Why it’s OK to be sad sometimes

Because screw being happy all the time

national

Feeling sad is a strange thing: it winds in and out of fashion and time like a sad snake through sad grass. Some people think it’s broody and mysterious (cf. the Melancholics), others think it’s weird and you should just get over your life right now, you sad sack of sadness (cf. Life). How sad.

Sadness is a universal thing, and everyone, regardless of how privileged, lucky and healthy they are, will encounter it. Screw that whole happy-clappy “everyone laughs in the same language”. I’m talking about important stuff: sadness.

Today sadness is a taboo, something you’re not allowed to feel or do unless it has been properly, professionally, clinically diagnosed. Because, ultimately, it is a weakness and weakness is not cool and a lot of people find it fucking weird, which in itself, is fucking weird.

Everyone feels it regardless of whether they let you see it: when I find somebody who is constantly smiling, I find it difficult not to suspect they are suffering from some kind of I-microwaved-my-dog-and-now-I’m-getting-coffee-with-extra-cocaine insanity. But who can blame them? People’s protection takes different forms, after all. Better a smile than heroin, right? It’s just protection against a deep vulnerability and exposure that confessing your emotions lands you with.

You would think my life, and those of the people I’m directly connected to, could be pretty much devoid of sadness: I’m educated, in perfect health – if a little unfit – I always have enough food, warmth, shelter, safety, plus a really quite decent family, not to mention sparkly little luxuries on top of these bare necessities like an Xbox One and hair straighteners and chocolate and the fact that I live next to a fucking beautiful cathedral.

Centuries of limestone sex appeal.

Centuries of limestone sex appeal.

Yeah, life can be as sweet as the M&S cocoa in the cupboard above the Aga (heated bastion of the middle class), but somehow, the brain just tells you to be sad. The strange thing is that I think I’ve only been feeling sad for half my life so far.

Like all young children, I seriously gave zero fucks about what anybody thought of me: I had an imagination and lit shit loads of fires at the back of the garden. My haircut was androgynous, I ate whatever I wanted, said whatever I wanted, was whatever I wanted.

At the zenith of genderless fashion.

Peak genderless hairdo

If you were a total freak, it was actually kind of cool. You were edgy, man, an edgy kid! And kids are so batshit crazy that anything they do or say goes. I mean, I thought I was a cat for, like, a fucking week!

I remember once my mum asked me to put shoes on to go play outside and I was all, “Nuh uhhh, betch, not today!” and just leapt out into whatever world I had decided the garden would be that day. For fuck’s sake, I still played with Playmobil until I was twelve.

Don't you want your day job to be lazing around?

Don’t you want your day job to be lazing around?

I underestimated how miserable growing up is. Like, it’s shit. Your imagination erodes it is replaced by social conventions and rules which then spawn totally inane neuroses. And when you’re tired and run down, these neuroses burst and swell in your mind like lava: fears about money, popularity, how the two are somehow heavily intertwined, how that theory is total bollocks, how you’re coming across to total strangers, how you’re coming across to your closest friends, and how nothing feels really stable and OK.

 The thing is, most of the time, when I’m feeling that way, I’ve not eaten much, I’m exhausted and I’ve just finished a binge scroll through my Facebook newsfeed. Here are three factual facts:
  • Facebook and Instagram make people’s lives look a lot cooler than they are: they are edited, inflated ideas of boring things. A goddamn bog roll with a Valencia filter and a wanky caption (“Dare to dream” etc) can somehow look artistic. But happiness should not be quantified by the number of likes you get. There are mornings I wake up and perversely wish I was justifiably unhappy because a relative had died, or I had no means of washing, as opposed to not getting the Instagram likes I had expected.
  • Never underestimate the power and weaknesses of blood sugar levels. If you’re hungry or tired, you might be hangry/sad/listless.
  • Exercise is a sweaty angel of hope and abandon. Endorphins are the best things in the world, and an immediate cure for lethargy.

But it’s still possible to feel sad when you’re fully-rested, fully-fed and far way from a wi-fi connection.

Sadness can strike at any time.

Sadness can strike at any time.

I don’t mean to say that everyone should suddenly start crawling around the streets like unhappy zombies, endlessly bemoaning all the terrible things in their lives to anyone who passes. Forever playing the victim is tedious – I think there is a lot to be said for weighing up pros and cons in small situations (like a bad haircut or missing the bus) and trying to be optimistic.

What I am saying is that you shouldn’t be afraid or reluctant to shed some light on the reality of your emotional state to friends and family, people whom you love and respect, for fear of appearing weak.

To conclude, the reason I was so happy as a child was that my imagination and confidence, both fully intact, didn’t allow much emotional negativity to reach me, and I had not yet been pigeonholed into the category of “girl” or “person” or “not a cat”.

Do it.

Not a cat

The true gift of self-confidence is its ability to allow you to move away from this externally-created identity, to cease clinging to the things that make you think you are who you are, like the way total strangers perceive you through photographs or internet fora. It gives you a solid sense of self and is what allowed me, merely a child, to transform into any creature or person and then go to bed as myself.

My self-confidence, like everyone else’s, can falter under the watchful eye of people before whom I need to appear brave, or happy, or totally unshaken.

The trick is remembering that it’s OK to be sad, it’s OK to be happy, it’s OK to be a person, and if people can’t deal with the occasional bout of unhappiness you’re expressing, it’s their problem. Do not fear vulnerability, but acknowledge it. Realise that everyone, no matter how they try to hide and minimise it, still experiences it.