow up and . . . not have scars? No, it’s okay because the adults are in charge.

Lots of times, adults absolutely care when their little one starts crying–here’s to you, that can be an exhausting job! But sometimes, it’s just that adults don’t care when something ends up hurting their kiddos. For some parents, it never ever matters what their kid “wants.” And I think more frequently than we’d like to admit, adults actually get to be downright mean and inconsiderate to their little kids.

I want to say this, but I want to say it carefully: Little kids learn big lessons about the world from their little big feelings. When their tears are funny to you, they grow up knowing that. Even worse, when their tears just have no significance to you, they grow up knowing that.

I want to say that carefully, because “they’ll have scars when they grow up” is only part of the reason little kids’ feelings matter. Someone’s future feelings shouldn’t really be a necessary motivator for valuing their now-feelings. People just matter. People’s hearts matter. Feelings matter. Whether those now-feelings are felt in 6-foot-2-inches of body or “just” 3-foot-9.

 

I know 3-foot-9 feelings can be unpredictable or irrational. But that’s really no excuse to write them off, because 6-foot-2 feelings are also unpredictable and irrational. (Have you met grown-ups?)

And I know sometimes, no matter how angry or sad or hungry or not-hungry or definitely-not-wanting-to-wear-pants your little kid is in the moment, you have to get them in their car seat, they have to swallow some nutrients, and they cannot watch TV all day. So they’ll cry, and even if you love them and value their feelings, you still have to take good care of them, and you still have to keep your sanity. More power to you, moms and dads, because I can’t even imagine . . .

But when I grow up, I’ll remember if you at least cared to not let my tiny heart be broken unnecessarily. I’ll remember if you ever accepted or affirmed my emotions. I’ll remember if you thought they were funny or annoying instead of real. I’ll remember if my feelings never matter.

And honestly, that should matter before I grow up, too.

So remember to put yourself in your kid’s place, sometimes. To imagine what their feeling. To listen to what they’re feeling.

 

I’m no expert. I’m not a developmental psychologist. So maybe I’m wrong.

But I was “just a kid” once.

 

“Children’s emotions are as real as yours. Just because they might get sad over the colour of their cup, does not make their feelings any less real.” – Rebekah Lipp

 

P. S. One reason this post took so long for me to write is that I cannot imagine the challenge, the responsibility, and the pain of trying to be a “good parent.” We all screw up at just about everything sometimes, and you’re no more a monster for sometimes getting it wrong with a kid than you are for sometimes getting it wrong with the grown-ups in your life. This isn’t a you-should-feel-bad post, and please don’t use it that way, against yourself or against others. It’s just a please-see-your-kid reminder. I just wish you and your kiddo the best!

Dr Seuss - a person's a person no matter how small