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How to Be Sad [2011 in Review]

I’ve been thinking a lot about my 2011 resolutions as you do at this time of the year. I got a surprising number of them done and in the bag, including “get pregnant.” However, unlike every year since 2005, I won’t be calling this my best year ever. Mainly, because I didn’t stay pregnant. Twice. And that kind of throws a permanent shadow over all of the good stuff that happened this year. The truth is I learned more about how to be sad this year, than perhaps any other year on record. So just in case you also had a sad year, or have sad times coming up in your future, here’s my advice on how to be sad:

1. Give yourself time. If you’re impatient like me, being sad is even more annoying, because you really don’t want to waste time with being sad. However, I found that once I accepted that I was sad and would be sad off and on into the unforeseeable future, I started getting less sad.

2. Take on projects that you love. Really, nothing takes your mind off of being sad like doing the work that you love. If you don’t love what you do at your main job, consider taking on a side project. If you’re really sad, now’s a great time to write that novel, take that class, or go after that social life you’ve been dreaming of.

3. Question yourself, then trust yourself. The sad thing about sadness is that it creeps into the areas of your life that it has no business creeping into like work and play and everything in between. If you’re sad, accept that you’ll have to add an extra step in your decision-making process. For example, if you become angry at someone, instead of telling the person you’re angry at why you’re angry, it’s a great idea to take two to three days to figure out if you have legitimate beef or if your sadness is amping up your anger (which sadness tends to do). However, once you’ve taken that time to really examine your anger or upset, trust yourself to make the right decision. Sadness is sad, yes, but often it can illuminate what needs to be changed, gotten rid of, or confronted.

4. Get rid of people or situations that exacerbate your sadness. This is way harder than it sounds, especially if you’re a writer, because a lot of writing involves sad-making stuff that’s completely out of your control. However, you do have a few choices. You don’t have to read that particular blog if it depresses you. You don’t have to read your reviews. You don’t have to eat eggs if you hate them — I don’t care what the South Beach diet book says (though for the record, I love eggs). Really think about who you have to and don’t have to deal with online and off. And if someone or something brings you down, think of ways to either avoid or cut out it, her or him all together.

5. Learn to truly value your happiness. I can honestly say that over the course of this year, I’ve discovered that happiness is more important than money or having lots of people like me. In fact the pursuit of those two things can be detrimental to happiness. When it comes down to making a choice, always go with the one that will make you happier. For example it would cost less if my husband and I didn’t do a date night every other week, but we’re way happier because we do. People would like me more if I did A, B, and C, but I’ll be happier if I use the time spent on A,B, and C working on projects that make me happy. If you’re going through a time of sadness, just don’t agree to do anything that will make you sadder, no matter how much money you could save or make. All of my 2012 projects (which I promise I will be announcing soon!) are awesome and make me happy, and that’s because this year I learned to value my happiness and say no to projects that will depress or upset me.

6. Get a therapist. A lot of people think they can get through sad times on their own. And the truth is that you can, but engaging a therapist gets you through the sad a lot faster and a lot more efficiently than the alternative. It also gives you someone with whom to talk about your emotions, someone who’s trained to deal with them. When you have a medical problem, you go to the doctor. When you have a problem with your car, there’s no shame in going to a mechanic to fix it. When you have an emotional problem, realize that you’re going to be able to fix it more quickly and way better with the help of a professional.

7. Realize that You’ve Died. When really sad things happen to us, they change us. Change is often progress, but no matter what big change is also death.

I would consider these two miscarriages my second death.  My first was when my mother died. I often look back on the person I was before her death, and I think, “She is gone. This new version of me has taken her place.” I became deeper, more sensitive, less concise, way more self-conscious, and a much better writer after my mother’s death.

And after becoming that person, I did a lot to make sure I “stayed me” when bad things happened. After a bad break-up or date, I’d say things to myself like, “Don’t let this make you bitter. Stay open. Get back up.” When my writing got rejected, I would get sad, but I would insist to myself that I was still a good writer, that I should keep at it, that I shouldn’t let this one rejection stop me from writing.

But the death of anyone, be it mother or unborn child is like a bomb going off in your soul. There’s no way that explosion isn’t going to change you. You can rebuild, you can re-landscape, but the old you is dead, dead, dead. A lot of being sad is grieving the person you were before the really bad thing happened. You beg her to come back, you find it hard to accept that she’s really gone, you wish that you had appreciated her more. After all, she could do a lot of things that this new version of you can’t do.

But then again the new, refurbished me can do a lot of things that the old me couldn’t do, like stay rooted in the present, and listen — truly listen, and strangely enough, not even bother with new year’s resolutions this year — not because I’ve become cynical about them, but because I’m way better at making and executing action plans now than I was before the miscarriages. I just don’t need New Year’s Resolutions anymore — kind of how most professional sculptors no longer use play-doh as a medium.

So keep in mind that while a really sad thing happening means certain death, healing from that sad thing is a reincarnation. And when it’s all said and analyzed, you might like this newest version of yourself best of all.

featured image credit: kevin dooley