It all started with Mother’s Day.
And to be honest, I knew better. I know that Mother’s Day just kind of sucks when your mom's dead. It’s been 15 years-- it’s not like this is a new thing for me. For anyone who’s lost their mom, you’re probably familiar with how this plays out:
- Realize it’s Mother’s Day and have a split second of, “Shit! I didn’t do anything for my mom.”
- Remember, “Oh yeah, I don’t have to do anything for Mother’s Day anymore.”
- Feel a little left out.
- Go on Facebook and make things a million times worse by looking at everyone’s tributes to their moms, who all seem to be alive, healthy and on Facebook sending heart emojis right back.
So on Sunday, I did my annual Mother’s Day tradition of masochistically scouring social media for mom posts, and then went about my day as usual.
And then Monday hit.
It was a gray, rainy day. Facebook was still overrun with pictures of Moms. I was watching my calories for this damn diet I’ve committed myself to. It was the perfect storm.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling sorry for myself, my whole day gets derailed. Work goes undone. Workouts get cut short. The healthy lunch I planned turns into me eating half a baguette with butter and honey on it because I’m sad, damn it.
And then what started out as a temporary case of the blues becomes a vicious cycle of procrastination, guilt, bloat and general self-loathing. By the time my husband got home from work, I was a tear-stained wreck with honey on my shirt and sweatpants on backwards.
As much as the day sucked, it got me thinking about how to make sure a crappy day never again turns into a carb-filled spiral of despair. So I came up with a plan:
1. Let yourself be sad
It seems obvious, but this was the missing piece for me on Monday. Instead of just letting myself have a good, cathartic cry and simply be miserable for a little bit, I tried to push it down and move on with my day.
The problem with that strategy is that pushing away your emotions doesn’t make them go away. Instead, it turns the sadness into something bigger, something to be avoided, even feared. And slowly, that sadness seeps back into everything you do.
Which is why it's better to just let yourself feel it. Let yourself cry. Get it out of your system. Because the old adage is true: crying usually makes you feel better.
2. But put a limit on it
Yes, you absolutely must accept your sadness and give yourself time to feel it. But that doesn’t mean dwelling on it for the rest of the day like I did.
So that’s why I propose a time limit. You get to feel sorry for yourself for one hour without feeling guilty about what you should be doing instead. But, at the end of the hour, you need to pick yourself up off the floor and get on with your life.
Trust me, I've done it, and it works.
Giving yourself dedicated, yet limited “sad time” has a way of quarantining whatever you're upset about so that it doesn't creep into everything else. It forces you to clear your calendar, take a break from work and other people, and just focus on yourself. The time limit is simply a way to give yourself the space to be miserable, without running the risk of it taking over your day.
3. Comfort yourself
Limiting your sadness might feel a little harsh, so let's soften it a bit.
At the end of your designated “sad time,” give yourself a little gift to nurture yourself back to normalcy. Think about something that will make you feel better and allow yourself to have it, guilt-free. Whether that means a bath, or a yoga session, or a cupcake, allowing yourself a small, comforting luxury is a way to tell yourself, “I care about you, and I want to make you feel better.”
The key here is to be honest with yourself about what will actually help. If your “gift” is getting back on Facebook with a buttered baguette as an emotional crutch, you might want to re-think things.
Having a hard time feeling like you deserve something nice just because you're sad? Imagine what you would do for a friend who was upset. Would you tell her she doesn't "deserve" some comfort?
4. Know that sadness is part of the journey
Alright. You’ve had your cry, you’ve embraced your “sad time,” you’ve given yourself some care. Now it's time to get on with your life.
That doesn’t mean you won’t still be sad or that you won’t still have problems. You will.
But, as you well know, having problems is part of life. The fact is, we’re all struggling in one way or another. Life is sad and hard and unfair for everyone at some point. Suffering is part of the journey.
I’m not saying this to belittle your sadness, or to say that you shouldn't feel sad because other people have it way worse. Knowing that other people are suffering more than I am doesn’t make me miss my mom any less.
No, I’m bringing up the universality of struggle because it's proof that you’re not alone. You aren’t alone in your sadness, in your loss. Every single person alive has something they’re dealing with. When you truly care about anything, you inevitably open yourself up to being hurt.
And there's something beautiful about that. Being sad means that you've been happy. Missing someone means that you've loved. Being hurt means that you've cared. That's life: a balance of attachment and loss.
So that’s the last step: get back to life knowing that your capability for sadness is part of what makes you alive. It’s what connects you to others. It’s part of your unique experience in this world.
There’s no shame in being sad. It just means you’re human.