“Stop crying, Danny!”
That tears are a bad thing is so baked into our social fabric that parents might find themselves renouncing crying without any awareness of the deeper implications. It might not even present as admonishment… “Don’t cry Sara, you’re fine, do you want a popsicle?” is drawn from the same pool of feeling-shaming, hurt-distracting, and pain-minimizing consciousness.
Have you ever stopped yourself from crying? Why? Because you don’t want to feel out of control, or make someone you’re with uncomfortable? Because you don’t have time for the arc that tears — real, deep tears — demand?
We value toughness. We value cooperation. We value rational predictability. And feelings — when they are truly felt — are messy, wild, and sometimes ugly to our constrained sensibilities.
But the only way out of the epidemic of feeling-people-turned-medicated-psychiatric-patients is to rebrand and reframe feeling as a cultural collective. And I believe it starts with our messaging as parents and our orientation toward shadow elements like anger and sadness. We have to model a conscious relationship to our own dark parts, and we have to show our children what it looks like to move through these spaces.
Is Depression Sadness or The Fight Against It?
Through this process of rebranding sadness as necessary, we may even learn that what we are calling depression has less to do with felt sadness than with the persistent resistance against it. Sadness, sorrow, grief, and pain are kinetic and dynamic. They rise and release. They move.
It is the fight against these forces, the conditioned fear of them, and the effort to ignore the banging from the room you locked them in that collapses one’s life experience. Depression feels like a wired tiredness. The agitation of disconnection. It is a silent war against the soul.
Thus, healing from depression necessarily involves a reframing of beliefs and a shifting of mindset around the meaning of this emotional bandwidth and more inclusive orientation. These beliefs are the portal to change.
“Where do these beliefs come from?” Beliefs are handed down within families, like psychological DNA base pairs, and it is the journey from our homes out into the wild blue yonder that tests, reifies, and perhaps transforms these beliefs.
I have taken this journey — am on it now — and recognize the urgency of consciously shaping the beliefs around emotions that my daughters will marinate in.
For this reason, my daughter and I sat down one rainy day and drew up a tale in defense of feelings. We wrote a book about the land of Sangati where Asha and her family were praying for rain during a mysteriously dry period that was causing everything to fall out of balance, and her grandmother to be ill. Little did she know that the Sky Beings in charge of the weather and natural cycles were all under a happiness spell, taking a potion from a sun god who promised ease and comfort. A young goddess, Indra, had forgotten that her tears were important, however, not only to her, but to the very land below. In this story, she breaks the spell, saves Asha and her family, and heals the land with the sensitivity of her heart. We called it A Time For Rain.
As I witness the reclamation of feelings once relegated to the catacombs of wrongness in my patients and online community, I see that feeling grief, sadness, and pain are a way to reconnect to the fabric of humanity. It is an opportunity to tap into a current of energy that runs through us all. And perhaps, allowing this current to pass through sensitizes us to wise response and relationship to the earth itself. Because it may not be carbon quotas the earth needs. The earth may need us to feel the sorrow of her abuse, mistreatment, and disregard. Felt sadness has this wisdom to offer.
And the greatest gift we can give to our children, and to this planet, is permission to feel it all, every day.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.